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Best center or not, Rudy Gobert is appreciated by his coach

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder talks with Rudy Gobert in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Tuesday, March 10, 2015, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder talks with Rudy Gobert in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Tuesday, March 10, 2015, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Rick Bowmer, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — If you ask Rudy Gobert at the right time, it’s possible he’ll tell you he believes he’s the best center in the NBA like he admitted in a moment of confidence a week ago.

“To be honest, right now, I think it’s me,” Gobert told when asked to name the best center in the league after his impressive game against Memphis big Marc Gasol last Sunday.

Gobert quickly admitted that it’s a long season and that “the hardest thing is to do it the full season.”

The Stifle Tower took an interesting twist when later asked about making the bold proclamation.

Instead of focusing on himself, Gobert deflected the attention to his teammates and to his need for improvement. He used the word “complicated” to describe what he’d told ESPN about believing he’s the best.

“To me, the main thing is about winning and helping your team,” Gobert said. “I feel like I’ve got better, but I’ve still got a lot of room to get better. The way I said it made it look like I was thinking I was the best, but it’s not really that. It’s just about getting better and winning.”

Gobert admitted that talking like that could put a target on his back, but that’s not his concern.

“I think it does, but I’m just I’m not focused on that,” Gobert said. “It’s just something I said. I can’t take it back. I’m just focused on the team and winning games.”

And, yes, he’ll remain uber confident even if he doesn’t talk about where he ranks among the league’s best bigs. When a reporter asked about his confidence, he said he has it in spades but not just about himself. He has “confidence in myself, confidence in my team and confidence in the work I put in.”

One thing’s for sure. His coach didn’t lose any confidence in him — or get worried — because he tooted his own horn in an interview.

Quin Snyder said he has had a special connection with Gobert since he took over three seasons ago.

“We feel like we’ve had a partnership from an early stage,” Snyder said. “I threw him in the starting lineup in his second year, his first year with me, and I believed in him and I still really believe in him.”

For good reason, Gobert has emerged as a threat on both ends of the court this season. He’s averaging 12.4 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and a PER of 22.47.

Gobert has also recorded double-doubles in 10 straight games, marking the most by a Jazz player since Paul Millsap had 19 in 2008-09 and tied for the longest active streak in the NBA with Karl-Anthony Towns.

Snyder mostly admires Gobert’s competitiveness.

“Rudy really wants to win. That’s really the most important thing to him,” Snyder said. “When you get a guy that’s that committed and that ambitious and that dedicated, when you throw in the fact that they like winning, it’s a pretty unique combination and one that I’m grateful that I get a chance to coach him.”

One thing Snyder tries to coach Gobert on is to not get caught up in stuff away from the court.

“The biggest thing I always try to tell him is to not worry about what’s going on externally and to try to stay focused on what he’s doing and his improvement,” Snyder said. “There’s a reason for that. I think that’s why he’s improved so much is because he’s been able to stay focused.”

Maintaining that focus is the key for Gobert to continue to rise to the top of the center heap.

“Clearly Rudy’s got an enthusiasm for the game. I like that. I want it to be grounded in reality and the reality is he’s a player that’s getting better every time he plays,” Snyder said. “I don’t want him to stop doing that. I love that he’s ambitious for himself and for our team. The thing that people don’t realize about Rudy and I would like for people to see even more is there may not be a more competitive guy as far as how he approaches his work.”

Snyder also appreciates that Gobert is forthright in his responses, which means he might occasionally tweet something that could make management raise eyebrows or say something that makes for splashy headlines.

Gobert keeps it real.

Snyder admires that earnestness and sincerity the young French athlete displays. He’s that way with the media, with fans and with his coaches.

Snyder called him “very transparent,” which was a compliment.

“The good thing about that is you know what you’ve got. You know who he is,” Snyder said. “You know when he’s mad. He doesn’t carry it around with him. You see it and that helps you coach him.”

The Jazz coach also likes the pride that Gobert takes in himself, in his work, in his team and in his Utah community.

He just wants him to be himself.

“I like that he’s a confident player. I don’t want him to compare himself to other people,” Snyder said. “That’s a part of Rudy that I want him to continue to understand is unique is that he’s Rudy. He’s not DeAndre Jordan. He’s not Hassan Whiteside. He’s not Marc Gasol. He’s not Hakeem Olajuwon. He’s himself. The more that he can focus on that, his path will be his own and I think that’s what he’s beginning to understand, too, and really believing in that.”

The two have more than just an on-the-court relationship. Snyder likes how colorful of a personality Gobert has. He’s both bright and fun.

Nothing seems to get by Gobert, either — on the court, off the court and even on social media.

“He pays attention to everything. He’s very aware,” Snyder said. “I think it’s probably one of the reasons he’s such a good shot blocker. There’s an awareness, an alertness and urgency to who he is as a person that fuels him and I think it fuels him as a player.”

They keep in constant contact, too, in part because the 24-year-old reaches out to his 50-year-old coach on a regular basis.

Snyder chuckled about how Gobert sent a text to him after the win in Memphis.

“He texted me the other night because I called him solid,” the coach said. “Rock solid, I told him.”