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Despite limited opportunities, Jazz two-way player Jarrell Brantley has kept his smile and his determination

Utah Jazz two-way player Jarrell Brantley hasn’t stopped working or smiling behind the scenes

SHARE Despite limited opportunities, Jazz two-way player Jarrell Brantley has kept his smile and his determination

Utah Jazz forward Jarrell Brantley, top, fouls Oklahoma City Thunder guard Theo Maledon (11) during game Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

Rick Bowmer, Deseret News

It seems like Jarrell Brantley hasn’t stopped smiling since joining the Jazz in 2019.

Drafted 50th overall by the Indiana Pacers and sent to the Jazz in a draft-night trade, the South Carolina native would have had plenty of reasons to be discouraged over the last two seasons. Signed to a two-way deal, his minutes were limited to mostly blowout garbage time when he wasn’t with the SLC Stars.

His first season in the league was upended by the coronavirus, and due to health and safety concerns, as well as the Utah Jazz’s trip to the Orlando bubble, his July 2020 wedding to high school sweetheart Alisha Sweatt had to be postponed. Then despite a promising showing with the Jazz in Orlando, and a second two-way deal with the Jazz and standout performances during the G League bubble this season, he had again played only mop-up minutes in 17 appearances.

But Brantley’s smile hasn’t faded.

On Jan. 2 Brantley and Alisha announced the birth of their daughter on social media and by all reports, Brantley has continued to stay positive, jovial and dedicated to improving behind the scenes.

Then on Tuesday night, with three of the Jazz’s main rotational players sidelined, he finally got a chance to play meaningful minutes, alongside the starters and other key players, and he did not disappoint in his 18th appearance of the 2020-21 season.

“Today is just a day where I get to show that I’ve been paying attention and learning,” Brantley said. “And I’ve got a lot of guys to learn from. So for me it’s a blessing.”

With Royce O’Neale resting, the Jazz started Georges Niang in his place. Miye Oni has been Jazz coach Quin Snyder’s go-to deep bench player when there is an injury, but with Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson also sidelined with minor injuries, there was an opportunity for more players like newly acquired Ersan Ilyasova and Matt Thomas to get some run.

But then Oklahoma City Thunder guard-forward Luguentz Dort went on a tear for 18 points in the first quarter. The Jazz needed a perimeter defender big enough and strong enough to be able to handle Dort’s strength, speed and physicality.

Brantley came in and after shaking off some early jitters, settled into the role and impressed. Of the players who guarded Dort through the remainder of the game, he was the most effective and it led to him taking over Oni’s minutes in the second half.

“That’s special, to get the task to guard the person who’s gonna have the ball in their hands the most,” Brantley said. “I take pride in my defense. I don’t want an offensive player to score on me, and that’s just kind of how I was brought up. It’s special to be in that position and especially since my teammates and the coach has trusted me with that role and with that task.”

It’s on the defensive end where Brantley relishes his opportunities. He’s not looking to score all the time but even so, he proved effective on that end. Showing that he moved well within the Jazz’s offense and understood where he was supposed to be and when.

That knowledge of the offense comes from countless hours in the gym and constantly picking the brain of All-Star teammate Donovan Mitchell. More than wanting to score, Brantley wants Mitchell and the rest of the Jazz to be able to trust him.

“That’s special, to get the task to guard the person who’s gonna have the ball in their hands the most.” — Jarrell Brantley

“I want them to feel comfortable understanding that I’ve been paying attention,” Brantley said. “I want them to know that I know their movements and that they can depend on me … no matter my minutes. I may not play again this year, but if I do I want them to understand that I’m a guy that they can lean on.”

In 22 minutes on Tuesday, Brantley racked up 10 points off the bench, including going 2-of-3 from 3-point range, to go with four rebounds and an assist.

“I’m so happy for him,” Niang said of his teammate. “He kept grinding through everything whether if it was being active, or not playing, or getting a little bit of minutes here, he just stayed true to who he was and kept his head down and kept working and the proof is in the pudding ... I know the grind of being on a two-way and getting your opportunities wanting to hit a grand slam and he definitely did that.”

When the night was over and Brantley spoke to reporters, his smile was just as big as it had been when he was drafted and when he played his first summer league minutes with the Jazz. He expressed gratitude for being on the best team in the league and said that his main job these days is to be a sponge and stay ready for anything.

Even when he knows he might not play, Brantley goes into each game telling himself that he might get a shot. That’s what happened on Tuesday. He got a shot and he did what he was supposed to do. 

The Jazz could very easily look to Brantley’s performance and give him some more opportunities as players rest and get ready for the playoffs. Having another strong wing defender in their pocket would be a gift and ESPN reported last month that the league voted to make two-way players available for postseason play this season.

But even if nothing else comes from what Brantley was able to do against the Thunder on Tuesday, he’ll continue to grind and work and he’ll be smiling the whole way.

“These moments are amazing, today was amazing,” Brantley said. “I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but today was amazing.”