JAZZ: Rice's Morris Almond could be a first-round target for Utah
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Posted: 3:40 PM- As a high school teammate of Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, Rice guard Morris Almond learned at a young age that he never would fly quite like the future winner of the NBA's dunk contest.

"He was a high riser, growing up with him, so I could never jump like him," Almond said. "So I was like, 'Man, if I can't dunk like that, I better be able to do something else to prove my worth.' [Shooting's] just something that I've always kind of been able to do."

The two might someday be reunited at All-Star weekend, with Smith donning a Dominique Wilkins jersey in the dunk contest and Almond, who went through a draft workout Tuesday for the Jazz, firing away in the three-point shootout.

Almond, who averaged 26.4 points and shot 45.6 percent from three-point range his senior season, is a player the Jazz have followed intently and could be a target with their No. 25 pick in the first round of the June 28 draft.

With eight workouts down and four to go, Almond said all the right things about the Jazz, who first interviewed him last spring after the Orlando, Fla., predraft camp and have scouted at least 10 of his games in person in the past year.

"I've had this workout circled on my calendar," Almond said. "I feel like it's a really good fit. It's definitely in my range. I think it'd be a really good fit come draft day and I hope things work itself out to where I can be part of this team."

Almond, 22, originally declared for the draft last season before opting to return to Rice. In his last trip to Salt Lake, Almond scored 42 points, hitting 13 of 16 shots and 4 of 6 three-pointers, as the Owls lost 80-64 to Utah in a November game.

He even admitted to being a fan of the Jazz and forward Matt Harpring, an Atlanta-area product like himself, even if "it wasn't a popular thing to say." Almond said he liked how the Jazz post up hard, run the floor and shoot coming off screens.

"That kind of stuff's right up my alley," said Almond, who played on a Global Games team with Jazz guard Ronnie Brewer coming out of high school in Powder Springs, Ga.

The Jazz are committed to taking the best player available, regardless of position, in drafting at the end of the first round. Almond, though, would fill a need for a team that ranked 29th in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage this season.

"I think if you look at our team and what we need and have missed in the past here it's been maybe a two-guard that can shoot the ball," said Walt Perrin, the Jazz's director of player personnel. "That's what everybody says we need, along with other things.

"[Almond] sees himself as that, so, yeah, this would be a team where he thinks he can possibly come in and get a lot of playing time, if not start."

The Jazz also auditioned Ohio State's Daequan Cook, Holy Cross' Keith Simmons and Jackson State's Trey Johnson. Cook could join Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. as the third Ohio State freshman to be selected in the first round.

Cook had six 20-point games early in the season but averaged just 14.7 minutes in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. The 20-year-old suggested a conflict behind the scenes with coach Thad Matta but added, "I was still a team player."

Although he has long been close to Oden and Conley, Cook said of entering the draft, "At the end of the day, it still came down to the decision I wanted to make." With a player as young as Cook, Perrin said, "You take a look at him and you try to project potential."

The Jazz will not hold workouts today, as the front office and coaching staff sits down with owner Larry Miller for an organizational meeting.

rsiler@sltrib.com