Many Utah Jazz fans were initially dubious of the selection of Keyonte George based on some highlight reels, a few unflattering predraft analyses, and a late-developing rumor that he was slipping down teams’ boards.
Most of them were considerably more open-minded, however, following his handful of electrifying performances in the Salt Lake City and Las Vegas summer leagues.
It’s fair to say that they’re still in the nascent stages of getting to know his game.
Scott Drew, on the other hand, knows George pretty thoroughly, considering the Baylor men’s basketball coach had the guard in his program for a year.
During a Q&A with The Salt Lake Tribune, the coach discussed where the 19-year-old excels, where he still has room to grow, and what makes him tick — on and off the court.
What first drew you to Keyonte as a recruit?
His ability to score. [Though] I think it’s [made his passing ability underrated] — he showed some of that this summer and will continue to show more and more of that. With us before his ankle sprain at the end of the year, he actually was playing at point a decent amount of the time. Because he can really make some great passes, and is really efficient on his ball-screen reads. But his ability to score and his athleticism to create a shot.
The other thing that makes him special is if it’s a big moment, big game, the brighter the lights, the better he performs.
I think he showed me personally his toughness. He sprained his ankle late in the year, came back, his numbers weren’t as good, his game wasn’t as good, but he wanted to try and give it his all for the team, which you love his toughness. There’s one time during the year, he had 102[-degree] fever, and the next day, played in the game. And I had no idea — he even came back that night and got shots up because he was gonna play, he said. It’s an 82-game season, you’ve got to have a lot of toughness, and the best ability’s availability. His desire to want to play is something that some people might not know.
One of the big knocks on him in the predraft process was a perceived inability to separate from defenders, but you mentioned his athleticism among his strengths. Can you explain?
Yeah, I think one of his strengths is his ability to create a shot. Now, your biggest strength can often be your biggest weakness, and people that can get their own shots sometimes take bad shots because they can get shots off and they think they can make every shot. Obviously, the longer he plays, he’ll continue to get better with that and his efficiency will continue to go up because of that. But definitely it’s a strength that he can get his shot anytime, anywhere.
You discussed him increasingly playing the point for you last season. In your view, can he be a lead guard in the NBA?
I know coming out of high school when we recruited him, a lot of people viewed him as an elite scorer but they didn’t really talk about or think he could be a lead guard. With us, right away we learned he likes to share the basketball with his teammates, he gets excited and cheers them on when they do well, but he’s more than capable to make the right reads and right plays, and he can see stuff that we had no idea he could. So that was a surprise to us, just how good he was at handling the ball and playing the point.
It’s not something he’s done a lot because he’s such an efficient scorer off the ball; most people put him off the ball and when he got it, they just wanted him to get buckets. But with us, he was able to do both. It’s hard as a freshman to learn two different positions, so you try to not overwhelm people, but he picked up stuff well with the shooting guard and the point guard.
Some Jazz fans have mentioned Keyonte perhaps having a style of play similar to current Jazz shooting guard Jordan Clarkson. What do you think of the comparison?
I haven’t watched Jordan a ton, but I think Keyonte has more lead guard potential in his game. The scoring part, 100% I get you. I just think Keyonte, after coaching him for a year, there’s no doubt he can become a lead guard if he gets that opportunity and the experience.
Where has he made the most progress from the time he joined your program until now?
Well, I think first of all was his body. When he left IMG, and he was playing in the [Jordan Brand Classic game], I know a lot of scouts were questioning his athleticism because of his body fat. And he did a great job getting himself in better shape and trimming down. I think he was like 225 at his heaviest, and when he was going through his workouts, was at 201. So I mean, with any guard, you take off 24 pounds, you’re a lot quicker, a lot more explosive. That was the biggest change he made from start to finish at Baylor. As far as basketball-wise, defensively he grew a lot, playing with the ball, he really improved. And then as far as scoring ability, I think his shot selection and just reading the game, picking and choosing his moments improved throughout the year.
What is he like as a person?
When he walks in the room, he can brighten it up. He’s got a great smile, great personality. And he cares. Since Day 1, when we recruited him, we thought he had a great heart. And what I mean by that is he cares about others, he cares about his teammates. He got a Bose [headphones] deal within NIL, and he went around and handed them out to every player, and then he turned around and went out and handed ‘em to every coach. His excitement to be able to share with his teammates, not everybody has that kind of joy, and he does.
What will determine if he becomes an NBA success or not?
Offensively, he has such a great feel and can get to his spots. I think defensively will be the area he’ll continue to grow most as he gains experience with the NBA concepts, defensive schemes, and just the grown-man physicality he’ll get over the next couple of years.
Anything else you’ll absolutely remember about him?
People will see that he’s quite the dresser. He’s a fashionable guy, and I think prides himself on looking fashionable. So the pregame outfits should be pretty good with him.
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