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27-year-old rookie Simone Fontecchio had a dream of a night with game-winner

Fontecchio’s dunk to win the game Wednesday night validated all the work he has put into his game

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Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley hugs forward Simone Fontecchio after Fontecchio hit the game-winning dunk vs. Golden State.

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley hugs forward Simone Fontecchio after Fontecchio hit the game-winning dunk to give the Jazz a 124-123 win over the Golden State Warriors at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Rookie Simone Fontecchio has incredible confidence for someone who doesn’t know from one night to the next whether he’ll actually get on the court or not.

As soon as Fontecchio subs into a game, you can be sure that his teammates are going to look to get the ball in his hands and he’ll have absolutely no hesitation shooting.

Jazz teammate and fellow rookie Walker Kessler, whose locker is right next to Fontecchio, is amazed by that confidence.

“Simply I just didn’t imagine anything. Just an amazing feeling, and I’m really, really happy and excited the way we got the win.” — Simone Fontecchio on his game-winner

“I love ‘Tech,” Kessler said. “... I mean, he can really shoot the snot out of the ball.”

He certainly can.

The Italian small forward is shooting at a 41.5% clip from 3-point range, a skill that has been honed and perfected for well over a decade. And although he is a sniper on the basketball court, it was a dunk at the end of Wednesday night’s game that validated all of the work that Fontecchio has put into his game.

With 1.4 seconds remaining in the Jazz’s game against the Golden State Warriors, Fontecchio flushed the bucket that gave the Jazz a nail-biting 124-123 win over the reigning NBA champions on a night when Fontecchio’s national team coach was in the building to see it all play out. Fontecchio finished with an NBA career-high 18 points.

Making the moment even sweeter, the game-winning play came just 15 seconds after a play that had Fontecchio fuming at himself. On a transition chance, Fontecchio got the ball in the corner, but Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson was able to get a hand on his shot as Fontecchio released.

“I was just mad,” he said. “I didn’t see him coming and I knew we were down three so I had to shoot the 3. But he made a good play.”

In the end, though, it was Fontecchio walking out of Vivint Arena with the game ball, and any small mistakes were forgotten.

It had been a dream of Fontecchio’s just to make it to the NBA, but hitting a game-winner wasn’t something that he’d even allowed himself to think about, be it a 3-pointer or any other kind of shot.

“Simply I just didn’t imagine anything,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Just an amazing feeling, and I’m really, really happy and excited the way we got the win.”

Though he’s racked up his share of DNPs this season, Jazz coach Will Hardy is quick to point out that although Fontecchio is a rookie, he has a level of experience that other NBA rookies just can’t duplicate.

Fontecchio, who turns 27 on Friday,  has been playing professionally since he was just 17 years old. He bounced around the professional leagues in Europe before starting to break out in 2020. His play in Germany, Spain and with the Italian national team put him squarely on the radar of NBA scouts before he eventually signed with the Jazz in July.

He knew that once he was here the road was not going to be easy, and there are certainly some days that are harder than others for Fontecchio.

“It’s not easy, especially when you don’t play, when you don’t step on the court, it’s not easy to stay positive, to try to stay ready,” he said. “But I try to maintain the work and just try to be ready and remind myself of the process that took me here — all the hard work I put in all those years.”

And all of his work is paying off.

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Utah Jazz forward Simone Fontecchio celebrates after his game-winning dunk gave the Jazz a 124-123 win over the Golden State Warriors at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News