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Johnny Juzang has a chance to be the Utah Jazz’s next developmental success story

The Jazz signed Juzang to a two-way contract and for a team that looks like it could be heading toward a major rebuild, that means more opportunity.

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UCLA’s Johnny Juzang reacts during the first half of a college basketball game against North Carolina in the Sweet 16.

UCLA’s Johnny Juzang reacts during the first half of a college basketball game against North Carolina in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament, Friday, March 25, 2022, in Philadelphia. Juzang signed a two-way contract with the Utah Jazz last week.

Matt Rourke, AP

After the 2021 NCAA Tournament, Johnny Juzang was nearing college basketball legend status. He propelled the UCLA Bruins from barely being in the First Four, to a Final Four appearance.

Juzang was incredible for the Bruins through that 2021 run. His performance earned him an invite to the NBA Draft Combine and workouts with numerous teams. But, dealing with an injury held him back a little bit, and there were understandable questions about Juzang’s longterm prospects, especially on the defensive end.

So, he returned to UCLA in hopes of improving his draft stock. Instead, the opposite happened.

The Bruins weren’t as successful, Juzang’s numbers went down and the 2022 NBA draft came and went without Juzang’s name being called.

Thinking about what could have been had he decided to stay in the 2021 draft and not return to UCLA is an exercise that accomplishes nothing though, because even if things seemed to be turning in a more difficult direction for Juzang, he has a great opportunity in front of him.

The Utah Jazz signed Juzang to a two-way contract Friday, and for a team that looks like it could be heading toward a major rebuild, that means the opportunity for Juzang might be even greater than he originally thought.

“Super excited,” Juzang said. “Such a great opportunity for me. I couldn’t be more excited and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

NBA executives and scouts that attended Las Vegas Summer League agreed that young players would be lucky to strike a deal with the Jazz right now.

“Guys like (Jared) Butler and Juzang are about to get 30 minutes a night,” one scout said. “That’s not a bad spot to be in.”

It’s no secret that the Utah Jazz have trouble luring attractive free agents, so developing players from within is a huge priority. Juzang has a chance to be the next success story for the Jazz’s development program and to become the type of player that is always a commodity in the NBA.

“He’s got some versatility offensively, and defensively he’s got good size,” Jazz Summer League coach Lamar Skeeter said. “He competes, the whole time here I never have felt like he wasn’t working hard and competing and with an attitude like that there’s no telling what he can do. He can be really good.”

Juzang is a natural scorer who coaches describe as having an innate feel for the game. At 6-foot-6, weighing 208 pounds and with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, he has the frame and ability to become a classic three-and-D player.

Defensively he knows he’s not reached his ceiling, but he doesn’t want to be billed as just a 3-point shooter either.

“I feel like I see the floor pretty well right now but I want to continue to become even more of a playmaker,” Juzang told the Deseret News. “I’m also focused on playing on and off the ball. It will all come with time.”

Juzang puts a lot of pressure on himself and he gets frustrated when things don’t necessarily go according to plan or he doesn’t play as well as he thinks he should. But this two-way deal could allow the young player the room to learn the NBA game without too much pressure while also developing into the best version of himself.

This might not have been the journey Juzang would have chosen for himself, but it’s possible he might have landed in the best place possible at the best possible time.

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Johnny Juzang talks with reporters during the NBA basketball draft combine at the Wintrust Arena Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Chicago. The Jazz signed the former UCLA star to a two-way contract with hopes of developing him into a solid contributor.

Charles Rex Arbogast, Associated Press