FRISCO, Texas — Jarrod Uthoff spent last season, his third as a professional, overseas.
Now 26, the former Cedar Rapids Jefferson prep and Iowa Hawkeye played for Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia, seeing time in 45 games and averaging 6.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest.
But what made last season truly memorable was he shared it with his wife, Jessie, who accompanied him abroad.
“It was an amazing experience,” Uthoff said. “My wife and I both loved St. Petersburg. The city was great. It was a different culture and we love to travel, so it was an amazing experience. The basketball was a lot different. European basketball is a lot different from over here. The biggest rule change would be the defensive three seconds, so it was also hard and trying.
“But I’m grateful for my year over there.”
Last season marked Uthoff’s first exposure to the international game and he knows that campaign abroad is sure to pay big dividends in the near future, especially with his ultimate goal of returning to the NBA, which has more international players impacting the game than ever before.
“For sure, I feel like I’m more mature,” Uthoff said. “I’ve gotten better. I have a new understanding of the game, the basketball itself and what I truly want.”
Local basketball fans remember his schoolboy exploits at Jefferson and being named Iowa’s Mr. Basketball in 2011, but they also recall the three seasons he spent in Iowa City after starting his collegiate career at Wisconsin.
With the Hawkeyes, Uthoff averaged 13 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game and became a fan favorite.
“I think I look back more now (on my time at Iowa) with fondness,” he said. “I really enjoyed my time at Iowa. I’ve got some great memories. I still stay in contact with Coach (Fran) McCaffrey. He’s a great guy.”
After being an undrafted free agent, he caught on in the NBA G-League, starting his rookie season in 2016-17 with Raptors 905 before being traded to Fort Wayne early in 2017. On March 9, the Dallas Mavericks signed him to a 10-day contract. After then signing a second 10-day deal, the Mavs inked him to a multiyear contract before trading him to Houston in summer 2017.
Uthoff played nine games for Dallas, earning plaudits from Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle for his “road food game” after Carlisle saw him buying sandwich fixings at a convenient store during a road trip in Toronto.
“Yeah, I got a taste of the NBA. It was a wonderful experience getting to play with Dirk (Nowitzki) in his final years, being around him as well as other guys like (Ames native) Harrison Barnes and watching how they operate,” he said. “I think it was a valuable experience for me.”
And like most who have gotten a taste of life in the NBA, he would of course like a second chance, this time sticking for good. He feels his time abroad could help him achieve that goal.
“I think these last couple years ... I’ve gotten less hard on myself and my game has improved vastly just from an understanding of the game standpoint,” Uthoff said. “As long as I show my maturity as a player, I think that’s what gets me back to the NBA as well as the obvious things like knocking down shots and showing you can defend.”
For now, he’s back in familiar surroundings, in the NBA G-League with the Memphis Hustle, the Grizzlies’ affiliate who play just south of Memphis in Southaven, Miss. Through eight games, Uthoff is averaging 21.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.9 steals for a team off to a 8-0 start.
“I think it is (a good situation for me),” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed the Grizzlies organization so far. I’m enjoying my coaches, my teammates. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me.”
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Returning to the G-League, a circuit where NBA scouts and personnel types watch closely and a the NBA is just a phone call away, makes sense for someone wanting another shot at the NBA.
“It’s constantly changing, the G-League. But the thing that doesn’t change is the talent level and the athleticism,” Uthoff said. “The G-League’s always got a lot of young players, which a lot of young players don’t necessarily know how to play yet, but that doesn’t mean the talent’s not there. I think there’s a lot of great players in the G-League right now.”