He's won a championship with Michael Jordan, run with Andrei Kirilenko in Russia and dished to a bunch of guys you never heard of in Asheville, N.C.

The newest Jazzman, Rusty LaRue, is one of those hoops vagabonds who has spent the past five years on the NBA fringe.

The 28-year-old point guard spent parts of three seasons with the Chicago Bulls, winning a title in 1998, though he wasn't on the active roster. He played a total of 1,001 minutes in those seasons, mostly as an undersize shooting guard.

When the Bulls cut him for the last time four days after Christmas 2000, he finished that season with the Idaho Stampede. Then he spent part of last season with Kirilenko's CSKA team in the Russian SuproLeague, averaging 6.7 points a game as a sub.

Last fall he almost stuck with the Jazz after training camp, but a contract squeeze put him on the road again, this time to the NBDL's Asheville Altitude, where he played for two months, hoping for a call-up.

Of his NBDL experience he says, " It was about like every other minor league, except that you get some TV games and you know your check is going to cash."

A better reason to play there, though, was the hope an NBA team would call. That hope was realized this week when LaRue joined the Jazz. It was just a 10-day contract, but with the trade deadline looming, there's always a chance a more permanent roster spot will open up before he has to head back to North Carolina.

Or wherever.

For now, LaRue is just happy to be back in the bigs.

" I'm thankful for the opportunity Mr. (Larry H.) Miller's given me, and the team's given me, and I'm just going to try to work hard while I'm here," he said.

LaRue wasn't given much orientation time by the Jazz — the first night he suited up, Wednesday, he was the first guy off the bench and played 17 minutes as backup to John Stockton, against his old team. The results weren't much — 2 of 6 from the field for five points, with zero assists and three fouls, but he chalked that up to first-game nerves.

" I missed a few easy shots," he said. " But I got out there, got the jitters out, got my first game through. I didn't expect to be the first guy that (coach Jerry Sloan) called in."

By necessity, LaRue's expectations in recent years have been more realistic. He came to Jazz camp, for instance, aware that they had more guaranteed contracts than they had roster spots.

" It was a situation you could understand," he said. " You had a guy (John Crotty) with NBA experience and a guaranteed contract and has proven himself in the league."

Despite knowing that, LaRue admits being disappointed when finally cut.

" I wished I could have stayed," he said. "I felt like I played well enough to make the team."

After that disappointment, LaRue had offers from European teams. They wanted him to get on a plane and start playing immediately. But the Jazz told him there would be a good chance they'd need him eventually, so he decided to stick around.

So how does he feel about his chances of hanging on this time?

Realistic.

"You never know," he said. " A lot of it's being in the right place at the right time. I felt like this is a real good fit for me, and I'm just hoping I can do something good while I'm here."


E-MAIL: rich@desnews.com