How Paul Millsap Improved To Cast Shades of Glory Days for Jazz Fans

Stephen DyellContributor IJanuary 30, 2009

It was a cold but bearable Monday morning outside the practice arena of the Utah Jazz, when up pulled a black Mercedes. Out came something the Jazz haven't seen since Karl Malone—baby-faced rookie Paul Millsap.

Born Feb. 10, 1985 in Monroe, Louisiana, the 6’8” forward grew up playing one-on-one against his siblings.

"Every day we worked out, and after that, we played one-on-one," Millsap said. "I had little brothers that would come in and play, too. They wanted to beat the older brothers, so it was always a competition for us. Every day was...trying to beat each other."

Those small games then turned into to big pro games, but in the middle, Millsap took a break from basketball. It wasn't until the 10th grade that Millsap began to play organized basketball for Grambling High School.

Millsap was never considered as a scorer, so instead he worked on his rebounding and on boxing out the rest of his high school career. He knew that many high schoolers were noticed for their scoring and he could make a name for himself in other ways.

"When I got out of high school, it was the one thing that made me stand out against my teammates, so I continued to do that,” said Millsap.

He continued to do that for his hometown college, Louisiana Tech.

From the start, Millsap was one of the main members of the squad. He shot just under 60 percent from the field, and averaged over 12 rebounds a game.

Many began to take note of Millsap and the amount of potential he possessed. Though shorter than most players, he had a knack for finding rebounds.

Millsap decided to play two more years of college basketball before turning pro. In those two years, he put up similar—if not better—numbers compared to his first season at La. Tech.

Amazingly, Millsap led the NCAA in rebounding for three consecutive years—a new record. Despite the newfound success, Millsap stayed humble to his hometown and family; he thanked his brothers and uncle for spending time helping him develop into the player he was.

Millsap then gained plenty of confidence as he worked out with NBA teams. The New York Knicks were looking hard at the La. Tech prospect as New York searched for a big man who could rebound.

Then came the critics, faster than Chris Anderson to Coke. Many said he was too small to rebound in the NBA even though he led the NCAA three years in a row.

Everyone waited as NBA commissioner David Stern continued announcing team's picks in the NBA Draft. Some nearly reached the point where they wanted to give up hope that Millsap's name would be announced, but that's not what Paul Millsap was about.

As soon as he heard his name, and that he was headed to Utah, he began to train.

The bigger and better Millsap would not have to hear the critics, he thought to himself as he trained. He also realized the possibility that he might not even make the team—with the likes of Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, and Jarron Collins all fighting for the forward position.

He knew it wouldn't be easy.

Utah seemed like a whole new world to the small town boy. The sights, sounds, and people all intrigued Paul, but he was here for one reason—to prove himself.

After training camp and the preseason, Paul still remained on the outside looking in. He then decided to come home for a couple days, spoke with the uncle who had pushed him so far, and realized it was the time to push himself.

He began pushing, and it paid off.

He started playing better as each game progressed. He even began out-performing fellow rookie teammate Ronnie Brewer, who was taken 20 picks ahead of him.

"He just plays basketball," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "He's really kind of unique—very quiet, doesn't ask a lot of questions, listens very well. He has done that from Day One, and we all have been very impressed with that."

"A lot of that credit goes to the veterans and coaches who have helped me become who I am today," says Millsap, who is now in his third season with the Jazz.

Just as humble as he has always been, Millsap is searching for an identity in Utah.

Though the expectations are now higher than ever, Millsap is slowly creating his own identity and helping the Jazz reclaim the glory of the days of Stockton and Malone.