Jazzmen Back Stories, Part 1

Part 2: AK, Memo, Boozer, Ronnie P
Part 3: KK, Ronnie B, CJ, Yatta, Fes

Starting Side Note: Long-time Jazz fans are familiar with the stories of how Karl Malone's mom worked two jobs, bought his first $.75 basketball on an installment plan, and held out her arms in a hoop for him to practice his shooting, and how Jerry Sloan grew up on a small farm in the country of Florin in Illinois as the youngest of ten being raised by a single mom. Interesting how a good number of the current Jazzmen were also raised by single moms who worked two or three jobs to support their families.


MILLSAP Sap's parents, John and Bettye, had a rocky, abusive relationship, and split up when Paul was 14. Bettye decided to move the four boys--John, Paul, Elijah, and Abraham--back to Louisiana to be closer to her family (which included nine younger siblings). She worked three jobs to support her family, and started every morning with the boys in prayer. The family went to church twice a week, and the boys sang in the choir. Meanwhile, she was worrying about their education, and locked in on sports as a way to get her kids to and through college. She enlisted the help of her youngest brother, DeAngelo (aka Agentuncle), to teach the boys how to play basketball.

DeAngelo set a rigorous training schedule for the boys, and it was Paul that showed the least promise. He'd played quarterback in junior high, and preferred football to basketball. DeAngelo was of the opinion that Paul was clumsy, lazy, and unathletic, and his brothers were constantly making fun of him.

Paul began playing the first organized basketball of his life his sophomore year in high school, and his career took off almost immediately. He was named Mr. Basketball Louisiana his junior year, and averaged 25 points, 12 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 blocks per game in his undefeated senior year.

Despite interest from a good number of schools, Paul decided to stay close to home and attend Louisiana Tech, where another uncle was assistant coach. He went on to become the first player in NCAA history to lead the nation in rebounding three consecutive years and was named to several all-conference teams. Then, one day, a former Bulldog by the name of Karl Malone told Kevin O'Connor to keep an eye on Paul Millsap, and the rest is history.

According to Abe, their mom expects all four of them to make it in the NBA.


MATTHEWS Wesley was born in San Antonio while his father was playing for the Spurs. Funnily enough, one of the senior Matthews' teammates on that team was Ty Corbin. However, his dad's involvement in Wesley's life ended when he was 2 (though the two have started speaking recently), and he was raised by his mom, Pam, who was a gifted athlete and led the University of Wisconsin's women's basketball team in scoring and rebounding as a freshman. Later on, she turned her attention to track; one of her school records still stands today.

Wesley's coaches could see there was something in him and wanted to play him as a big, but Pam recognized that Wesley would probably never grow beyond 6'5" based on his dad's and her genes. Therefore, she made sure that he developed a full arsenal of basketball skills and that he always played with kids older than him (from the time he started playing up until the AAU cut-off) so that he would always be in the backcourt. At the age of 5 or 6, his mom would drive him into Madison or Milwaukee, find gyms where kids were playing or where there were open practices, and drop him off and tell him to go play. According to Wesley, this really helped him because he had no time or room for fear or feeling intimidated.

Wesley is a former Mr. Basketball Wisconsin and starred for four years at Marquette.

The Jazz were always interested in Matthews, but elected to draft Goran Suton in the second round instead because they felt that, of the two, Wesley was more likely to go undrafted. As soon as the draft concluded, KOC contacted Wesley's agent to get him onto the Jazz's summer roster.

Says Wesley's mom: "[Sloan is] exactly the right coach. I have a friend who follows the NBA a lot and, for the type of person and player Wesley is--very high IQ, versatile player, hard-nosed defense--the two places we always felt would be good for him were Utah and San Antonio."


THE KOOF Being the only person in his family over 6' tall, the Koof has less of a basketball background than most of his teammates. According to his pastor and mentor, Rev. Dan Rogich of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Canton, OH (who played ball at Franciscan University), the Koof grew into a basketball player overnight.

His dad, Alex, was a renowned pediatric oncologist. Even after he was diagnosed with a rare form of bile duct cancer, he continued to treat patients at Akron Children Hospital up until a month before he passed away. Kosta was 9 at the time, and this was when he began pouring himself into basketball.

Rather than going to LBJ's old high school or other big basketball schools in the area, Kosta chose to go to his neighborhood high school where his mom, Kathy, worked as a guidance counselor. Although his reputation as an athlete was growing, he maintained a 3.7 GPA, took college courses at Kent State, and was the "world's tallest altar boy" at Holy Trinity--his robe, much too long for anyone else to wear, is still hanging in the church. The stories of his work ethic were...wait for it...legendary. He was in the gym from the time it opened to the time it closed, and when he broke his foot his senior year, he sat on a stool on the court to take up to 500 shots a day. (There was also a story last April about how after playing in Flash game, he drove himself to the ESA and didn't leave until he hit 100 shots.)

As a senior, he averaged 26 ppg, 15 rpg, and 5 bpg. The same year, he was named Division I Player of the Year and made both the McDonald's All-American team and First-Team All-State, but lost out on the Mr. Basketball Ohio title to one of his teammates. He was, of course, heavily recruited and his mom put in a great deal of work to educate herself on coaches and conferences and meeting with prospective coaches during summer tournaments. She also traveled with Kosta to Spain when he played on the junior Greek national team.

Eventually, he committed to Ohio State, where he would be replacing Greg Oden at center, and honored the commitment despite receiving multimillion-dollar offers to play professionally in Greece. During his freshman year, he averaged 14 ppg, 7 rpg, and 2 bpg, and was named tournament MVP after leading Ohio State to the NIT championship. He declared for the NBA draft after the season, and supposedly slipped in the draft because his college coach, Thad Matta, was pissed that the Koof had entered the draft and gave less-than-glowing recommendations to teams. This pissed off Kosta's high school coach, who publicly called Matta "clueless." (Just as an aside, Matta apparently did the same thing to BJ Mullens last year.) KOC reportedly decided to draft Kosta based not on what Matta had to say, but what other NBA teams that Kosta had worked out for had to say.

The Koof says that the reason he's had success in basketball is because of his mom, who was always honest with him and would tell him what he's doing wrong on the court. One of his first major purchases after turning pro was a car for his mom. "She deserves it," Kosta said. "She deserves a lot more. I'm going to always be in debt to her because of what she's done for me in my younger years."


DERON Deron's parents met while playing basketball at West Liberty State in West Virginia, but from the beginning, his dad had no involvement in his life. Deron lived with his maternal grandparents until he was three while his mom, Denise, worked two jobs--as a computer programmer, and at Taco Bell. When he was nine, he and his mom moved to Texas. Denise, who was an avid athlete, got him involved in all kinds of sports, and one of the first sports he competed in was wrestling. Deron wrestled from the age of five through middle school, which he says was instrumental in developing his competitiveness, and he won two Texas state junior championships in that span.

When he started playing basketball, his mom taught him to play defense and pass the ball. She coached his elementary school team, and was particularly hard on him. Even though he was the best player on the team, she wouldn't let him be the scorer and instead demanded aggressive defense and and a pass-first mentality from him. He was pressured to focus on one sport when he got to high school, and thought about playing football ("I would have played safety because I like hitting people"), but it was too hot in Texas. At the same time, he says his focus has always been basketball, and that the choice was an easy one.

During his junior and senior years, Deron averaged 17 points, 9 assists, and 2 steals and led The Colony High School to a 61-4 record. Even so, he wasn't the star of the team--his friend and teammate, Bracey Wright, was. Perhaps as a result, North Carolina, where he wanted to go, blew him off, and he canceled a trip to Maryland after finding out that the coach wouldn't even be there to meet him. He was set to go visit Georgia Tech, but found out the day that he was to leave that Matt Harpring's alma mater had committed to Jarrett Jack. Eventually, he was convinced by Dee Brown to commit to the University of Illinois (where Jerry Sloan had spent five weeks back in the day before dropping out due to homesickness).

As the starting point guard of the Fighting Illini his junior year, Deron led the team, which included Brown, Luther Head, and Roger Powell among others, to an undefeated-until-the-last-game season and to the NCAA championship game, where they lost to North Carolina. Following the season, he was named to a number of all-national, all-regional, and all-tournament teams and declared for the NBA Draft.

Recognizing that Deron was far superior Chris Paul, who was roughly half Deron's size, KOC traded up to make sure that he got Deron in the 2005 draft. Deron getting drafted third overall, however, was overshadowed by how hot his then-girlfriend-now-wife Amy (who (whom?) he's known since elementary school) looked that day, and speculation was rife that the Jazz actually drafted Amy and took Deron as a throw-in.


Ending Side Note: This originally started out as a post on the basketball-playing brothers of Jazz players, but I dragged my feet too long and before I could get it out, the Deseret News "scooped" me (to my horror and dismay).



(some of this is also from an article I'd copied and pasted into a text file years ago and can't find the source for)


The Koof
SLTrib article published in 2009 "Jazz center Kosta Koufos honors dad"

SLTrib three-part series published in 2008 "Deron Williams: The Total Package"

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