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A third Aussie on Jazz? Mitch Creek can use Joe Ingles as inspiration

Mitch Creek
Mitch Creek
Photo courtesy Utah Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY — For the Gordon Haywards of the world, these are good times. When hundreds of millions of dollars are the conclusion, how can he go wrong?

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s July basketball.

Monday at the Huntsman Center, the Jazz played the first of three Summer League games in Salt Lake, beating San Antonio 87-74. An estimated 8,500 fans showed up. Heaven knows there were years when even the Utes didn’t put that many in the house.

Although there were still empty seats, there were none on the Jazz bench. Eleven players were draped along the sideline. A regular conga line. Among the Jazz long-shots is Australian Mitch Creek.

Imagine, an Australian making good in the NBA.

Never mind. Joe Ingle has 52 million bits of evidence.

Australia has even produced two No. 1 draft picks, Ben Simmons in 2016 and Andrew Bogut in 2005. Ingles just signed a four-year deal with the Jazz after once being dropped by the Los Angeles Clippers.

Now comes Creek.

It’s not a question whether the Jazz will have an Aussie next year, but how many. Two will be here for sure. One is Dante Exum, the third-year player who was the fifth pick of the 2014 draft. But he was injured in the summer of 2015 and missed the entire 2015-16 season. He’s only in the Summer League because he’s still catching up. He’s just 22 years old, but it’s time to show more than potential.

A second Aussie is the popular Ingles, who became even more popular this week when he re-signed with the Jazz.

Which is all the motivation Creek should need, even though he is an older-than-average 25.

“Some of these guys are 19, 20, 21 years old,” he said. “But they’ve got a lot to offer.”

Creek played with the Adelaide 36ers of the National Basketball League for seven years before getting the invitation to try out with the Jazz. Last year he averaged 12 points and five rebounds.

In Salt Lake on Monday, Exum did what he’s supposed to do in Sumer League. He dominated. For a half. If he is ever going meet expectations, he needs to start somewhere quickly. He made his first four shots, after which he blocked a shot back into history. At the end of the half he sank a 21-footer.

But he’s not yet Joe Ingles, i.e. a reliable commodity. He might not even be rookie Donovan Mitchell, who came on in the second half and finished with a team-high 23 points.

Exum missed an open corner 3 early in the third quarter but soon threaded a perfect lead pass to Mitchell for a layup. No worries, mate! He dribbled a pass of someone’s leg and missed another open 3.

He had six turnovers, allowing afterward that they were simply “lazy plays.”

Exum’s final numbers: 18 points, six rebounds, five assists — a nice game.

Shades of promise, shadows of doubt.

“I told (Exum) he’s got to play every possession. He doesn’t have the luxury of being the third or fourth option and going and standing in the corner,” said Summer League coach Alex Jensen. “There were a couple of second-half stretches where he got tired, and you can’t do that.”

Creek’s first night on an NBA roster was far less visible. He spent it on the bench.

There’s not a huge demand for a 6-foot-4, 215-pound forward from anywhere, Northern or Southern hemispheres. Still, who knew Ingles would be worth $52 million?

“I do have a little bit of sneaky athleticism,” Creek said.

Unlike Bogut and Simmons — who call big city Melbourne home — Creek was born in Horsham, a country town of 16,000, 3½ hours away.

“I’m a country boy,” he said.

As for the odds of him making it three Aussies on the Jazz, Creek is optimistic.

“That’s why I’m here,” he said. “I can’t wait to get on the court. “If I play one minute or 40, it doesn’t matter. You play the same way, act the same way, and be a professional about it. We won the game, that’s all that matters.”

He talks like an NBA player already.