PHOENIX — In between the time the Phoenix Suns drafted him out of Iowa State and welcomed him back, hiring him as the 16th head coach in franchise history, Jeff Hornacek spent 12 years (seven as a player and five as a coach) with the Utah Jazz.
His two NBA worlds collide Friday when the Suns meet the Jazz at US Airways Center.
“Probably be more weird going back to Utah,” Hornacek answered when asked about facing his former team in only his second game as a head coach.
The story line, however, has not gone unnoticed by the players.
“Probably special for Coach; his first time playing against his old team. That’ll be interesting,” P.J. Tucker said. “He knows the inside tricks of what they do, so definitely paying a little extra attention because he knows exactly what they do.”
Added Goran Dragic, “When we’re going to have that meeting before the game, he’s going to be, how do you say, pumped up. Everybody wants to win that game, especially for Jeff.”
That says a lot about the bond between head coach and team when players are making those comments, especially this early in the relationship.
“We know that Coach spent a lot of years in Utah organization, so that’s a motivation for him and for us,” Dragic continued.
The Suns will be looking to improve to 2-0, which would mark their best start to a season since winning their first four games in 2009.
The Jazz, meanwhile, will be looking for their first win. They dropped their opener to Oklahoma City, 101-98, despite a combined 29 points and 19 rebounds from 6-foot-10 Derrick Favors and 6-foot-11 Enes Kanter.
“Those two guys I’ve seen for years now,” said Hornacek, a Jazz assistant the past two seasons following a three-year run as shooting coach. “They’re big, strong guys. They’re very talented. They can run the court. They’re strong as an ox, both those guys. Our guys are going to have to put their hard hats on to deal with those two.”
Last season, the Suns lost three of the four games to Utah, including the final two meetings.
This season the advantage may tilt towards the Suns now that Hornacek has changed sidelines.
“The good thing is I know these guys. They’re great players. They play hard,” he said. “If our guys aren’t ready to come out, I told them this morning, I said, ‘you can just look around the league. Teams that first game had big wins. They came out the next day and weren’t ready; thought it was going to be easy.’ Nothing is ever easy in this league. Hopefully, they’re ready to go (Friday).”