Around the NBA: Hard-working Koufos making an impression

Chris Beaven

Being a gym rat in high school endeared Kosta Koufos to his coach. That same attitude is making Koufos popular with his bosses in the NBA.

Koufos spent much of the last month working out at the Jazz practice facility, sometimes staying there beyond midnight shooting or lifting.

“It’s a 24/7 facility, so I’ll just use it to the max,” Koufos told the Salt Lake Tribune.

That work ethic is one reason why Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor selected the 7-foot Koufos with the 23rd pick of the first round.

“And if you’re that size and you work hard and you’ve got some skills, you usually succeed,” O’Connor told the Salt Lake Tribune.

Koufos has had skills for some time. But the 19-year-old obviously has a lot of work ahead of him, especially on the defensive end, after just one year at Ohio State.

Hard work, though, speeds that process up.

“I think he has come further than I probably expected from where he was in summer league,” coach Jerry Sloan told the Salt Lake Tribune. “He’s picked up stuff pretty good, he’s a lot more relaxed trying to do stuff, and just played.”

Oden takes the floor

Another former Buckeye 7-footer embarking on his first NBA season is Greg Oden. His situation, though, is far different. Oden was the top pick in the 2007 draft before missing all of last season because of knee surgery.

Oden’s knee is fine, but he did suffer a minor ankle sprain once camp opened. Oden said he “went all out” once he returned Thursday and took part in all the drills and a live scrimmage. He then played Friday in the team’s Fan Fest, which drew a record crowd of 11,021 to the Rose Garden.

Oden didn’t dazzle in limited minutes, but he said it felt good to get a “first” out of the way in terms of playing in front of fans. He made two of five shots, scoring five points to go with two rebounds and a block of a running hook shot by Ike Diogu.

Incidentally, the star of the scrimmage was fellow newcomer Rudy Fernandez, the rookie from Spain. He nailed his first three 3-pointers on his way to 18 points.

Health wanted

The Rockets could be a threat out West if everyone stays healthy, and that’s always a huge “if” with them. Yao Ming has missed 80-plus games the last three seasons and is coming off a broken foot. Three other Rockets – Tracy McGrady (knee), Rafer Alston (ankle) and Shane Battier (ankle) -- all had offseason surgeries. McGrady also is dealing with an arthritic left shoulder that likely will result in surgery once this season ends.

“I never had a team where I had four starters have surgery,” coach Rick Adelman said. “That’s been one of my major concerns, how these guys are going to come to camp, where they are physically and how we are going to monitor that as we go through this first month.”

The Rockets’ big offseason addition was Ron Artest, who can do a lot for them if he keeps his head on. He’s appreciative of being on a team that “can be unbelievable.”

“It adds extra motivation, extra go-get-it,” Artest said. “I kind of thrive under those situations. I like when I have something to play for. This year, I really do have something to play for.”

24-second clock

- Allan Houston is trying to make a comeback with the Knicks after knee trouble forced him to retire three years ago. Houston attempted to return last year, too, but with Isiah Thomas at head coach, it didn’t work out. New coach Mike D’Antoni seems thrilled to have a shooter of Houston’s ability in his wide-open offense. The only question that remains is can Houston’s knees hold up.

- The Knicks are adapting to D’Antoni’s offense. “It’s not as easy as you would think it is,” guard Jamal Crawford said. “It looks like coming down, shoot whenever you want and that’s that. But there’s definitely a method to his madness, definitely a lot of hard work, a lot of running, a lot of getting after it.”

- Mavericks owner Mark Cuban indicated at media day that more than five players requested being traded in the offseason rather than playing again under Avery Johnson. Cuban fired Johnson after the season and replaced him with Rick Carlisle

- To take some stress off his surgically repaired left knee, new Raptors forward Jermaine O’Neal went on a diet this summer. He eliminated sugar, bread and dairy products for eight weeks. Once he hit his target weight, O’Neal rewarded himself with two Red Devil cupcakes.

Contact Chris Beaven at (330) 580-8345 or