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The Jazz Sounds Great to Snyder

Despite going later than expected, the former Upland standout and Nevada guard is on cloud nine after being selected 16th by Utah.

June 25, 2004|Martin Henderson | Times Staff Writer

Kirk Snyder hugged his mother, Alisa Smith, shook hands with Commissioner David Stern, and began a hectic evening as a toast of Utah in the frenzy of Madison Square Garden.

Snyder's NBA dream was finally an NBA reality. The Nevada guard, who played center at Upland High, was selected 16th by the Utah Jazz in the league's draft Thursday.

The second of three first-round picks by the Jazz, Snyder dropped further on the board than many expected, some projecting him as high as 10th, several figuring him to go to Portland with the 13th pick.

But, with a run of five high school players selected ahead of him, Snyder was a steal.

And, said his former coach at Upland, the Jazz is probably getting a better deal than even it expected.

"Kirk's a competitor, there wasn't hardly anyone there who he didn't believe he was better than," said Jeff Klein, now the men's basketball coach at Chaffey College and in New York with Snyder. "He's coming into the league to prove it.... This will just motivate him more."

Snyder, a muscular junior who stands 6 feet 6 3/4, weighs 225 pounds and has only 8% body fat, was Nevada's first Western Athletic Conference player of the year.

Bombarded by media in the wake of being Nevada's highest-drafted player in history, Snyder was selected 122 positions ahead of Alex Boyd from the 1970 draft.

It was a long way from Upland, where Snyder first established himself by averaging 20 points and 10.3 rebounds. But his legacy in high school was leading Upland to the Southern Section Division I-AAA title in 2001, and a near upset of Santa Ana Mater Dei in the Southern California regional semifinals.

Upland wasn't the only team that Snyder lifted by his presence.

"I told a Nevada reporter at the time that I believed he had NBA potential," Klein recalled. "He would make them better. For three years, he has pretty much fit the bill."

In his third and final season at Nevada (25-9), he helped guide the Reno school to its first NCAA tournament victory, an upset of Michigan State, and then a victory over Gonzaga for good measure.

The tournament run ended against Georgia Tech, 62-57, in the Sweet 16.

Snyder made an impact from the beginning. In his debut as a freshman, he scored 15 points and had nine rebounds against San Jose State. He averaged 13.7 points that season, and followed with 16.3 as a sophomore and a conference-best 18.8 as a junior, the 46th-highest total in the country.

Snyder, 21, was the fifth junior taken in the draft, and the 10th college player selected.

Snyder, a playmaker with an NBA body and a scorer's mentality, should fit in with the Jazz, which finished 42-40 and can use his versatility.

Snyder can play both guard positions, can guard three positions, has three-point range -- he shot 34.8% from the arc last season -- and gets to the foul line, where he shot 73.1% on 227 attempts. He shot 43.1% from the field, and averaged 5.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

In three NCAA tournament games, he averaged 19.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.7 steals, and wants the ball late.

"He makes people around him better, he's demanding," Klein said. "He demands a lot from himself and demands a lot of his teammates.

"He has high expectations."

With the 14th pick, the Jazz filled its most pressing need by choosing Minnesota's 6-9 freshman forward, Kris Humphries, who averaged 21.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and was Big Ten freshman of the year. With the 21st pick, the Jazz chose Russian Pavel Podkolzine, a 7-5 center, and traded him to Dallas for a future first-round pick.

Leaving college too soon was a concern for Snyder.

"In the back of my mind, I'm thinking about that," Snyder told The Times in March. "It isn't basketball players that make decisions. It's the GMs and coaches.... Hopefully, somebody out there will be willing to take me."

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