After the Utah Jazz made their three picks last Thursday in the 2023 NBA draft, general manager Justin Zanik made a point of praising the character of the players the team had selected.

“I think all three are smart, all three are high-character,” he said. “Talent is still the most rare thing, but when you combine it with character and some athletic gifts…a lot of these guys have a few things that you can’t teach or that they’ve already learned at such a high level and there are certain ways they can help the team immediately while we’re working on the other stuff.”

There is a scene in the 2014 movie Draft Day that I was thinking about a lot as the NBA draft was approaching this year.

For those who haven’t seen it, Kevin Costner plays a fictional NFL general manager (Sonny Weaver Jr.). One of the major plot points is Costner’s character deciding between two players to draft.

On one hand he could take star quarterback Bo Callahan. He the popular choice, a consensus pick. On the other hand, he could take linebacker Vontae Mack, played by a young Chadwick Boseman, who is not nearly as flashy a player.

This is not the movie to watch if you want to get a perfectly accurate depiction of how a professional sports front office operates, but like I said, there’s one scene that is really important.

Costner’s character of course looks at film of the players and how productive they are on the field and there are discussions about their stats and ceiling and upside, etc.

But he also gathers intel on personal life and what players are like off the field — their character.

One of the things Costner learns about Callahan is that none of his teammates went to his birthday party.

Now, that doesn’t say everything about a person, and it might not tell a whole story, but when he asked Callahan about it in the movie, the player lied and said he didn’t remember.

That kind of stuff matters. Character matters whether you’re an accountant, a receptionist or you play professional sports.

One of the biggest stories in this year’s NBA draft was Villanova’s Cam Whitmore, who was projected to be a top 5 pick for months, but as the draft started to draw near he began sliding down on draft boards.

On draft night, Whitmore ended up sliding all the way down to the 20th pick.

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There were multiple reports that there were some medical concerns that had teams shying away from Whitmore, but there were even more reports that there were some questions about his attitude and character.

I personally heard from executives on five different teams who were concerned about what was termed “character issues” with Whitmore.

In each case, I was told that Whitmore was still expected to be a very high-level NBA player and there wasn’t anyone I talked to who thought Whitmore was a bad person. There were just some questions about his motivations, his level of care, his attitude.

We don’t know what’s going to happen with Whitmore, and maybe his draft day slide will be a motivating factor and he’ll prove everyone wrong and be a multi-time All-Star. There’s nothing standing in his way.

My point isn’t to harp on why Whitmore wasn’t selected higher, but instead to stress the importance of making a good impression when it comes to the predraft process.

The Jazz selected Taylor Hendricks out of UCF with the ninth pick. Hendricks came to Utah, intending to workout for the Jazz, but a late injury meant that he was only able to interview and talk with the team when he arrived.

No. 16 overall pick Keyonte George was ranked 10th on the Jazz’s big board, where other teams had him ranked lower. While some of that was based on what was in his game, some of it was also based on how they felt when they met him.

Ohio State’s Brice Sensabaugh wasn’t able to workout for the Jazz and wasn’t even able to meet with them in person. He had to rely on conversations over Zoom to make his impression.

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“The impression that you leave on people is the biggest thing,” Sensabaugh said. “I think attitude and relationships come first in any situation. I just like to spread a positive light on people and be the best man I can be.”

That was the impression that the Jazz got from Hendricks, George and Sensabaugh. They all came across as players who were trying their best to represent themselves and their families with dignity and respect. They all came across as players who don’t believe they are entitled to anything and they are ready and willing to work hard to prove themselves.

They of course have talent and the Jazz are hoping that their talents can expand and grow and develop and help them in their goal of winning an NBA title.

Those things are incredibly important, but it should not be underestimated how much character matters when trying to build a team.

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