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Be quiet and listen, Jazz rookies advised

Utah rookie Morris Almond speaks to reporters at Jazz media day.
Utah rookie Morris Almond speaks to reporters at Jazz media day.
Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News

It was eons ago, but Matt Harpring has been there. Ronnie Brewer too, just last season. It is one's initial year in the NBA, and it's something of which at this very moment Morris Almond is trying to remember all the ins and outs.

Did you pick up the doughnuts, Morris?

What about the laundry, Rook?

Yo, Mo, how 'bout some help with these bags?

Beyond remembering plays that come with no playbook and trying to earn regular-rotation playing time at shooting guard, 2007 first-round draft choice Almond — who'll make his preseason debut tonight, when the Jazz open exhibition play against Milwaukee at EnergySolutions Arena — must deal with, and overcome, all the responsibility that comes with being a rookie.

C'mon, Morris, where are the ones with the sprinkles?

That's the kind of question some teammates might have this year for Almond, the first Rice University product selected in the NBA Draft's opening round since Detroit tapped Ricky Pierce — he lasted 16 seasons, including eight with the Bucks — at No. 18 overall in 1982.

Teammates except, perhaps, the ones not far removed.

"I ain't gonna treat him bad," Brewer said, "because he's gonna go through it with the older guys throughout the year."

Instead, Brewer vowed to offer No. 25 pick Almond — a teammate on a high school all-star select team that represented the United States in the 2003 Global Games International Basketball Tournament — "advice on how to go along with some of the stuff."

It goes, Brewer said, like this: "(Don't) let your ego get ahead of yourself and act like you're a tough guy. You've got to understand everybody was 'the man' in college. You've got to kind of start off at the lowest of the totem poll and work your way up."

Not that an inflated sense of self-worth should be much of a concern for the Georgia-born Almond, an Army brat who along with his father, Willie, bounced around bases in Kentucky, Colorado, Georgia, Germany, Ohio and Kansas until settling back in Georgia as an eighth-grader.

"I think if you're a diverse person, and have a wide personality, no matter what situation you're put in you should be able to adapt and excel in that," said Brewer, who went on to the University of Arkansas while Almond was at Rice. "With him, and myself — we come from a good background, so we're able to handle adversity. I went through some, not being able to play a lot (last season) as I thought I would. Whatever his situation is, I think he's gonna be able to adapt as well."

"The little bit that I know him, he's a great guy," added Harpring, who like Almond is an Atlanta-area high school product. "It doesn't seem like he has too much of an ego. He listens. He's what you'd want in a rookie."

Harpring, who entered the league out of Georgia Tech with Orlando way back in 1998, has some suggestions of his own for the fellow Georgian.

"The biggest thing with a rookie, and I was told this when I was a rookie, is just, 'Shut up and listen,"' he said. "Because you get the respect — from other players, veterans — when you don't say anything. It's the times when you get the rookies who are supposed to have all the answers already, and they talk back to you, (that) it doesn't leave a good impression.

"I took that advice," Harpring added. "I didn't say anything as a rookie. I just did what I was supposed to do, did my job. And if a veteran coach told me something, it was, 'OK.' I might not have agreed with it, but I certainly wasn't going to say anything. And it worked out."

Working his way into the lineup, really, is all the 22-year-old wants to do during his first NBA season.

Super shooting should aid the cause, as Almond was billed, along with Golden State pick Marco Belinelli, as one of the top two shooters in last June's draft.

"I definitely want to contribute," he said.

"I know from my college days it doesn't always happen right off the bat. I know that better than anybody," added Almond, who didn't start his first game at Rice until his junior season. "But I know how to hang in there. I know how to grind. I definitely want to contribute, but if it's later rather than sooner, so be it."

So forget, for the time being, trying to push apparent front-runners Brewer and Gordan Giricek for minutes at the 2 spot.

For now, instead, Almond's primary focus will be — and was last week during training camp in Boise — simply "getting the plays down" and "just trying to combine the structure of the offense with your own basketball knowledge and skill."

It can be a delicate balance, and no small task in the keep-it-in-your-head offense of Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and top assistant Phil Johnson.

"You don't want to be like a robot out there," Almond said. "But, at the same time, you want to be on the same page as everybody else."

Aided, though, by the fact that at Rice he also played in a system largely dependent on timing, cutting and ball movement, Almond anticipates fitting in just fine.

"At the end of the day," he said, "it's still all basketball. We're all basketball players, and once you get over that aura of 'This is the NBA' ... you realize that everybody is just kind of like you."

Except that this season they don't have to remember who likes chocolate and who prefers cherry-flavored filling oozing from the middle.

Preseason opener

Bucks at Jazz

Today, 7 p.m.

EnergySolutions Arena

Radio: 1320; TV: KJZZ