Utah’s Jefferson back in best shape ever

Utah Jazz big man Al Jefferson is in the best shape of his life.

Rookie Enes Kanter of Turkey is finally going to play in the U.S.

And fan-favorite Earl Watson is just happy to be back in Salt Lake


What it all means when it comes to how the Jazz will do this

season remains to be seen.

”I think we’ll do real well,” Jefferson said of competing in a

66-game season. ”We got a lot of young legs … and we’re one of

the few teams that got a lot of our same guys from last year.”

The Jazz opened training camp Friday with a dozen players on

their roster and a few more on the way.

Kanter and fellow lottery pick Alec Burks signed their rookie

contracts and reported along with the nine players already under

contract. Watson, a backup to point guard Devin Harris, agreed to a

two-year deal and caught a flight in time to be in uniform for the

afternoon practice.

The only negative was news that Jefferson’s live-in girlfriend

had been arrested the previous night in a domestic dispute in which

she is accused of biting the 6-10 veteran at his Cottonwood Heights


He declined to discuss the incident, calling it a personal

matter, and said he wanted to focus on basketball.

”It’s life, man, life,” he said. ”Life is full of

adjustments. You got to adjust.”

Jefferson said he expects the full support of teammates.

”Teammates (are) like family,” Jefferson said. ”Family is

always going to be with you through thick and thin.”

While team officials declined to discuss off-court issues, they

were overjoyed at seeing Jefferson’s conditioning.

”I will go on the record right now in front of God and

everybody,” trainer Mark McKown said. ”He is the most explosive,

the most athletic overall, the strongest and most stable from foot

to head than he’s ever been, and with the lowest body fat ever.

”If he doesn’t have his best season ever … I will be


The Jazz may be a small-market franchise, but their strength

this season should be their size in the paint.

In addition to Jefferson, they have 6-11 Kanter, who wanted to

play at Kentucky but never did because he was ruled ineligible by

the NCAA. He spent the lockout playing in Turkey against the likes

of Pau Gasol and other NBA veterans, and working out with trainers

in Los Angeles.

In three weeks, that’s where the Jazz will open their season,

against the Lakers.

No one was more thrilled Friday than Kanter, the No. 3 overall

pick in the draft.

”It finally happen,” Kanter said. ”I finally have a team and

teammates and am finally going to actually play for that team.

That’s why I’m really excited.”

He called his family in Turkey after signing his contract.

”When the NCAA (ruling) happened, they were frustrated,” he

said. ”Now they’re happy. I have team to finally play basketball

in America.”

Also back is former No. 3 pick Derrick Favors, who added some

bulk this offseason, versatile forward Paul Millsap and former

All-Star Mehmet Okur.

Okur, who also is Turkish, said he hasn’t felt this good since

before he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury two years


Jefferson promised the team would be better defensively.

”And it starts with me,” he said.

The Jazz are coming off a 39-43 season in which Hall of Fame

coach Jerry Sloan abruptly retired and the team traded its best

player in All-Star guard Deron Williams.

”A lot of things that happened last season would really wreck

any team up,” Jefferson said. ”But now everybody is on the same

page. We got new guys on the coaching staff, the same goals and are

on the same page.”

He wouldn’t go so far to predict this would be a playoff


”I’m not going to jinx us but we’re gonna play hard every

night,” Jefferson said. ”We took some quarters off last year. We

just can’t afford to do that this year. We’ve got to be consistent

from day one.”

Jefferson is the only player who started every game last season,

and he led the team in rebounding and scoring. But he acknowledged

he finished poorly and was looking to change that.

New coach Tyrone Corbin, who took over the final 28 games last

season, has said minutes and roles would be up for grabs.

Gordon Hayward, a rookie last year, could end up starting at

shooting guard.

But Hayward said he knows nothing is given and wants to avoid

the dips and surges he had last year and play more


Two-a-days start Sunday, giving the Jazz not much time before

the Dec. 27 opener in L.A.

“It’s such a short time, anything can happen,” guard Raja Bell

said of the condensed season. ”I think we’re built if we can find

a way to start fast, we’re kind of built for it. We’ve got young

guys who quite frankly don’t know any better. They’re bodies really

shouldn’t get beat up too bad.”

Jazz CEO Greg Miller looked forward to the new pieces, and what

the new collective bargaining agreement could mean in future years

for his small-market team.

”Nobody likes to give anything up,” he said. ”Sometimes it’s

painful, but a lot of times you have to go through the pain to get

back to what makes sense. The (new) CBA is a long way from where we

wanted to be when we set out, but it’s a lot better for the Jazz

than it was at end of last season. We’re better off from a

competitive standpoint and from a financial standpoint.”

The 750 or so fans who showed up at the team’s downtown arena

for the unveiling of an alternate green jersey are counting on