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Hornacek called in to assist Kirilenko

BOISE — Initial word upon Jeff Hornacek's arrival here Tuesday night was that the retired Jazz shooting guard was at training camp to work with Utah's young players on their shooting.

The real reason for Hornacek's presence, however, is much weightier than that.

He's here chiefly to spend time with frustrated starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko, who has sought Hornacek's counsel on shooting matters in the past.

He'll continue to do so well after the team breaks camp in Boise later this week, joining the Jazz officially as a part-time special assistant coach for at least the entire 2007-08 NBA season.

"Right now he's gonna concentrate on working with Andrei," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said Wednesday night.

Eventually, Hornacek's duties may expand to include the youngsters.

His immediate concern, however, is singular in purpose.

"Andrei likes to work with (Hornacek)," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said with reference to Kirilenko, who just last month requested to be traded away from Utah. "He feels like he's helped him when he's been here."

O'Connor suggested the hiring is not a direct response to Kirilenko's frequent airing of concerns and complaints this offseason. But it does seem to address, at least in part, the cries from help from someone who clearly is flustered.

Kirilenko struggled mightily with his long-distance shooting last season, hitting 47.1 percent from the field but a career-low 21.3 percent on 3-point attempts.

"Last year was a tough year for him," Hornacek said, "but I think he's got all that put behind him.

"I think he's ready to go," added Hornacek, a busy father of three whose interest in becoming a full-time coach rests perhaps in the not-too-distant future. "It happens all the time — guys say stuff, (that) they don't want to be in places. Then, when you get back on the court, it's back to business as usual."

Hornacek, whose old uniform number is retired by the Jazz, plans to fly from his Phoenix-area home either to Salt Lake City or the site of a Jazz road game at least two times per week to work with Kirilenko.

Talk of the plan had Kirilenko beaming after a private workout with the shooting guru prior to Wednesday's second session of two-a-day training camp practices at Boise State University.

"I love to work with him," said Kirilenko, who began his NBA career shortly after Hornacek's retirement as a player in 2000. "He's a great guy. He was one of the best shooters in NBA. You know, working with him, I feel good."

It's the third straight year Hornacek will tutor Kirilenko in some capacity, and he did the same during Kirilenko's 2001-02 rookie season.

But never has the effort been as regular as the Jazz plan for it to be this season.

"I really appreciate the time he can spend on me," Kirilenko said.

"If it's my will I want him to be with me like 24/7 at practice and helping me," he added, "but I know that's impossible."

While working with Kirilenko, Hornacek will stress repetition and routine much more than mere mechanics.

He'll drop hints like trying to remember not to hesitate when shooting.

"You know before you get the ball if you're gonna shoot it or not," Hornacek said, "and then when that pass comes you're already in your motion and you let it fly."

Hornacek also will spend some time trying to boost the unhappy Russian's sagging confidence.

"You know," he said after watching Kirilenko hit about 80 percent of his pre-practice shots Wednesday, "he's a great shooter.

"I don't think it's necessarily 'his shot,"' Hornacek added. "It's just the confidence that comes with shooting a lot of shots, and having some success. ... Shooting's not all technique. A lot of it is mental."

What Hornacek probably won't do is go down the road of force-feeding Kirilenko just what it takes to play for Sloan, a sore subject in recent months for the one-time All-Star.

Should Kirilenko ask, though, the ex-Jazz guard will be ready with a response.

"Jerry's a great coach," Hornacek said.

"Guys have to know that he's gonna get after you. He wants you to do well. ... He's trying to stoke you to do better, and get the best out of you," he added. "I think deep-down all guys know that. As much as Jerry may get on their case, they know that he's trying to make them better players."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com