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Salt Lake City Stars search for next Jonathon Simmons during open tryouts

TAYLORSVILLE — The tale of Jonathon Simmons never gets old.

You know the one where he turned a $150 NBA D-League tryout into a $20 million contract with the Orlando Magic.

On Saturday afternoon, the Salt Lake City Stars were hoping for their version of that Cinderella story through open tryouts at Bruin Arena on the campus of Salt Lake Community College.

“A Jonathon Simmons is what everyone is looking for,” said Bart Taylor, the Stars’ vice president of basketball operations. “We definitely challenge ourselves every year to try to find that guy.”

Not only were members of the Stars’ G League staff on site, so were Utah Jazz brass — including general manager Dennis Lindsey — as 69 participants showed up to audition for the team.

Ironically, Simmons’ path to the league included a stop in Salt Lake City even after footing the bill for his registration fee to try out for the D-League’s Austin Toros. In 2015, he was one of the 27 invited prospects for the Jazz’s free agent mini-camp.

“From afar, it’s such a great story, even coming from the University of Houston, with my ties to Houston and the way he came in,” Lindsey said of Simmons. “We actually had him in Utah Jazz mini-camp and he played very well and we hesitated so there’s a lot of pieces to Jonathon Simmons, but the San Antonio franchise should be proud that they helped him get in the league, although he’s now in Orlando.”

Simmons put up a career-high 13.9 points in 69 games for the Magic last season at 28 years old.

No one wants to miss out on that diamond in the rough again, even if it takes extensive scouting in the G League.

“Every so often a club will catch lightning in a bottle with a Jonathon Simmons of the world or a David Nwaba, but a lot of good local, high school, college talent that these guys deserve and want a shot,” Lindsey said. “Even the guys that didn’t play at higher levels, that they now have had their opportunity to play in a pro camp and be evaluated here by professionals here with the Stars.

“It’s a good community event, and a lot of guys feel as though they’re getting their shot, so there’s merit in that,” he continued.

Trace Cureton (Utah State), Brandon Sly (Utah State) and Jaren Sweeney (BYU) were some of the notable local talent in attendance.

Trace Cureton shoots during tryouts for the Salt Lake City Stars at the Lifetime Activities Center in Taylorsville on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018.
Trace Cureton shoots during tryouts for the Salt Lake City Stars at the Lifetime Activities Center in Taylorsville on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Even Utah Jazz players Georges Niang and Naz Mitrou-Long witnessed the tail end of the live scrimmages. The Jazz are set to begin training camp on Tuesday, but both guys split time with the Stars and Jazz last season and wanted to soak in the atmosphere before getting back to work.

“Being able to come out and see a bunch of guys who want to chase a dream and are putting in the work,” Mitrou-Long said. “There’s a lot of familiar faces and (Stars coach) Martin Schiller has invested a lot into myself and Georges, and Bart (Taylor) as well, so it’s nothing out here to support and show love and just to implement what the Jazz stand for, and that’s just being a tight-knit family.”

Niang’s close friend, Harry Rafferty, was also one of the G League hopefuls in attendance in a No. 9 uniform. The verdict has yet to be revealed on whether or not the Jazz have identified that next Jonathon Simmons-type guy. Stay tuned.

“I heard he was dominating,” Niang laughed, while discussing Rafferty. “I came out here to support him and everybody else. I think it’s huge that guys are stepping out of their comfort zone and trying to do something and make a push at their professional career. I definitely got to support that because I started from the bottom.”