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Utah Jazz: Selection of WSU's Bolomboy brings immediate comparisons to Millsap

Weber State's Joel Bolomboy dunks against an opponent during the 2015-16 season.
Weber State's Joel Bolomboy dunks against an opponent during the 2015-16 season.

SALT LAKE CITY — By drafting Weber State star Joel Bolomboy, the Utah Jazz are getting a very hardworking yet somewhat unheralded young player who has steadily improved his skill-set over his collegiate career and has become one of the nation's best rebounders.

Sounds a lot like another former unsung player who the Jazz once drafted, a guy who worked his tail off and steadily progressed from second-round nobody to eventually becoming an NBA All-Star.

That guy? Paul Millsap, a three-time NCAA rebounding champion who was taken by Utah with the 47th pick in the 2006 NBA draft, spent seven very solid seasons with the Jazz and has since become a three-time All-Star selection with the Atlanta Hawks.

So when Bolomboy, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound power forward out of Weber State, was selected by the Jazz with the 52nd pick in Thursday night's annual NBA draft, comparisons to Millsap immediately came to mind. In fact, Millsap's name was mentioned in Bolomboy's conversation with the Jazz coaching staff after Thursday's draft was done.

"I spoke to two of the coaches from the Jazz and they pretty much told me the same thing with Millsap, how he was a second-round pick and how it doesn't matter where you get drafted because, at the end of the day, you're gonna have to come in and play," Bolomboy said. "And if you don't perform good and you're not playing good, the coaches are not gonna play you.

"So I could get drafted in the late second round like I did, or I could go undrafted, but no matter what happens, I'm gonna come in and play and just show everybody why — why I can play and why I belong."

While Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey would love to see Bolomboy have the kind of NBA career that Millsap has carved out for himself, he felt like making any premature comparisons now would be a very unfair expectation to place on the 22-year-old forward at this point.

"That's too much to put on Joel," Lindsey said. "Paul is, in my opinion, one of the all-time great selections. … We'll let nature take its course with Joel, but he'll have an opportunity to continue to play basketball professionally on the Wasatch Front. That wasn't the reason why we selected him. But there's a lot of good things that could come out of this.

"We want to participate in his career and help him become the best pro that he can be."

Bolomboy, who played four years for the Wildcats, was this year's Big Sky Conference Most Valuable Player and was also named the league's Defensive Player of the Year — the first time in league history that a player earned both awards in the same season. He averaged 17.1 points and 12.6 rebounds — third-best in the nation — as a senior and was named an honorable mention All-American.

Bolomboy and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, expected him to be selected much sooner in Thursday's draft, either late in the first round or early in the second, so they saw no need for him to come show his stuff in pre-draft workouts for the Utah franchise.

But when that didn't happen and he slipped to deep in the second round, the Jazz were glad to grab him with the No. 52 pick.

The former Weber State star was just delighted — and relieved — when he was finally chosen.

"I was just more than happy to hear my name called," Bolomboy said. "Going into (Thursday), just talking to my agent on the feedback we got, we were confident that I would've gone early second or late first (round), but that didn't go as planned. So I just stayed confident; I had the family and they supported me, they lifted me back up, and I was just hoping.

"I left everything in God's hands, and the Jazz happened to take me and they gave me the opportunity. And I'm more than happy and thankful for it. I spent four years at Weber State, and I'm just grateful that I got the opportunity to come back and play for the Jazz. It just gives me extra motivation and extra drive to keep going, and no matter what happens and how things end up, I'm gonna have that confidence and chip on my shoulder just to prove everybody wrong.

"I tried to stay positive," he said of watching the draft with great anticipation. "My name still wasn't called up, and I was texting (Bartelstein) back and forth as names were being called and picks were going by, so he kinda gave me hope and he was like 'Everything's gonna pan out.' He just told me that a lot of the picks in the second round, some of the teams were getting players that were just draft-and-stash guys so they were gonna end up going overseas.

"And he told me we're not gonna seem defeated or we're not gonna beg for somebody to draft us. He's like 'Everything is just gonna work out' and, if it came to this, we would rather go undrafted and get on a summer league team and then make a roster and have things go that way than just have a team draft you just so you can hear your name called and then get sent overseas."

For Weber State head coach Randy Rahe, Thursday's draft marked the second time in five year's he's had one of his standout players picked to play in the NBA. In 2012, star guard Damian Lillard went early in the first round as a lottery pick to the Portland Trail Blazers, and he has since become one of the league's premier players.

Coach Rahe knows that, with Bolomboy's work ethic, he has the capability of making the Jazz roster and contributing to their success.

"I'll tell ya what, it's been amazing. I don't think I've been around a player in all my years from season one who has improved as much as Joel has from his first year to his last year," the Wildcats' coach said. "And all of it is due to his hard work. I mean the guy, Joel, is an absolutely relentless worker, he's never satisfied with where he's at, and that's a big reason why he's put himself in this position. It's fantastic, and we couldn't be more proud of him. He's a really good player, but he's a much better person than he is a player.

"And he's got a great opportunity now with an absolutely great organization. I mean, we've got nothing but great respect for the Jazz and their culture and how they do things, and now he's got this opportunity. And I know one thing, he will definitely make the most of that opportunity.

"… We thank God that Joel allowed us to coach him and come here, but each year that we've had him, he's made tremendous improvement," Rahe said. "And after we had him for a couple years, we could see that if he keeps making this improvement, that there's no question he could put himself in this position to be in the NBA.

"And then this year was really a breakout year. It all came together for him. and so we saw at a fairly young age that he had this potential, but then potential's a dirty word — you've got to make the most of it — and Joel has earned the right to be here (Thursday night) because I guarantee you there's not a lot of guys out there that work as hard as he does. So he's put himself in this position purely through his hard work."

Bolomboy wasn't backing down when asked how he felt about his chances to make the Jazz roster this upcoming season.

"I feel my chances are really good," he said. "I'm gonna come in there from Day 1 and I'm gonna be a great rebounder and a great defender. I'm gonna play hard, I'm gonna hit all my shots when I'm open, I'm going to be a great teammate and, you know, whatever happens, happens.

"But I feel like I have a great opportunity and I'm gonna make the most of it and just go into this summer league and so on feeling confident."

Ya know what? That probably sounds a lot like something Paul Millsap might've said back in 2006.