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Benoit wants a new start with Jazz

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With time dwindling down in his first game back with the Jazz — a summer-league game, mind you — David Benoit left his feet and threw up a shot that could have tied the score.

But this wasn't any ol' shot, mind you.

It was a 3-pointer, and you can bet your bottom dollar Benoit was most-mindful of that fact. He most certainly was, evidenced by the thoughts that flashed through his mind as the ball neared the basket.

"Houston game — '95," Benoit said with little prompting. "I was just like . . . it came back, you know what I'm saying?"

Oh, we know. How can you not?

The three 3-point tries that Benoit put up and missed against the Rockets on that fateful night in 1995 would become an integral part of his legacy with the Jazz, despite anything else he might have done that should merit equal consideration.

"Of course I'd love to take it back," Benoit said.

But he can't, and Benoit knows it.

That is why now — at the age 32, and without even having played a lick of organized ball last season — all Benoit wants to do is take things forward.

The rough times of the mid-90s, the bumpy departure from Utah, the words that were or were not said about Karl Malone — that's all behind Benoit, in his mind. He is much more concerned with what is in front of him now: the new marriage, the baby on the way, the chance to use the ongoing Rocky Mountain Revue to show he's got things smoothed out now and deserves a second shot at finishing what he started with the Jazz.

It's 1991, and Benoit, not long removed from the University of Alabama, is playing in his first summer Revue.

"It was like, 'You're going to have to play Shawn Kemp tonight,' " Benoit says, laughing as he does. "I was like, "Do I really?' "

It was a different time then, not at all — as Benoit recalls — like it is now.

"What I remember about those summer leagues: Guys used to kill one another for a spot," he said. "Now, it's kind of like they take the laid-back road.

"Even the teams that I played on, like the Jazz . . . . I mean, it was murder to try to get some (playing) time. (Now) practices are kind of like, 'OK, yeah, you know, if I make it fine, if I don't (oh well).' It seems like that's what the attitude is."

Benoit's mind-set now, though, is no different than it was nearly a decade ago.

"It's the same," he said, "because I still have to prove I'm worthy of a spot. So I'm taking it pretty serious."

Benoit passed time instead in Florida last season, waiting for a phone call that no NBA team ever made, working on a diet heavy on organic food and light on red meat (one which he used to gain the trimmer, leaner look that he has now but did not own when he was last with the Jazz) and working on his mid-range jump shot.

It was that very shooting touch that escaped Benoit against Houston in '95, at the end of a deciding Game 5 in an opening-round playoff series with the Rockets, one in which Utah was seeded third and underdog Houston was sixth.

Houston went on to win the second of two straight NBA titles that year. Utah went home early, and Benoit, after one final season with the Jazz, eventually went to New Jersey.

Rather than return to Utah for a sixth season, Benoit went to the Nets on a shorter-term, less-lucrative deal. And once with them, he promptly proceeded to rupture his Achilles tendon — a devastating injury that essentially cost him a season.

That was also around the time Benoit was quoted as saying some rather disparaging things about Malone and the Jazz, like the suggestion that the Jazz will never win as long as Malone, who went on to win two NBA MVP awards, is in Utah and everything goes through him while he's here.

It was a tough time then, all the way around.

"I went through a real nasty divorce — as far as I'm concerned — right after I departed in '96," said Benoit, who went through a voluntary alcohol rehab program earlier in his stay with the Jazz. "Then, of course, there was the Achilles injury. So there were a lot of things that had happened.

"I didn't have no reason, and I didn't understand why the . . . guy wrote the story that he did, to say the things about Karl or the organization anyway," Benoit said. "It's just another thing where you're telling the truth, and then the (writer) goes and tends to go and say something else."

Benoit calls that whole matter "unfortunate," and hopes that the regrets he expressed then will stand the test of time.

"I handled it the best I could, to the point of calling the organization and getting on the news . . . and publicly acknowledging it and apologizing," he said. "I never really said it, but I'm still going to apologize to (Malone).

"I'm pretty sure we're going to meet up and talk," added Benoit, who has worked out a few times with Malone since then, but hasn't actually addressed the issue directly with him. "You know, Karl is a man, so I don't think this is anything he's worried about. It's about moving forward. I mean, the things that have happened are stuff you learn from, not dwell on, and make sure that in the future you don't make that same mistake."

During his second season in New Jersey the Nets dealt Benoit to Orlando, and that is where his NBA career — to this point — ended.

From there it was off to Israel, where he played two seasons ago for Maccabi Tel-Aviv. Unfortunately for Benoit, he left the Israeli League remembered more for a on-court fight than the way he played. That, he feels, may be one reason NBA teams shied away from his last season.

"With the whole thing that happened in Israel, I think everybody thought I was some psycho, crazy guy or something," Benoit said of the brawl, which wound up getting air-play on American cable television. "Everybody was like, 'What's with Israel?" I think it's just a very unfortunate incident, but that's way behind me.

"(Rewind) the tape for another minute, and it shows where I walked away from the guy twice before the incident even started. He initiated the whole thing. I had no reason to go to Israel and pick a fight — you know, they're already fighting with the Palestinians. There's already a war going over there, so I wasn't there to cause any trouble."

When the Jazz agreed to give Benoit a spot on their summer-league team, they did so with no promises.

"I'm on my hands and knees praying," he said, "because I hear that there's a lot of power in prayer."

An invitation to training camp in the fall is dependent in large part on his performance in the Revue, and the small forward's chances of actually making the team — if he makes it past this week — may come down to whether or not the Jazz land anyone else in the free-agent market.

"He's played a lot in the league a long time," Jazz basketball operations vice president Kevin O'Connor said. "Let's see how he does this week."

Benoit had four points in that first game Friday night, an 80-75 loss to Denver, and went scoreless with three rebounds in 17 minutes on Saturday, when the Jazz beat Toronto 90-88.

And against the Nuggets on Friday, those four did not include that 3-pointer late in the game. It was off the mark, just like those three 3s against the Rockets in '95, the ones folks in Utah just won't let go.

There were groans when Benoit's 3 missed on Friday, and snickering comments like the one from the guy who moaned, "Same result."

Benoit knows.

He didn't hear it, but he knows.

But he refuses to be dragged down just because a few shots didn't go down, and a five-season run with the Jazz didn't end the way he wanted.

"There was a lot of things going on," he said, "but right now I want to stay on the positive, because I have a new wife, and she's expecting a little one in January.

"So, you know, no matter how dark it seems on one side, there's always light at the end of the tunnel. So you've just got to keep looking . . . and eventually you'll get there."

NOTES:Dante Calabria, a free agent from the University of North Carolina who played in France last year, led the Jazz with 14 points against Toronto. Willie Burton had a game-high 16 points and first-round draft pick Morris Peterson, whose last-second 3-point try for the win rimmed out, added 15 for the Raptors . . . Four others finished in the double figures for the Jazz: free agents Lari Ketner (10), Kiwane Garris (11) and Zendon Hamilton (11), and first-round draft choice DeShawn Stevenson, who had 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting, including 2-of-5 from 3-point range. Stevenson added nine assists. . . . In Saturday's first game, Cleveland got 21 points from Robert "Tractor" Traylor in its 85-64 win over Sacramento. Utah product Andre Miller had 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting for the Cavaliers. . . . Chris Robinson had 19 points to lead Phoenix to a 71-70 victory over Denver. The start of that game was delayed about 20 minutes because Phoenix's Shawn Marion broke the rim during warmups . . . Dallas defeated Houston 77-59 in the late game. . . . The Jazz, now 1-1 in the Revue, are off today, when three games are scheduled at Salt Lake Community College. Utah resumes play Monday.


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com