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Utah Jazz use free agent mini-camp as opportunity to find next Royce O’Neale

Utah Jazz's Royce O'Neale, Tony Bradley and Eric Griffin, from left, poses for photos at the NBA basketball team's media day, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Salt Lake City.
Utah Jazz's Royce O'Neale, Tony Bradley and Eric Griffin, from left, poses for photos at the NBA basketball team's media day, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — Royce O’Neale arrived in Salt Lake City during the summer of 2016 for the fourth annual Utah Jazz free-agent mini-camp, just three days after his 23rd birthday.

After not being selected in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Baylor product was one of 30 prospects that accepted an invite for the two-day event on June 8-9.

Let’s just say the rest is history as mini-camp player No. 77 put on a show at the Jazz practice facility.

Bart Taylor, Utah’s director of scouting and Salt Lake City Stars vice president of operations, was in attendance and can certainly attest to the now folklore tale.

“Actually when we look back on it, he was the highest guy who shot the best in the Jazz 100 as the guards,” Taylor recalled. “So, all those pieces went into it and just also seeing his body, seeing him up close, having our coaches touch him and feel him, interacting with him, getting to know him as a person and all those things matter.”

Fast-forward to the 2018 NBA playoffs where O’Neale would emerge as a solid two-way swingman contributor, averaging 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds for a Jazz team that reached the second round.

Had it not been for the mini-camp, O’Neale may have been another under-the-radar free agent still playing ball overseas. Even after his legendary mini-camp workouts, he still decided to spend a year in Spain playing for Gran Canaria before signing a three-year deal in Utah on July 19, 2017.

“We tried to get him that summer, tried to sign him but he decided to go to Spain and made the right choice for him because he got better over there and it ended up working out in the long run for him,” Taylor said. “Royce is a great story and we like to say it puts pressure on us to find another one.”

The Jazz continue to host their traditional free agent mini-camp to this day. In fact, Friday kicked off the start of the sixth annual event with 32 free agent invitees at Zions Bank Basketball Campus. Nineteen of the players played in the NBA G-League during the 2017-18 season, including Salt Lake City Stars players L.J. Rose, Isaiah Cousins and Diamond Stone.

Taylor and the front office closely evaluated the morning workouts on Friday in search of another hidden gem. The goal is to extend a few summer league invites out of these camps as they continue to build a pipeline throughout the Jazz organization.

This idea was developed by Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey based on his previous experience with the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.

The full list of this year’s Jazz mini-camp participants include: Ammanuel Diressa, Kendrick Ray, Melo Trimble, Trey Lewis, Trey Davis, Gabe York, Joe Rahon, Rose, Demitrius Conger, Tre McLean, Austin Hollins, Jamel Morris, Jeremy Morgan, Shawn Dawson, Cousins, Daniel Dixon, Stanton Kidd, Malcolm Hill, K.J. McDaniels, Matt Jones, Jarrod Uthoff, Kamari Murphy, Luke Petrasek, Rashawn Thomas, Perry Jones III, Jaylen Johnson, Mike Tobey, Stone, Kennedy Meeks, Michael Fusek, Youssou Ndoye and Lavoy Allen.

“There’s some good talent out here,” Taylor said. “I like to joke with all our guys and say there’s three or four guys out here that’ll play in the NBA but you’ve got to find them so there’s definitely a few guys out here that we like, a lot of guys actually that we really like but we’re just trying to see how they do over the course of the three practices and hopefully one of them does turn into Royce.”