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Utah Jazz: Al-Farouq Aminu thinks his versatility will help him stick in NBA

SALT LAKE CITY — He isn't Russian. He doesn't look like one of Rocky's former boxing opponents. And he certainly won't cash in a cool $17-plus million for the 2010-11 season.

But Al-Farouq Aminu believes his game and skill set compare favorably to a Utah Jazz player who can claim all of the above.

That'd be Andrei Kirilenko, of course.

The lanky 6-foot-9 Wake Forest forward listed "versatility" as his biggest strength — a point likely factoring into why he's currently projected by several publications to go just before the Jazz draft at No. 9.

"I can play a lot of positions," the 6-foot-9, 215-pounder said Sunday after working out for the Jazz.

"I can handle the ball, shoot … play with my back to the rim and I can also rebound," Aminu said. "So, I can bring a lot."

Aminu believes he will bring more to the NBA because he opted to stay for his sophomore season at Wake Forest instead of putting his name in the draft pool last summer.

"I think I got better in all parts of my game," Aminu said. "I really got better as a player. I got smarter as a player. I think I grew up."

This past season, the 19-year-old forward was the only ACC player to average a double-double with 15.8 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Giving a glance into his versatility, Aminu also averaged 1.4 blocks, 1.4 steals and 1.3 assists (though with 3.2 turnovers).

Aminu believes he needs to improve on his strength, shooting (44.7 percent last year from the field) and ballhandling to play small forward in the NBA.

Sunday's workout wasn't Aminu's first basketball trip to Utah. Wake Forest visited Provo in January 2009 and the Demon Deacons snapped BYU's 53-game home-winning streak.

"Yeah, we got them," said a grinning Aminu, who had 14 points, seven boards and three blocks in Wake Forest's 94-87 win at the Marriott Center. "That was fun. Crazy fans.

"I guess this state they really like basketball," he added, "because Utah always sells out and BYU, it was crazy, it was huge."

RIVALRY TALK: Many basketball fans in the Beehive State know Luke Babbitt from his college playing days with Utah State's nemesis, Nevada.

While the lottery pick hopeful said all the right things about Utah's NBA team after his workout Sunday, he let it be known that the USU-Nevada rivalry lives on in his heart.

The Aggies, Babbitt said tongue-in-cheek (maybe), are "the only thing I don't like about Utah."

Unfortunately, Jazz assistant coach and USU alumnus Phil Johnson wasn't there Sunday to trade barbs with Babbitt, which might be a good thing for the former Nevada standout forward.

"Those guys are tough," Babbitt conceded about the Aggies. "There's some bad blood there, but it's all in fun. It's just basketball."

SECRET ADMIRER: Ryan Thompson's big brother — the Sacramento Kings' Jason Thompson — isn't the only role model he has in the NBA.

The unheralded Rider University combo guard draws hope from how Wesley Matthews made the NBA, even becoming a starter for the Jazz as an undrafted rookie.

"It motivates me," Thompson said. "It shows what hard work can do."

The 6-foot-6 guard, who'd have to be considered a second-round long shot, met Matthews through his brother last year when the Marquette guard played on the Kings' summer-league team in Las Vegas.

"Being undrafted and just working his way up all the way to the top," Thompson added, "is just a great thing to watch."

MIRROR IMAGES?: Take in Xavier Henry's assessment of Gordon Hayward's game, and you just might wonder if they're long-lost brothers or were at least made from the same mold.

"He can shoot a little bit. He can drive a little bit," the Kansas guard said of the Butler star. "He plays defense.

"And," a sly-looking Henry added, "he hustles — just like me."

NEXT WORKOUT: The Jazz will host their third pre-draft evaluation session Wednesday. Though the team has yet to release a list of invitees, Utah State's Jared Quayle will be working out with the Jazz that day, according to a hoopshype.com report. The point guard is not projected to be drafted.

Contributing: Tim Buckley

e-mail: jody@desnews.com