Lauri Markkanen’s Finnish coach has been working with Utah Jazz

“How ’Bout This Jazz” newsletter: Lassi Tuovi visited the organization in January and has been working as a guest assistant in summer league. Plus, John Collins shows up, and Vernon Carey gets introduced.

(Courtesy of Utah Jazz) Lassi Tuovi, the head coach of Finland's men's national basketball team, has been working with the Utah Jazz as a special guest assistant during the Salt Lake City Summer League.

Summer league is generally a time for NBA head coaches to take a small step back and empower their assistant coaches to take on larger roles. Evan Bradds, the Utah Jazz assistant who is heading up the organization’s summer league entrants, has already noted that this is a great opportunity to simply experiment and try new things.

One component of that has been the addition of three guest coaches during the Salt Lake City Summer League: Joseph Gomis, who played professionally in France from 1996-2015; Emmanuel Mavomo, an assistant coach for Paris Basketball; and, most notably, Lassi Tuovi, who is Lauri Markkanen’s head coach on the Finnish national team.

Tuovi actually made his first-ever trip to Utah in January to visit Markkanen and to establish a relationship with the Jazz organization, among other teams, as part of a basketball sojourn of sorts.

After spending a week in Salt Lake City, Tuovi went on to observe a number of NCAA programs, figuring that the best way for a coach to learn and evolve is to glean knowledge and habits from other coaches. He came away surprised by how open and sharing they were.

He was particularly impressed by the vibe surrounding his most famous player’s latest professional team.

“They played basketball in a nice, fresh way. But the main thing was that there was a chemistry, that they played together. And when you walk in this building, I think you understand why it happens,” Tuovi said during an interview at the Jazz’s practice facility. “What the front office has built here, together with the coach, everybody involved here … people are happy, smiling, when they walk into the building. And when you’re happy where you are, you can develop as a person, as a basketball player. I think that’s the story with Lauri.”

He took no credit personally for Markkanen’s ascension, noting that by the time he was appointed to lead the Susijengi, “The Finnisher” had already grown his game significantly, honing some guard skills and becoming what Tuovi referred to as a “Swiss knife.”

Now, the coach is hoping that, between his January tour and his stint with the Jazz summer league team, he can take some things back to Finland that will help the other players there take another step forward.

“Of course every coach — especially in basketball — is a fan of X’s and O’s. … But you don’t do anything with it if you don’t know how to teach it,” Tuovi said. “Skills coaches there with the guys, teaching the fundamentals — it’s not even what they teach, it’s how they do it. Honestly, the biggest thing I always follow is how they treat humans, how they teach, how is the relationship built. And some X’s and O’s, too!”

John Collins sighting

When the Jazz played their second game of the SLC Summer League on Wednesday night against the Sixers, the franchise’s trade for Hawks forward John Collins still had not been officially approved by the NBA yet.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz draft pick Taylor Hendrick speaks with Danny Ainge, CEO of the Utah Jazz, left, alongside coach Will Hardy, John Collins, Jeff Hornacek, and Jazz General Manager Justin Zanik during an NBA Summer League basketball game Wednesday, July 5, 2023, at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City.

And yet, he was nevertheless in attendance at the Delta Center, sitting front row between the Jazz bench and the scorers’ table, flanked by the likes of head coach Will Hardy, coaching consultant Jeff Hornacek, CEO Danny Ainge, general manager Justin Zanik, and No. 9 overall draft pick Taylor Hendricks.

Meet Vernon Carey

The big man was signed by the Jazz just before the end of the regular season, but didn’t appear in either of the team’s final two games, owing to an ankle injury incurred during G League play, so he’s been a bit of a man of mystery until SLC Summer League rolled around. (He had a good game Wednesday, totaling 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting, to go along with six rebounds.)

He was a five-star recruit in high school, and the No. 6-rated prospect in the entire country as a senior at University School of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale — where he teamed with a then-freshman Hendricks (as well as the Raptors’ Scottie Barnes and Orlando Magic draft pick Jett Howard). He played one season at Duke, where he averaged 17.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, before declaring for the 2020 NBA draft.

From there, though, nothing’s quite gone the way he wanted: slipping to the second round, failing to gain any traction with the Hornets and, subsequently, the Wizards, spending more time in the G League than the NBA (where he’s totaled just 37 games over three years, averaging 1.9 points and 1.4 rebounds).

And yet, the 6-foot-9, 270-pound center remains undeterred.

“I definitely didn’t think I’d be on this path,” Carey said. “… I just look at it as, a lot of people would want to be in my position regardless of the pathway I’m on. So just take that into perspective and just work every day, really.”