clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Udoka Azubuike and Jake Toolson prepare for G League bubble season with SLC Stars

The G League is conducting its season in a bubble on the same campus the NBA used last summer. The season runs through February and will crown a champion in March.

Utah Jazz center Udoka Azubuike (20) makes a shot against Phoenix Suns forward Johnathan Motley (12) during an NBA preseason game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.
Utah Jazz center Udoka Azubuike (20) makes a shot against Phoenix Suns forward Johnathan Motley (12) during an NBA preseason game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. Azubuike has been assigned to the Salt Lake City Stars.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News

Though the NBA regular season has been underway for a little over a month the G League has yet to get started, but that’s changing this week.

The Utah Jazz’s G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, are in Orlando with 17 other G League teams including the G League Ignite team which features some of the country’s most promising up-and-coming prospects.

The G League is conducting its season in a bubble on the same campus the NBA used last summer. The season runs through February and will crown a champion in March.

The Stars kick off their season on Feb. 10 against the Erie BayHawks on NBA TV at 1 p.m. MST.

On Monday the Stars held an abbreviated virtual version of media day that included Stars head coach Nathan Peavy as well as former BYU and UVU star Jake Toolson and the Jazz’s 2020 first-round draft selection, Udoka Azubuike.

In Peavy’s first season as head coach of the Stars, he’s stepping into his new role under strange circumstances. Not only have most of his players been unable to play competitively for more than 10 months, but they are going to do so in a bubble, which comes with its own difficulties.

“It’s been a very big challenge,” Peavy said. “This being my first year coaching, and then coming in being the head coach of the Stars, in an unprecedented year, in an unprecedented season like this year and this season — it’s full of challenges.”

The biggest challenge for the Stars and all the other G Leagues players will be getting them prepared to play with a very quick turnaround.

“We’re all just learning on the fly and trying to do the best that we can,” Toolson said. “We’re all very motivated to to get out there and compete and win some games.”

Unlike the NBA, which had a longer ramp-up period before getting to the Orlando bubble, the G League players have only been in Orlando a handful of days and weren’t able to meet and workout before hand in any official capacity.

While some players, like Azubuike, are on assignment in the G League and spent the last few weeks with the NBA affiliate teams, able to condition and practice, most players in the G League haven’t been able to play. With games right around the corner there’s a lot of concern about how the long layoff will impact the players’ health.

“Obviously that can affect the body if you’re not able to work out to be able to perform,” Peavy said. “So having the [Jazz] medical staff, being able to pick their brains and have their thoughts and their input on how to approach practices and how to approach this season, and making sure that guys’ bodies are healthy, that way their minds are healthy and they can prepare properly to play basketball, I think that’s been huge.”

Preparing for a G League season is always a battle for the coaching staff. With players moving from the Stars to the Jazz on assignments and players being called up, sometimes at a moment’s notice, it takes a lot of flexibility that Peavy is already dealing with.

On Saturday, after only a couple of days with the Stars in Orlando, two-way player Trent Forrest left Orlando to join the Jazz after Mike Conley was ruled out of playing because of hamstring tightness. There’s no exact timeline on when Forrest might return to Orlando to rejoin the Stars.

That’s a situation that could happen for any number of players depending on injury or playing status of players the Jazz roster.

For Azubuike there are three players ahead of him on the depth chart at center — Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Juwan Morgan — but that doesn’t mean the Jazz want to slow down his development, which makes the G League bubble a great opportunity for the rookie to get some playing time.

“Since I haven’t played in a minute they want me to come over here and get into game mode,” Azubuike said. “Just learn a lot about the systems and the plays.”

Peavy said that more than anything Azubuike just needs to play. The pace of the game is probably going to be the hardest adjustment for the 27th over draft pick, but Peavy is confident that once he develops a little more and gets a feel for the pace and style of play that comes with the NBA that it will make for a lengthy and promising career for Azubuike.

The Stars will continue practicing every day until games kick off on Feb. 10 and hope to be around when the top eight teams start a single-elimination tournament on March 8 with a champion to be crowned on March 11.