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Jazz taking pre-draft look at more 18-year-olds

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At age 18, 6-foot-7 forward Dorell Wright considers himself mentally ready for the NBA.

And one sign that might be true is he's gone through six NBA workouts, including one with the Jazz on Tuesday morning, and he's still "50-50" with one more day to choose whether he'll keep his name in the NBA Draft, scheduled for June 24, or decide to accept his college scholarship to DePaul, where he could be a freshman come fall instead of a rookie pro.

"It's like the recruiting process all over again, but I'm taking a bigger risk keeping my name in the draft," said the well-spoken youngster who was named the best prep-school player in the nation by Basketball Times after spending one season at South Kent Prep in Connecticut.

"I'm from Los Angeles (Leuzinger High, Lawndale). I took a year in Connecticut to try to mature," Wright said. "I was getting ready for college, and this NBA stuff started popping up. I think I'm ready for whatever."

On Thursday, those possible draftees still eligible for college must declare their intentions, and Wright said Tuesday he was still weighing options and will discuss the matter with his parents again after working out today for Denver.

"If I can get a guarantee, or someone saying that it's looking good that you will be drafted in the first round, that's what I am looking for, the first round (and a guaranteed contract)," Wright said.

"I'm waiting to see how many drop out of the draft on the 17th. I heard there's a lot of players that will be dropping out, so that could be a good thing for me, or not — so I'm still waiting."

Wright said Utah's workout was the hardest he's had so far, in part because he was the only perimeter player there. He's been told he must get his shot more consistent and ballhandling "tight."

"I think he'll be a first-round draft pick — that's my prediction, if you want a crystal-ball kind of thing," said Jazz senior vice president of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor, calling Wright a "pleasant kid to be around" but lamenting somewhat the tremendous youth movement of this and future drafts.

"You don't know enough about him. You haven't seen him play enough, and you're anxious about that. Those are all the things that we've got to deal with," said O'Connor, who will bring in 20-plus players over the next week for workouts. That is in addition to a number who've already worked out in Salt Lake City and elsewhere for Jazz staffers, O'Connor said it's the largest number the team has scoped out because of the young possibilities and because Utah still has its three first-round picks.

Three more players will work out today in the Zions Bank Basketball Center, though Predrag "Peja" Samardziski, an 18-year-old 7-foot center from Macedonia who speaks excellent English, unexpectedly got in half a workout Tuesday. His agent sent him to Utah a day early after a planned workout in Phoenix was changed.

Also scheduled today are 6-foot-10 center Uros Slokar of Slovenia and 7-1 center Robert Rothbart of Natomas High School in Sacramento, Calif. The Jazz will view players also on Thursday and Saturday.

O'Connor did not want to comment on Samardziski, since he did not have the full workout, but assistant coach Gordon Chiesa said, "He has a high level of offensive skills, and that makes him intriguing." Chiesa added Samardziski "is a banger" inside despite his youth.

Samardziski said he learned to speak English watching movies and from his older sister, who played two years of junior college ball in Kansas and is headed for the University of Nebraska in the fall. Also from some 13 NBA workouts he's had. He has been to Boston, Cleveland, Washington, Atlanta, Portland and Utah and worked out in Los Angeles for the Clippers, Golden State, Orlando, Dallas and Miami. He doesn't know how he's perceived yet because his agent told him to leave that to him and just think playing basketball.

MUM: O'Connor declined to comment on newspaper reports that former Jazzman Tyrone Corbin, currently a New York Knicks assistant, and Denver assistant and former player T.R. Dunn are candidates to fill the position vacated when Kenny Natt left Utah last week for Cleveland and a chance to mentor LeBron James. O'Connor said he has spoken to "a few" people about the opening but it's coach Jerry Sloan's decision. Sloan is busy tending to wife Bobbye as she battles pancreatic cancer. O'Connor wants to have a new assistant in place for the Rocky Mountain Revue July 16-24 but said the real search will likely come after next week's draft.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com