Utah Jazz draft picks ready to go into ‘grind mode’

Questions about roles and rotations, criticism of pass-vs.-shooting ratios and missed defensive assignments, and discussions about expectations (their own and those placed on them) will come at some point for Utah Jazz rookies Taylor Hendricks, Keyonte George and Brice Sensabaugh.

But those are issues for another day, somewhere down the road.

Monday afternoon at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus — where the trio of recent first-round draft picks were presented to team personnel and then the media — was just the latest step in the dream’s culmination.

They are in the NBA, part of a team that saw potential in them. It’s all good vibes and boundless optimism for now.

As it should be.

“Everybody has been very welcoming. Even on my flight to Utah, I’ve been taking pictures with people,” said Hendricks, the No. 9 pick in last Thursday’s NBA draft.

“Man, it’s a good environment in Utah, beautiful people in this organization,” added George, the 16th pick.

Sensabaugh, who was selected No. 28, acknowledged the wave of emotion that came with all the work he’s put in, all the cities he’s visited and all the uncertainty about his future that lasted right up until that moment, where Commissioner Adam Silver announced his name at the podium in Brooklyn.

“It was definitely a good feeling, it was a big relief,” he said. “Especially going into an organization that’s good, where I’m going to be valued.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brice Sensabaugh, the No. 28 pick in the Utah Jazz NBA draft, holds his Jazz jersey for the first time at the Utah Jazz Basketball Center on June 26, 2023.

Now it is about them getting to know the organization better, and vice versa.

Dinner with Head Coach Will Hardy coming up in a few days. Meanwhile, there have been phone calls and texts from the likes of Collin Sexton, Walker Kessler, Kelly Olynyk, Ochai Agbaji and Kris Dunn, and running into the likes of Agbaji and Luka Samanic at the gym.

Hendricks was particularly excited about his text from Sexton, calling him, “One of the players I’ve always watched” because of how “he’s a dawg” with his mentality on the field.

They talked about the paths they have taken to get here and expressed optimism about what comes next.

George noted that the predraft process was a difficult one, with his stock seemingly rising or falling each week as teams and analysts picked apart his game, loving the creativity and ability to create open looks while worrying about the efficiency and lack of athletics.

The Baylor product has already put a ton of work into sculpting his body — something general manager Justin Zanik pointed out in the aftermath of the draft. George noted that he was “blessed to have people in my circle who are willing to tell me the right things,” adding that their admonition allowed him to “get into elite-level shape.”

Finding out the Jazz had him rated as a top-10 prospect made him “feel wanted,” and when that happens, he added, “You buy in, there’s going to be 10 toes.” Not that there was any doubt in his mind that he would, given his desire to repay his family for the investment they made in him.

“My family is what keeps me in grind mode,” George said, “I want to give back to them — that’s one of my main goals. … I have a lot of people that I root for.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Keyonte George, No. 16 pick in the Utah Jazz NBA draft, speaks to members of the media at the Utah Jazz Basketball Center on June 26, 2023.

Hendricks, meanwhile, shed some light on the minor injury that Zanik said prevented the Central Florida forward from participating in an official practice for the team, saying he had tweaked his hamstring but was now fine and had actually just completed a workout on ZBBC courts before coming to speak to the media and that there was “no pain at all.”

He said he would love to play in the Summer League but will turn to the team’s medical staff.

When he gets to play officially, he is eager to show that he can be a versatile and well-rounded player.

“I’d say Bam Adebayo or Jaren Jackson Jr.,” Hendricks said when asked which players he watches and wants to emulate. “The type of guys who do a little bit of everything — defend, block shots, protect pick-and-rolls and stretch the floor.”

Describing himself as a self-motivated person, Sensabaugh said that when his first conversation with people in the organization involved them telling them they wanted him to come to work immediately, he completely agreed.

“I definitely have to work. I want to maximize my potential; I don’t want to settle for less than what I’m capable of,” the Ohio State wing said. … [Struggling to earn success] has been a recurring theme for me in my life. One thing that is guaranteed is that I will not settle.”

Although the newcomers enter a new world where almost everything is unknown to them, there is at least some comfort in knowing each other to varying degrees.

Hendricks and Sensabaugh played both with each other (in AAU) and against each other (in high school in Florida).

“I was like, ‘Man, Brice hasn’t come off the board yet — I might play him,'” Hendricks recalled thinking about Thursday night’s draft. “And then they picked him and I was ecstatic. Just to team up with him again and the type of guy he is and the player he is, I was pretty happy.”

Sensabaugh and George are both represented by the Wasserman Agency, so they spent much of the predraft process working out together in Los Angeles.

“He’s a humble guy, goofy, he carries himself the right way, a family guy — all the right qualities you want,” George said of Sensabaugh before dropping some friendly trash talk. “We’ve been at it a few times between the lines, but he won’t tell you how it went.”

And George and Hendricks have crossed paths here and there just because of “basketball work,” as the guard put it.

“It’s great to go through this transition with two other guys. I’m blessed to do it with them,” George said. “A lot of people, they’re going to do it by themselves, but now I have people to do it with with, people by my side who are going through the same thing.”

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