If you thought “The Breakfast Club” was an 80s comedy-drama from John Hughes and the “Brat Pack”… well, yes, it is.
It turns out, however, that the Utah Jazz have their own “Breakfast Club”.
Rather than navigating personal demons in a Saturday detention session alongside Molly Ringwald and Emilio Estevez, the basketball team’s version involves a group of young players (Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Jared Butler, Juancho Hernangomez, Xavier Sneed) and assistant coaches/staff (Keyon Dooling, Bryan Bailey, Jeff Watkinson, Sanjay Lumpkin) all together hours before team practices and shootouts to do development work.
“You don’t see that, but every day before shooting…these guys are there at 8, 8:30, practicing – hard too – sometimes playing 2v2, 3v3, and then staying after practice for practice againDonovan Mitchell noted Wednesday night after the Jazz’ 125-110 win over the Bulls. “Then they come to the gym and train again. And then they maybe play in the game. … That’s a lot.”
And after all those breakfast sessions, Alexander-Walker was finally able to feast.
With each of Bojan Bogdanovic, Danuel House and Trent Forrest out for the night against Chicago, NAW had 22 minutes of action and had 16 points, four rebounds, three 3s and two steals.
The main piece of the Jazz’s comeback for knocking out injured fan favorite Joe Ingles, Alexander-Walker has largely languished on the Utah bench since his acquisition. He had scored a grand total of nine points in his first seven appearances with the team, having been a regular in the rotation at New Orleans.
Loaded with a few minutes of rotation given the Jazz’s shorthandedness on Wednesday, he racked up 14 points in the fourth quarter alone, helping the Jazz avoid another late-game meltdown as they increased a four-point advantage. points up to 19 before. the visiting Bulls waved the proverbial white flag.
He shot 4 of 8 overall, including 3 of 5 from deep, and was 5 of 6 from the free throw line. When then asked what happened in that pivotal fourth quarter streak, he naturally answered…
“I think Don has arrived,” he said, referring to the star goaltender’s incendiary 25-point third quarter en route to a 37-point night. “The gravity he brought to himself, the shots he was making, he got hot… so they were so focused on him.”
True. But NAW still had to convert the looks it had, still had to do its part on the defensive end, trying to work cooks Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan a bit.
His efforts on this end were what impressed everyone.
“He came into the game and defended,” head coach Quin Snyder said. “He has a certain size, where he is able to keep several positions… he was focused on defense. He was playing long before he even started knocking down shots.
“Man, he really did his thing. I’m really happy for him,” Mitchell added. “…We all know he’s a bucket, but he was really locked in defensively against talented guys.”
There was a particularly memorable fourth quarter sequence where he followed LaVine, not biting his fakes and feints, staying well positioned with every move, getting an effective challenge on the shot while demonstratively avoiding contact, then after that the Jazz rebounded the miss, he settled into a corner in front of the Jazz bench, caught a pass from Mitchell where it came from and calmly drained a triple.
“Every shot I took tonight I practiced here…I can’t even count [how many times]said Alexander-Walker. “…The whole staff, the team, I can’t be more grateful for how they’ve helped me since I’ve been here.”
At another point in the fourth, he got a steal, ran down, went hard to the hoop and laid the ball down while drawing a foul from DeRozan.
Meanwhile, Mitchell strongly urged the crowd to let the new guy feel the love.
He felt it.
“It means I fit in – and that’s a good feeling,” Alexander-Walker said.
He’s not now suddenly a finished product, destined for a cohesive Snyder role.
But if the 6-foot-6, 205-pound, 23-year-old who melted the hearts of old-school coaches around the world with a role-conscious line (“Truly and truly, the only thing I gotta have did [on this team] is forbidden”) can maintain its upward trajectory… well, at this point, there would be no reason do not to play it.
And his new teammates know he will save time.
“He works every day – he comes to practice early and waits for his opportunity,” said Rudy Gobert, who finished with 14 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks. “It was really great to see him contribute like that tonight. These guys work really hard every day. I like that.”