FRISCO, Texas — Jarrod Uthoff just had an anniversary, but it wasn’t an occasion most think of.
That’s because the one-year anniversary of his March 10, 2017 NBA debut against Brooklyn recently came and went. Uthoff, 24, had signed a 10-day contract with Dallas the day before and the Cedar Rapids Jefferson product played nine games with the Mavericks, who he signed a second 10-day deal with on March 19 and a multiyear contract with on March 29.
With the Mavs, he averaged 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game, experience that gave him a nice start to his NBA career.
“Those games were absolutely great for my experience, more than anything, just knowing I can play at that level,” he said. “I’ve always believed in myself, that I can play at that level, but actually going out there, doing it and proving it is a different thing. Glad I got the chance to do that and I’m looking forward to my next opportunity.”
Considering Dallas had inked him to a multiyear contract, Uthoff rightly figured he had a future with the Mavs. However, late last June, Dallas traded him to Houston for cash considerations, and one month later the Rockets waived him.
It was a quick lesson in how the business side of the NBA sometimes works, especially for young players.
“Yeah, I didn’t see it coming,” Uthoff said of the trade. “It was a surprise to me, but just got to take it in stride.”
That upheaval ultimately led him somewhere he knows well — Fort Wayne. Before the Mavs signed him, he played 11 games for the Mad Ants of the NBA G League, so returning to the Indiana Pacers’ affiliate this season has brought the ex-Iowa standout back to his comfort zone on and off the court.
“(My time here has been) good, it’s been a chance to continue to get better, continue to improve my game and see what I can do,” Uthoff said before a recent road game in Texas.
In 47 games with the Mad Ants, he is averaging 16.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, numbers that are clearly NBA-caliber. But his numbers don’t tell the full story of his continuing evolution as a player.
One area where Uthoff feels like he’s shown marked improvement this season is in scoring off the pick-and-pop. He’s always excelled in catch-and-shoot situations, but now feels almost as comfortable scoring off the pick-and-pop, another addition to his skill set that makes him even more attractive to potential NBA employers.
Some might wonder why he’s back in the G League when he could be earning a nice living playing abroad. The answer is simple. Since the NBA heavily scouts the G League, that’s his best chance to get noticed, so that’s where he will remain until he receives his next opportunity.
“Well, I’ve had plenty of opportunities (to go abroad), but I’m not interested in those opportunities now,” Uthoff said. “I’m an NBA player and I’ll be there soon.”
Another positive aspect of his second stint with the Mad Ants is barring a return to the NBA, he will get a taste of the G League playoffs. Fort Wayne is one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and a near-lock for the postseason. Uthoff considers the experience he and his teammates will gain from the playoffs as invaluable, just another step on his journey to returning to the NBA.
Along with Jeremy Morgan (Memphis) and Adam Woodbury (Westchester), he’s one of several native Iowans currently in the G League. Of course, the bigger goal is to join the three Iowa natives currently in the NBA: Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott (both from Ames), who are teammates in Dallas, and Oklahoma City’s Nick Collison (Orange City).
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“Yeah, it’s neat (to see those guys doing well),” Uthoff said. “There’s a handful of guys in the NBA from Iowa and Iowa’s a relatively small population, so it shows you that Iowa’s a pretty good basketball area.”
l Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas