SALT LAKE CITY — Rookies Dante Exum and Rodney Hood both had a memorable experience while wearing their Utah Jazz uniforms for the first time.
Shortly after putting on their home white shorts and jerseys, Exum (No. 11) and Hood (No. 6) helped conduct a clinic for about 30 Special Olympics athletes Saturday morning at the team’s practice facility.
Talk about a great way to make your uniform debut.
“It’s been a cool experience,” said Exum, the highly touted point guard who was drafted fifth overall by the Jazz on Thursday night. “It’s only my second day being a Utah Jazz, so getting out there and supporting some of the kids, it was just good to have a good laugh and a good smile with them.”
Hood, the 23rd pick from Duke, wholeheartedly agreed with his new teammate. For him, it brought back fond memories of being at a similar basketball clinic when he was able to meet a former NBA player.
“It was amazing just to make somebody’s day,” Hood said. “I remember I was once a kid at a Boys & Girls Club in Meridian (Mississippi) and Derrick McKey would come and make my day, so it means a lot.”
It was obvious from the smiles, giggles, comments, cheers, hugs and high-fives that a similar impact was felt by the enthusiastic Special Olympics athletes who got to spend an hour working with the newest Jazz players (Exum and Hood), coaches (head coach Quin Snyder and lead assistant Brad Jones) and staff (including executive director of basketball operations Richard Smith).
Athletes spent time at three stations on the Zions Bank Basketball Center courts learning various skills and proper basketball fundamentals. Exum even taught a few quick learners how to dribble between their legs.
“It’s pretty cool. I’ve had a good time,” 19-year-old Jordan Allen said about his clinic experience. “I figured out I’m taller than one of them, so that’s pretty awesome. I got to learn more skills, so I can up my game. I’m in Special Olympics basketball. It’s going to be pretty awesome.”
After telling reporters that he’s taller than the 6-foot-6 Exum — and Allen was quite tall — the affable teenager smiled and said he could beat the Jazz player in a game of one-on-one.
“Definitely, man. Totally. No, I’m just kidding,” Allen said, laughing. “Well well I’m taller than him, so I don’t know.”
When it was pointed out that Exum was walking his direction, Allen shouted out, “Dante! Wanna challenge me in basketball?!”
Later, Exum chuckled when asked about having the gauntlet thrown down at him.
“Well, I think we have to settle this,” he said. “I’m happy to bring him back and go one-on-one against him.”
Exum was also happy to have a chance to be in this setting with his new coach. Snyder and the Australian player worked together in a dribbling station, while Hood and Jones focused on shooting techniques.
“One of the things that’s neat about these events is you see your players outside. It’s basketball, but it’s outside of the context of normal team practice,” Snyder said. “You just see how they interact. It confirms for us that we’ve got some quality guys.”
Exum laughed when asked about being on the court with Snyder for the first time.
“It’s good to see him in a happy mood before he starts yelling at me,” Exum joked. “It was good just to be out there with him.”
The Jazz also gave their guests a tour of the players’ locker room, with Exum and Hood posing in front of their new lockers. A Q&A session was conducted, too. Snyder, no doubt, had to love one of the questions from a Special Olympics athlete: “How are you on the defensive side?”
If they’re as good playing against NBA opponents as they are working with this group, watch out.
“Are you a Jazz fan?” Exum asked one female participant, a beneficiary of the Special Olympics Utah program, which provides free training and games to 2,500-plus athletes in 16 sports.
After she responded in the affirmative, the soon-to-be 19-year-old smiled at her. “Good. I hope to see you at the games, cheering the loudest.”
When another participant gave a Jazz cheer, Snyder responded, "I like to hear that."
Allen had such a good time, he almost seemed like he was swayed into becoming a Jazz fan. The fun young man reluctantly admitted to cheering for the Miami Heat.
“I liked it so much I want to come back if they have another one,” Allen said. “It was a good experience. I liked it a lot.”
So, did his future foe, Exum, teach him any good pointers?
“No. No he didn’t,” Allen said. “But he’s a pretty cool guy.”