It Starts at The Top

By Johnathan Kendrick

Three weeks ago, the day the Jazz played their first game, Matt Harpring, was named captain of this season's Utah Jazz. A modest step for the player who takes an even more modest approach to being team captain. "Self proclaimed leaders are not the ones that you follow," Matt Harpring told me during this interview.
"It's the ones that go out there and do all the dirty work and work every night."

Last year, Harpring wasn't exactly the fan favorite when he showed up in camp. The Jazz went into that

Matt Harpring

off-season with two goals: resign Donyell Marshall to a long contract and not go over the luxury tax threshold. Things got ugly fast when Marshall wanted to start negotiations at a number that was several million above what would keep the Jazz under the luxury tax limit.

The Jazz were looking forward a year, knowing they needed a team leader and a go to guy, but were not willing to jeopardize that future by overspending.

The Jazz quickly turned to Matt Harpring to be the player that could be the future leader of the Jazz. When it was first announced that the Jazz were in negotiations with Harpring to take over Marshall's role, most people saw it as a ploy to get Marshall to drop his pay demands. It wasn't long after that, the news of Harpring agreeing to terms was released. It was an ugly day in Jazzland. Harpring's signing meant Marshall would not be back. Many fans saw this as the Jazz simply giving up. Local sports radio stations were filled with angry callers complaining that the Jazz gave up and vowing that they would never again support the team.

Many of the fans believed that in one move the Jazz got less talented. To be fair, they may have been right. The Jazz might have dropped a level in talent, but they raised several levels in heart and hard work. It did not take long for Jazz fans to come to that realization. In the space of the season, Harpring became a Jazz fan favorite.

This year, Matt Harpring is taking it a step farther. He is working hard, giving his all, and proving that he is the right choice to be the cornerstone of the Jazz future. He is quietly leading a team that some picked to be the worst team of all time and win as few as 8 games, and helping make them a team that is fun to watch and nowhere near as bad as people thought. Why shouldn't they be exciting to watch? Especially, when the team captain is willing to battle everyday and everynight.

I had the opportunity to talk with Matt Harpring about his life, his career, his work ethic, and his team. When you talk to Matt about basketball, you can tell he has a passion for it. You can feel good knowing that he is the leader on the team, and when he says, "I just know that when you play hard and give it your all, good things will happen." You know just what you have been watching the Jazz do this year, and what you can expect them to do as long as Matt Harpring is around.

JH-First off, we would like to congratulate you on a big summer. We understand that you had a pretty big off-season acquisition.

MH-Yeah, I tied the knot. Itís good. I am having a good time.

JH- You know, you might have been the most eligible bachelor in Salt Lake for a year.

MH- I found a great woman, and I am much happier married than not married; I know that.

JH- When you guys were out looking for houses, were you at all tempted to look at Karl Maloneís old place?

MH- No. no. I am not that extravagant. I donít need that big of a house. Itís just me and my wife and thatís all we got.

JH-Besides your wedding what kind of things did you this summer - what do you do to keep in shape?

MH- I work out a lot. I workout every day. I have a couple treadmills and stairmaster and a little bit of everything at home. I use that a lot, and I go to the gym to play, and I lift weights at Georgia Tech. I work out a lot in the off-season and stay in shape. You know this summer we went to a lot of weddings. It seems like a lot of my friends got married. It seemed like I was doing something every weekend. I did some camps, you know, my Matt Harpring Basketball Camp. I had one week out here and two weeks back in Atlanta.

JH- I heard a lot of the kids that went to your camp ended up making their school team.

MH- It was a camp. I will do it again this summer.

JH- What is the biggest piece of advice you give to the kids that come to these camps?

MH- Practice. It's something that when I talk to them, I talk to them about my situation, I was never really highly recruited coming out of high school. I had to work and continue to work all the time. It's just being in the gym you know putting the hours in - donít go home and play Nintendo and watch TV. Put those hours into going out and shooting baskets, going out and playing in the yard, get your neighbors together and get a pickup game going, go play football. Just be active. It doesnít have to be basketball. I just hate it when kids come home and waste their time in front of the TV.

JH- You mention that you go back to Georgia Tech to play some pickup games. Do you ever point up to the rafters and show them your Number?

MH- (Laughing) No, I think they know itís there.

JH- Last night, you hauled in a career high 19 rebounds. Also, you are tied for 9th in the NBA for offensive rebounds per game so far this year. Are you concentrating on rebounds this year?

MH- Rebounding is always something I love doing. Itís just part of the game. Thatís why I like the 3 position, and even the 4, because I have always been able to get inside and be physical down there; thatís kinda my game.

In College I averaged right around 10 rebounds a game. I just like rebounding; itís a fun part of the game for me. There are so many aspects of basketball outside scoring, and people give so much attention to scoring, and scoring is only one aspect of the game. There are a lot of things that make a good basketball player. You got to do the little things - thatís another thing I try to preach in my camp and let these kids know that coaches look for guys who do the little things, pickup loose balls, dive on the floor, rebound, box out, pass, run the court - things like that. Do things that may not show up in the stat sheet.

I know when I watch a game, I like to watch people that play hard. People that play with intensity and heart, and thatís how I try to play.

JH- So do you have any role models? Maybe people that play like that?

MH- Honestly, now that I am older, no, I donít really look up to anyone. When I watch a game, I just want to see two teams playing hard. If I watch an NBA game, Iíll turn it off if I find out no one is really playing, but if I find a guy in college thatís really playing hard, Iíll watch them. I got to admit I like people that really try hard. They might not be the best guy on the court, but if they are playing to the best of their potential, thatís what I like to see.

JH- Congratulations on being named the team captain.

MH- Thank you .

JH- You were named captain the day of the first game. You came out and missed your first 5 shots. On your 6th attempt, that was the hardest I have ever seen you dunk.

MH- (Laughing) I know.

JH- Were you feeling extra pressure to get that first basket out of the way?

MH- Yeah, you know itís been up and down with me for shooting so far. Itís different from last year, Last year, I got in a rhythm right away, and this year with our team and different offensesÖ Different games give me different rhythms. The first game I was so ready that I was over compensating it. I was trying to do too much. Once I got the ball on the break, I knew that I was going to dunk it so I went up and got that little two-hand dunk in.

JH- Besides yourself, what other players have stepped up and assumed a leadership role on the team.

MH- I think Ostertag. You know, Greg has been here a long time, and even though I do the captainís responsibility, he helps me out a lot. Sometimes I go to him and tell him, ďGreg, go talk to this guy." Greg is good, and we talk a lot, and I treat him like he his co-captain. He helps me out a lot. We brainstorm together, and it's good.

JH- You had to miss a year because of an ankle injury and surgery. Do you give advice and encouragement to Lopez and Borchardt?

MH- Yeah, I tell them that they are going to get their opportunity. Itís going to come. Donít worry about last year. Injuries happen. It doesnít mean you are injury prone. It doesnít mean you are going to be injury prone the rest of your career - even though fans are going to tell you that, and you are always going to have critics. You are going to come back from this injury and when you get the opportunity, to make the most of it.

JH- So do you feel you have bounced back 100% from your injury?

MH- Oh yeah. With the technology today, there are very few injuries you are not going to bounce back and be just as good as you were before.

JH- On ESPN last night after they showed highlights from the Jazz game, they said, ďThe post Stockton and Malone Jazz improve to 5-0 at the Delta Center." How long will it be before this team establishes its own identity and the only two names we continue to hear are Stockton and Malone?

MH - It wonít be long. People tend to have short memories, especially when you get a little successful. So I think we have already had the fan base rally around us. A lot of people really like the team this year.

JH- Last year, it was common to hear people say that you were benefiting from your man cheating off you to double team Malone. How much of that really happened?

MH- Karl didnít really get doubled all that much last year. It was more that I benefited playing with them because they are such good players, and Karl was a great passer out of the post, and Stockton was a great passer out of the point. It really helped my game because I like to cut and come off screens.

JH- Are you being guarded differently this year?

MH- Most definitely. Teams are putting their best guy on me, and they are not leaving me. The ball can be in one corner, and I can be in the far corner and that guy is not leaving.

JH- Do you like that challenge or do you find it frustrating at times?

MH- It is frustrating at times because it's harder to get those easy shots. Itís harder to get offensive rebounds. Itís harder to get into the game with the guy always on you. Itís different.

JH- You know, you have a lot of big quarters where you might score more than half your points for the night in a span of 10 minutes. How aware are you of that? Do you feel yourself in the zone?

MH- Itís just rhythm. Iím a rhythm player. When I catch a rhythm, I can score quickly. Itís the way Iíve always been.

JH - Compared to the teamís potential - where are you guys right now?

MH- We didnít put any predictions on the season. We just said, "We are going to come out and play every game as hard as we can and see what happens." It was really hard to tell how good we were going to be in camp and in the preseason. We just go one game at a time.

JH- Compared to your potential - where are you right now?

MH -I think I want to be shooting better percentages than I am right now. I am kind of down on my self on that. I am playing hard and thatís something I am always going to do. I wake up the next morning and say, "I played my heart out."

JH- You had a fantastic college career. Do you ever look back at it and think it was a dream?

MH- I never expected to have that kind of career growing up. My goal was to get to college so I could get a free ride for education. It wasnít even about sports really. Then after my Freshman year I thought, "Hey, I might be able to make a living out of this." I really worked hard on my game every year and I had a great coach. If it wasnít for Bobby Cremins, I probably wouldnít be where I am right now.

JH- Help sell some tickets here. If there is one-thing fans should come out and see this year - what is it?

MH- I just think if fans come out and see they will be really surprised. They will be pleasantly surprised to see just how fun these games are.

JH-On behalf of the members, staff, and readers at www.jazzhoops.net , we thank you for your time and wish you the best on and off the court.