A victorious debut for Utah Jazz rookies, including head coach Will Hardy
The Jazz, projected to win less than 25 games this season, beat the Denver Nuggets, who are projected to win at least 50 games.
On Wednesday Oct. 30, 2013 Michael Malone walked onto the court in Sacramento for his first game as head coach of an NBA team. That night, the Kings beat the Denver Nuggets, 90-88.
On Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, Will Hardy went out onto the court at Vivint Arena for his first NBA game as a head coach and his Utah Jazz beat Malone’s Denver Nuggets.
“It’s the same feeling before a game that players have,” Hardy said of his nerves. “You’re just ready to get going. Like, I wanted this game to be yesterday. But it’s exciting. I think it comes from a place of excitement. And we’re all itching to get out there in front of the home crowd and really just get the season going.”
Get the season going they did.
The Jazz, projected to win less than 25 games this season, beat the Nuggets, who are projected to win at least 50 games, 123-102.
The Jazz, who barely know each other, who don’t have a superstar on their team, with a first-time head coach, beat two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.
When the final buzzer sounded, Mike Conley and some of the Jazz’s veterans rushed onto the court to make sure that the game ball was secured. After dousing Hardy with water in the locker room, the team presented Hardy with the ball.
“He was emotional, obviously with it being his first win and we were just so happy for him,” Conley said. “He deserves it, he’s worked very hard to be here and has given a lot of guys a lot of confidence to go out there and just play the right way and play hard.”
The nerves and excitement of a debut were not feelings exclusive to Hardy on Wednesday night. The Jazz had a lot of rookies that were anticipating opening night and no matter if they were going to get playing time, feature heavily in the rotation, or weren’t even suited up for the game, there were NBA jitters flowing throughout the Jazz locker room.
“You’re not human if there’s no jitters,” Ochai Agbaji said, sitting at his locker before the game. “But I think having the preseason, getting in that environment and just playing with those rules in the NBA and all that, the pace, that helped a lot.”
You would have thought that with the way Walker Kessler performed in the preseason that his nerves would have been settled. But when opening night as a rookie in the NBA means going up against Jokic in front of a packed house, it hits a little different.
“It would be cool if I said, ‘yeah, man, I was chill.’ No, I was nervous. I was super nervous,” Kessler said. “My whole life I’ve been dreaming of this moment. To finally be in a situation to play my first NBA game — a lot of emotions. My mom was in the stands so that was really cool. Probably gonna have to have her come to more games now. Yeah, a lot of feelings, a lot of emotions, but I mean overall, just a lot of joy.”
Kessler didn’t really look like a rookie. He was 5-of-5 from the floor for a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double to go with an assist, a steal and just two fouls.
“I think it’s a credit to Walker, his willingness to learn his attentiveness to what we’re doing and it’s also really a credit to the veterans on our team,” Hardy said. “We had a lot of the veteran guys really helping him through tonight and Walker was great. He delivered, he made a lot of big plays. He’s such a great kid.”
With the nerves of the first game behind them, the Jazz head out onto the road and things won’t get any easier. The second opponent the Jazz face will be Rudy Gobert and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.
“We’re just going to take it one game at a time,” Hardy said.