DELANEY RUDD (1989-92)
Selected in the fourth round (83rd overall) of the 1985 NBA Draft, Delaney Rudd waited four years to play his first NBA game with the team that had originally drafted him – the Utah Jazz.
Entering the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history in 1992, the Jazz faced a tough, experienced opponent in the Portland Trail Blazers. With Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter leading the way, the Blazers raced to a 2-0 series lead. But the tables turned when the Jazz returned to Salt Lake. Holding the Blazers to 38 points in the second half of Game 3, Utah picked up a 97-89 win. Two nights later the Jazz evened the series with a 121-112 victory.
Heading back on the road for Game 5, Utah had completely changed the series, though the Jazz's fortunes were about to change. In the final seconds of the first half (with the Jazz trailing 60-52) point guard John Stockton was poked in his left eye so bad he was unable to return to action the rest of the game. With his floor leader on the bench, Jerry Sloan turned to third-year guard Delaney Rudd to guide the Jazz in the final 24 minutes of action."
I thought it was a great opportunity to show I belonged (in the NBA)," said Rudd. "I was prepared. Playing behind John (Stockton) was a great experience and when he went out I felt an obligation to do the best I could. I was aware of what to do and Jerry (Sloan) and Phil (Johnson) did a great job of making the bench players understand their roles and in that case it just meant more minutes."
Rudd picked up where Stockton left off, as the Jazz outscored the Blazers in the third quarter 32-24, trailing by only two points entering the game's final 12 minutes. The fourth quarter saw each team trade baskets and with 13 seconds left in the game, the Jazz found themselves trailing by three points.
Calling a play the Jazz still use today, Sloan gave Rudd specific instructions on what to do once he got the ball.
"It's the play we called ‘C,' with Karl Malone setting the high screen," said Rudd. "Jerry had said, ‘if you come off the screen and they don't pick you up, shoot it,' and in that case there wasn't anytime to decide who should be shooting the ball. I had (the ball) in my hands and I was a pretty decent three-point shooter. I thought if I could get a look at it, it was as good as anyone else taking (the shot)."
Rudd's 23-foot jumper sank through the bottom of the net, tying the game and forcing overtime. And though the Jazz would lose in the extra period, Rudd's performance was still admirable. The Wake Forest alum finished the game with eight points, nine assists and only one turnover. It's a game Rudd still remembers.
"I've seen it on ESPN Classic and I even have a tape of it that my kids have watched," said Rudd. "They laugh at my shorts and how high they were."
By 1993 the Trail Blazers, who got a good look at Rudd during that same series, added the guard to their roster. Rudd spent 15 games with Portland that season before taking his game to the French League in Europe. It was there that Rudd flourished, averaging 23.3 points per game in his first season with Villeurbanne, a team he spent six seasons with. Rudd credited much of his success to playing against John Stockton, a teammate that pushed him to improve his game each day in practice.
"I think when I left (the NBA) and went to Europe and I became the MVP in the French League, it was simply because of the lessons I learned from John," said Rudd. "Whenever I thought I could get the advantage on him, I would go to the gym at 10 o'clock and he'd be there 10 minutes to 10. If I went at nine, he was there at 9:50 – and he was a star. He was so competitive, he wouldn't give you any kind of crack to get his job and I've always respected him for that. In practice, he practiced against me like I was Kevin Johnson or Tim Hardaway because he was preparing to do his job."
Rudd became so popular in France that his team had his picture on the side of their bus, something former Jazzman Thurl Bailey could not help but notice when Bailey's Italian league team traveled to France to play Villeurbanne.
"He rode from the airport on our bus, said Rudd. "When I got to the gym he was laughing because he said he had never seen anything like it before."
In 1999, Rudd decided to retire from basketball and move back to North Carolina after his mother was killed in a car accident.
"I didn't want to be away from my kids as much anymore, I started thinking about being home, settling down and doing some other things," said Rudd. "North Carolina has always been home and I've always enjoyed being there."
Upon his return, Rudd built the Greensboro Sports Plex, an 80,000 square foot facility that features a fitness room, indoor and outdoor pools and eight basketball floors. Rudd uses the center to help train youth basketball teams and individual players, which has benefited many in the community, including 33 that have received college scholarships. Among those is Rudd's oldest daughter Tierra, a junior on the Winston-Salem University women's basketball team.
Rudd worked closely with his daughter, coaching several of her teams growing up and, even though she has moved on to a larger stage, he still coaches a 16-and-under Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team that one year ago went to the North Carolina state championship. Strangely enough, his opponent was coached by a former Jazz teammate – Blue Edwards.
"I told Blue before the game no matter what happens we're still going to be friends, said Rudd. "But he beat me so he didn't have any reason not to like me."
Now, 18 years after since Rudd was last in Utah and a teammate of Edwards, he still looks back fondly at his time in the Beehive State.
"I enjoyed living in (Salt Lake City) – it's a nice place to live and it's a beautiful area," said Rudd. "At the time, it was a lot of fun being in the NBA and on a team that was competitive. Every year we were in the mix of things making the playoffs. I played with legendary players, I made a lot of friends – it was a great time in my life."