When we left Jazz rookie center Eric Leckner in August in Salt Lake City, he was struggling like crazy. He was out of shape, missing shots and being schooled by veteran NBA center Mike Brown in scrimmages. And he was already worried about his pro future. "It's hard to break a first impression," muses Leckner.
Two months of three-a-day workouts later, Leckner is drawing favorable reviews in training camp at Dixie College. "Now, he looks like a legitimate prospect," says Scott Layden, the Jazz's director of player personnel.Says Leckner, "I didn't want to be the dog I started out to be in Salt Lake."
That's good motivation.
Leckner came to Salt Lake in the summer with good intentions. Drafted out of the University of Wyoming by the Jazz at No. 17 in the first round, he drove his well-used pickup truck from Laramie a week before rookie camp, took an apartment and worked out while waiting for his three-year contract to be finalized. He joined Thurl Bailey and Karl Malone as the Jazz's only first-rounders in the 1980s to sign in time for rookie camp, and started playing.
But not impressively. "I'd be the first to admit I played poorly," noted Leckner. "I didn't play physical, I shot the ball terribly and I wasn't even a factor."
He said that, we didn't.
By now, Leckner's post-college career was looking a little shaky. His poor performance in the U.S. Olympic trials in May caused him to slip all the way to the Jazz in the draft, and now he was having all kinds of trouble in the Utah Pro-Am Summer League.
Against Mark Eaton and Danny Schayes, Leckner made 1 of 10 shots in one game. Although the Jazz entry won the league title, Leckner knew he had work to do.
"I lost confidence, I questioned myself . . . everything you could think about, if you're not fulfilling expectations. I was really down. There was a lot of soul-searching going on, definitely."
Leckner responded by staying in town and working on fundamentals with Layden in the morning, lifting weights at lunchtime and playing basketball at the University of Utah in the afternoon. Presenting . . . the new Eric Leckner. "I'm just about a different player," he says.
After the rookie-free agent camp, Layden cringing at the thought of Leckner reporting only in October, instead of August. That still holds - especially now that Leckner's improved. "If he had come in here cold, he would be a year behind," said Layden. "He's done a nice job."
The best part about Leckner's Jazz future remains the fact that the team needs very little from him right away. Brown, who came in a trade initially best described as the getting rid of Kelly Tripucka, showed in the summer that he can be a dependable backup to Mark Eaton. If Leckner, blessed with surprisingly quick feet for a 6-foot-11 player, comes along enough to help at all in the first year or two, that's a bonus.
"You know how much of a jump it is from college to the pros," reminds Layden.
Leckner found that out, too. Strangely, though, he finds himself starting to like the NBA these days. "It's actually becoming a little bit of fun," he says.
CAMP NOTES: Darrell Griffith scrimmaged Sunday night and continues to show little effects of his March knee surgery . . . Thurl Bailey was back after missing Saturday night's session, having pulled the same thigh muscle that sidelined him for a month of the summer . . . The Jazz were scheduled to practice twice today but just once Tuesday, followed by an afternoon outing to nearby Mesquite, Nev. The exhibition opener is Thursday night against Indiana in the Dixie Center.