Utah has been a place for NBA players to call home since the Jazz’s first Utah season in 1979. Talented players like Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap once resided in Utah but ultimately chose to leave, while others like Enes Kanter asked for an immediate departure, leaving Salt Lake City and its memories behind.
Now, for the first time in a long time, Salt Lake City is transitioning from a city players momentarily call home to a city that makes the players feel at home.
Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles were recently voted as BYU’s top two favorite current Utah Jazz players by former and current BYU students in a poll conducted on The Daily Universe’s social media pages. Salt Lake City has been Ingles and Mitchell’s first and only NBA destination. Though their paths to Utah were unique, both athletes say they feel at home in Utah.
“Shoutout to BYU and thank you for that honor, I appreciate that,” Mitchell said after hearing the poll results. “When I first came here, I just felt (the love) immediately. Not even just from the fans but from the people that are right in the organization … it just felt like home.”
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Mitchell was the 13th overall pick in the 2017 draft. Having spent two years in college donning red and white for the Louisville Cardinals, the 6 foot 3 shooting guard told CBS Sports he almost skipped the NBA draft so he could return to Louisville for his junior season. Since making the decision to join the NBA, Mitchell has averaged 20.6 points per game along with being a consensus top-three pick for the 2017-18 rookie of the year award.
“If I come somewhere I like to embrace it,” Mitchell said. “I like to go to colleges, I like to go places to get to know where I’m at. (Utah) has done an incredible job with embracing me and I appreciate it and I’m always willing to show the love back.”
Ingles, a native Australian, was cut from the Los Angeles Clippers in fall 2014 before playing a regular season game with the team. Prior to this, he played eight years overseas in Australia, Israel and Spain. Ingles’ professional career started with the Melbourne South Dragons in 2006 after he declined a minimum wage contract from the Adelaide Blunders because they misspelled his name on the contract. Fast forward 11 years to 2017, Ingles signed a four year, $52 million contract with the Jazz, making Utah his home for years to come.
“I’ve loved my time here,” Ingles said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I love the organization, the city, my family is comfortable here. It’s a great place. Australia is home, but Utah is definitely a temporary home. We feel comfortable coming back here.”
Along with Mitchell and Ingles, many Jazz players and coaches agree Utah is now more than just a state in which they compete. Among them is Grayson Allen, who was chosen by the Jazz in the entry draft. Drafted 21st overall a year after the Jazz drafted Mitchell, Allen came to Utah after playing four years of college ball for the Duke Blue Devils. Allen has spent time with the Jazz as well as the Salt Lake City Stars, the Jazz’s G-league development team. Though new to the city, it hasn’t taken Allen a long time to acclimate himself to his new surroundings.
“It definitely feels like home,” Allen said. “I’m getting adjusted here, getting adjusted to the weather a little bit from growing up in Florida, it’s a little different, but I like it.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder also offered his thoughts on Utah and the support that the team feels here.
“Our fans, (they) don’t seem as much like fans. There’s a connectivity, I think … I feel like our fans are participating and living through it with us,” Snyder said. “To have a team that is supported on that level and in that way is a pretty special deal for our guys. You just don’t see that everywhere, you can feel it.”
Mitchell, Ingles and Snyder, along with a hopeful Grayson Allen, have given Jazz fans a taste of what it felt like in the late 1990s when the team made the NBA finals in back-to-back seasons. Mitchell and Ingles, along with Snyder, all played key roles in giving the Jazz its first victory in the second round of the NBA playoffs in the 2017-18 season, the team’s first such accolade in the last ten years.
Though Utah hasn’t been deemed as a major free agent destination in the past, Salt Lake City has proven more recently that it can be a place for NBA stars to call home.
“It feels like home here now,” Allen said. “It’s nice to call Salt Lake my home.”