Staying true to form, the Utah Jazz went to an unheralded college basketball program to get their draft selection, taking Walter Palmer of Dartmouth in the second round of Wednesday's NBA Draft.
Palmer, a 7-foot-1 1/2 center, was chosen by the Jazz at No. 33 overall. Jazz management said for the past two days that they were expecting to get a big player who would likely be "a project" - and they got one. He is skinny and has little basketball experience. However, he also has decent credentials. He averaged 16.5 points and 6.4 rebounds last year and, more significantly, was noted as a fine shooter, making 51 percent of his field goals and 81 percent of his free throws.Selecting Palmer was a characteristic move for the Jazz. They took Blue Edwards from little-known East Carolina last year, Dell Curry from Virginia Tech in 1986, Karl Malone from Louisian Tech in 1985 and John Stockton from Gonzaga in 1984. They also stayed true to their plan to take a player with a good reputation: an Ivy Leaguer from a school far more famous for producing engineers and MBA's than basketball players. Palmer carried a 2.92 GPA in history.
"He'll definitely add to the intelligence of the team," said Jazz Director of Player Personnel Scott Layden.
Although he is almost 7-2 and has fine shooting skills and good hands, Palmer - who weighs only 225 - will probably be the proverbial project. He didn't play organized basketball until he was a sophomore in high school. "Funny thing is, everybody in this draft's a project, from (No. 1 selection) Derrick Coleman on down," said Layden.
Layden took the Salt Palace podium moments before the announcement was made in New York at the Jacob Javits Center, and prepared to inform the hometown crowd of Utah's choice. "The Utah Jazz will select . . ."
Someone shouted, "Marty Haws!"
"No," said Layden.
He then announced Palmer. The reaction was typical of a No. 33 pick. Few in the crowd seemed to know who he was.
"We're excited about him. He's a very intelligent individual," said Coach Jerry Sloan.
Palmer said he was delighted to be selected by Utah, having played with Orem native John Mackay in college. Despite being 6-1 in the eighth grade, he was cut from the team. "I'd like to see what my coach thinks tonight," said Palmer. Although he didn't try out for the ninth grade team, by the time he was a 6-8 sophomore, he was getting hard to ignore. But Palmer didn't get serious about basketball until going to Dartmouth. Even there, basketball wasn't the main focus; they don't give athletic scholarships.
Palmer's selection appeared good for both team and player. With Mike Brown and Mark Eaton to play center, Utah can take the time to bring Palmer along slowly.
Added Jazz owner Larry Miller, "We have the luxury of time. This pick was better than we could have expected to get."
Meanwhile, the Jazz decision helps to fill the void left by the trade of Eric Leckner to Sacramento.
"I can't tell you how excited I am to come out to Utah," Palmer said.
The Jazz coaches said that as the draft unfolded, they became more relieved that they had given away their No. 23 pick in the trade that brought Washington guard Jeff Malone to Utah on Monday. Most of the players the Jazz seemed interested in - Ohio's Dave Jamerson, Jacksonville's Dee Brown, Mississippi's Gerald Glass, Texas' Travis Mays - were all selected before No. 23. Sacramento took St. Louis forward Anthony Bonner at No. 23, where Utah would have been picking.
Originally, Utah had hoped 7-0 Iowa center Les Jepsen would be available to select at No. 33, but he was taken 28th - the first pick of the second round - by Golden State. "Jepsen was our guy. He lasted so long into the middle of the first round, we were hoping he'd slip far enough we could get him," said Miller. "That would have been a real steal."
Miller went so far as to say that getting Jepsen may have been "a steal" on the order of John Stockton or Karl Malone. Stockton was picked at No. 16 in 1984 and Malone No. 13 in 1985.
Palmer said he realizes the importance of working on weights and developing himself into an NBA player. A Boston-area native, he said the papers there predicted he wouldn't be drafted. "When you play at Dartmouth, they tend to write you off," he said. "But actually it worked to my benefit. When you go to a small school you can start for three years. If I'd gone to a big school, maybe I'd have had to sit for three years."
As the first round drew to a close, the Jazz began to see several big players picked. Dwayne Schintzius, this year's villain, was finally taken at No. 24 by San Antonio, amid jeers from the crowd in New York (and Salt Lake). Duke's Ala Abdelnaby went at No. 25 to Portland and Clemson's Elden Campbell was picked by the Lakers at No. 27. Then came the Golden State selection of Jepsen, who was the last big player chosen until Palmer.
"He has good touch, good hands and very good footwork," said Layden. "I liken him to a young Thurl Bailey . . . though he's not that talented. He needs strength and he'll work on it. That's part of being a project."