Inside Jarrod Uthoff's rise to the NBA: 'This is where I belong'
The day after the NBA regular season ended, Jarrod Uthoff reflected on the past whirlwind year of his life — fittingly, from a Dallas hotel room.
“My life’s been in a hotel since last May,” the former Iowa basketball star quipped in an interview with The Des Moines Register.
From zig-zagging across the country for 16 pre-NBA Draft workouts to his July wedding in Ohio to four basketball stops in eight months, Uthoff’s certainly been a man on the move.
And, recently, a man moving up.
In his first professional basketball season, the journey went from the bench of an NBA Development League team in Mississauga, Ontario, to extensive NBA action with the Dallas Mavericks.
He admits now being slightly down for a time while in Canada. After signing a partially guaranteed deal with the Toronto Raptors, he was cut and sent to their D-League team, where he found himself stuck behind other prospects. He came off the bench and was averaging 7.8 points and 20.3 minutes a game.
It wasn’t the rookie breakthrough he had envisioned.
But, as was his approach as a Hawkeye when he became the program's first consensus all-American since 1952, he was determined to break through.
“You don’t wait for a break or an opportunity,” Uthoff said. “You pursue it.”
Change of scenery
Uthoff, wife Jessie and agent Adam Pensack had a heart-to-heart over dinner in Mississauga. They agreed: Perhaps it was time to try something else.
Soon thereafter, Pensack helped swing a deal with the Indiana Pacers’ D-League team, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
There, Uthoff got more minutes. Big numbers followed — 23 points and 20 rebounds in one game. NBA teams took notice of a long, 6-foot-9 forward who could shoot 3s, dunk and block shots.
The Mavericks — one of those teams Uthoff worked out with nearly a year earlier — were the first to pounce. They signed him to a 10-day NBA contract. Then another. Then, a deal that would keep Uthoff with the team for the rest of the season — with a club option for 2017-18.
“It was just nice to get back on the court,” Uthoff said simply of his first true NBA taste. “This is where I belong.”
It’s one thing to make an NBA roster. A very big thing.
But it’s another to make a lasting impression.
So far, so good. In his 35 days with Dallas, a mutual interest has been developed.
“They think Jarrod has done a phenomenal job, on and off the court,” Pensack said. “He’s one of the most professional guys there is. The guy eats, sleeps and breathes basketball. And they know it. They knew it before. But now, when you see it, it’s like, ‘Oh, the proof is in the pudding.’”
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle was true to his late-season word, that he would get Uthoff on-court minutes so they could see what the rookie from Iowa could bring when the NBA lights were on.
In the nine games he saw playing time, Uthoff had his moments.
On April 9 in Phoenix, he scored 12 points with nine rebounds, including a swished baseline 3-pointer on a cross-court assist from Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki.
“I’ve obviously modeled some parts of my game after Dirk. There’s no question about that,” Uthoff said of the 7-foot inside/outside threat who recently became just the sixth player in NBA history to score 30,000 career points.
That’s quite a resource.
“Seeing how he operates, how he’s been so successful in the NBA,” Uthoff said, “I think that’s going to be very beneficial for me.”
Uthoff played at least 19 minutes in five of the Mavs’ final six games.
In the season finale at Memphis, he was inserted with 2 minutes, 59 seconds left in the third quarter and Dallas trailing, 70-61.
From that point on, he didn’t come out of the game — scoring 11 points and helping the Mavs rally to a 100-93 win.
“It’s clear,” Pensack said, “(that) Jarrod finished on a major upswing.”
A future in Dallas?
Among Dallas media, a story Carlisle told about seeing Uthoff buy a loaf of bread and deli meat from a convenience store while on a road trip brought laughs and headlines.
For Uthoff, it was more about being healthy than comically frugal on an NBA per-diem of $106 a day.
“Instead of going to get a late-night burger,” Uthoff said, “you get some healthy bread and lunch meat, and away you go.”
But Uthoff wants to be remembered in Dallas as more than the lunch-meat guy.
To make his rise to the NBA stick, he’s got to keep impressing the Mavericks.
It’ll start in the NBA Summer League, where he’ll likely be a starter for Dallas, and then training camp.
The team holds an option for the 2017-18 season that, according to Basketball-Reference.com, would pay Uthoff a shade over $1.3 million. That would be more than 10 times what he earned this past year.
“Assuming he continues that (progress) through the summer, which we believe he will, the odds of him sticking with them are pretty high,” Pensack said. “They like him.”
The feeling is reciprocated.
It remains to be seen what Dallas does. The Mavs have a lottery pick in the upcoming draft. That’ll be a factor. Uthoff's performance will be, too.
NBA roster spots are extremely precious.
“It’s very volatile,” Uthoff said. “Some of that’s out of my control, based on who they sign and what’s going on, the direction they’re headed with the program. But I like the Mavs. I like it here. And I think we have a great relationship.”
On the immediate horizon: A break, finally. He and Jessie are heading to Italy for vacation. They leave Sunday.
What’s one more plane trip to cap off this wild year?
As Uthoff examined all the changes that have taken place in his life, he mentioned one thing that hasn't — the support from his wife, who left a position in U.S. politics to live in Canada and Indiana and Texas with him during their unpredictable first year of marriage.
They've lived in five cities in the last eight months. And a lot of hotel rooms.
Maybe soon, that'll change.
"She’s given up on some things that she’s wanted to do," Uthoff said. "... We’re in this together. A lot of this wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for her. I have a lot to be thankful for.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.
UTHOFF'S ROOKIE YEAR BY THE NUMBERS
NBA D-League games played: 37
NBA averages (Dallas Mavericks, 9 games): 4.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 42.1 percent shooting (16-for-38).
NBA bests: Points (12), rebounds (9), assists (4), blocks (2), minutes (26)
Money earned: $161,901 ($111,901 from Dallas; $50,000 from Toronto)*