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Zach Guthrie (who?) embraces opportunity to coach Jazz in summer league

LAS VEGAS — Alex Jensen didn't exactly do Zach Guthrie any favors this week at the Huntsman Center.

Before addressing that, let's address a question you might be asking.

Zach Guthrie?

Guthrie is the fresh-faced member of the Jazz coaching staff. The 29-year-old sits behind Quin Snyder during games, but he's often noticeable as he jumps up from his seat and points and hollers to give players instructions and advice.

Snyder hired Guthrie, a Class of 2010 business major at the University of Texas, to his staff as an assistant coach two years ago to be the manager of basketball strategy and technology. The two coaches worked together in the D-League with the Austin Spurs, where Snyder was head coach from 2007-10.

Guthrie was promoted to be an assistant coach in charge of basketball strategy before the 2016-17 season and continues to be trusted with more leadership opportunities.

Before his Utah stint, Guthrie spent time working for coaching staffs in Orlando, from 2012-15 as manager of advanced scouting, and from 2010-12 with San Antonio, where he ascended to the role of assistant video coordinator.

Ten years after his basketball operations internship with Snyder and the Spurs began, Guthrie has a unique opportunity to coach the Utah Jazz's summer league squad during their run in Las Vegas.

Jensen coached the summer Jazz to a 3-0 record this past week in Utah, and the former Ute handed over the head coaching duties to Guthrie for the next week or so.

"As soon as Alex finished, I was like, 'No pressure,'" Guthrie said, laughing. "Seriously, 3 and 0. Unbelievable. It's all downhill from there."

Guthrie's debut wasn't as successful, according to the scoreboard. The Jazz lost to the Portland Trail Blazers 72-63.

"I expect A.J. to give me some good-natured ribbing," Guthrie said.

Guthrie had a couple of things going against him in his head coaching debut.

For one thing, summer Jazz starting point guard Dante Exum is not on the Las Vegas roster after playing very well in Utah.

For another, this Utah squad struggled mightily with its aim, shooting just 31.6 percent from the field.

"I told them in there (make-shift locker room at Cox Pavilion) summer league games are won at the free-throw line and in the paint," said Guthrie, whose team shot only 10 free throws compared to Portland's 29.

"I thought our mentality wasn't the right way. Shots came off the first side, one pass, not breaking the paint and getting someone else open and then finding the shot."

Rookie Donovan Mitchell looked good overall yet again, but the Louisville product only made 8 of 26 shots and missed 9 of 12 3-pointers. The No. 13 pick finished with a team-high 19 points but only dished out two assists in a point guard role.

"I think he has to find that balance," Guthrie said of Mitchell. "That’s tough for a young guy coming in this league, his fourth professional game, now Dante's out of the lineup, he steps in. That’s tough."

The coach said he'd like to see Mitchell look for teammates a bit more when running the point.

"That’s a mindset. You’ve got to toe the line," he said. "I don't want to take that away from him, but at the same time he could probably find a few more passes and a few less shots."

Mitchell said he needs to look to distribute the ball more.

"I know a bunch of times I missed a lot of guys on passes and I told them I'd take the blame on that," Mitchell said. "I've got to get more used to that, kind of be more of a point guard."

Former Utah State guard Spencer Butterfield scored 11 points with three 3-pointers for the Jazz, while first-round pick Tony Bradley added 10 points. Second-year pro Joel Bolomboy had six points on 1-of-7 shooting but grabbed eight boards.

Former Salt Lake resident Caleb Swanigan, the No. 26 pick of the draft, had a double-double of 16 points (4-of-12 shooting) and 13 rebounds in his pro debut.

Guthrie will get a chance to notch his first win Sunday when the Jazz take on the Los Angeles Clippers (6 p.m. MDT).

"What an unbelievable opportunity coach Snyder and Dennis (Lindsey) and all those guys have given me to be able to coach here," Guthrie said. "Obviously I was a little nervous at first, but it went away like that. Coaching is coaching, and you just slide over one more seat and you've got a lot more decisions."

Guthrie said he told his wife he'd never gotten so many text messages as he did after it was announced that he'd be coaching in Las Vegas.

"It’s an awesome experience. I'm loving it. I'm hoping to grow," Guthrie said. "It’s the same thing with all of these guys. We’re all trying to grow. We’ve all moved up into different roles that we’ve never done before and the ability to grow in those roles as the week goes on, as the summer league goes."

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