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Long professional journey leads new Jazz guard Patrick Christopher to Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Patrick Christopher was being driven to the Cheesecake Factory in Des Moines, Iowa, earlier this week when he got an important phone call.

While the 6-5 guard was being transported to the restaurant in an Uber car, his agent delivered news he’d been waiting to receive since he was 5.

He’d finally made it to the NBA.

“My agent calls and tells me. He was pretty nonchalant. It was subtle,” Christopher said. “So, I was kinda, ‘Ohh, OK. Cool.’ ”

The guard, who’d been playing for the Iowa Energy in the D-League, quickly texted his mom and sister to tell them he’d been picked up by the Utah Jazz. He then made some other calls when he got out of the Uber car at the restaurant.

“I lost my appetite, though. I didn’t want to eat anymore,” he said, laughing. “I was really excited.”

Considering the journey he’s taken to get to the NBA, it was perhaps fitting that Christopher was on the road when his call-up call came.

Christopher wrapped up his collegiate career at California in 2010 after twice earning All-Pac-10 first-team honors. After going undrafted, he bounced around a couple of countries and leagues, cashing checks playing for Turkish teams, a French club (Cholet Basket) and a D-League squad (twice).

The shooting guard has gotten a crack at the NBA on a few occasions. He has played summer league with the Pistons and Kings, and was on the Grizzlies' camp squad this past October before being cut just before the regular season began.

That challenge makes his current position with the Jazz all the sweeter, not to mention that his team will play the Miami Heat on Friday instead of being in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“I look at life (as) being about adversity and how you respond,” he said. “The journey is great.”

Christopher, originally from Compton, California, made a financial sacrifice to leave Europe and pursue his NBA goal from the D-League.

“I got some experience over there. I was able to put a few coins away and give myself an opportunity,” he said. “Because when you play in the D-League, it’s somewhat of a sacrifice. That’s why you do take that opportunity, and it’s paid off.”

Christopher is known for being a wing who can defend and score on the perimeter. He averaged 15.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists for Iowa this season. Although capable offensively, Jazz management told him his main priority is defense.

“That’s what I’m looking forward to doing,” he said.

Christopher said he tried to be “a glue guy” and role player in the D-League. To begin that part of his challenge in Utah, he dug into his newly issued playbook and watched film Wednesday night after officially joining the Jazz. He mostly observed Thursday’s practice, and will be available for action against Miami if he’s on the active roster (two Jazz players will be inactive each game now).

“I think there’s a maturity to him,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “… (He) shoots the ball pretty well. We’re still finding out about him face to face. It’s only been one day, but we’re glad to have him.”

It was easy to hear the excitement in Christopher’s first interview in Utah. He joked about being the only bald-headed player on the Jazz. He explained that, although his preferred jersey numbers (5 and 23) are taken, he’s wearing No. 19 to pay tribute to his “humble beginnings” in two D-League stints. He also laughed about being one of the older guys (fifth-oldest of 15, to be exact) on this young Jazz team.

Christopher was happy to know someone on his new team. He was center Rudy Gobert’s teammate in France (Cholet) three years ago.

“Definitely having somebody familiar is cool,” he said.

Christopher joked that he might need to refresh his memory to think of some good Gobert stories, but he is impressed by the evolution of the 22-year-old Frenchman. He used the word “amazing” while addressing the 7-1 center’s progression.

“He’s still a little raw, but back then he was scratching the surface,” Christopher said. “I think having the access and everything that the NBA offers as far as development, you have the trainers, you have the coaching staff that’s trying to get players better. I think he’s taking advantage.”

Now it’s on Christopher to do the same thing.

“Oh man,” he said. “It’s definitely a dream come true.”

NOTES: Snyder on the Heat, who, of course, are no longer led by LeBron James: "They’re posting the ball up more. Anytime you take a player like that out of the mix, it’s going to change the identity of your team, but they’re still very good." ... This will be the Jazz's final home game until Dec. 27 because of the upcoming pre-Christmas trip. Snyder said he doesn't look at it like a "getaway" game. "To me it’s the game after we played San Antonio and the game before we play whoever’s next," he said. "I just try to be in the moment as much as possible." ... Jazz players, coaches, dancers and Bear visited kids at Primary Children’s Medical Center and Shriners Hospitals for Children after Thursday's practice.