'It's hard to put into words' what Utah Jazz assistant coach Alex Jensen means to Rudy Gobert

by Aaron Falk

Rudy Gobert knows the day could come, and perhaps soon, when he has to say goodbye to the assistant coach who has been instrumental in his growth from seldom-used rookie to All-NBA center.

But there are things Gobert would like to accomplish before Alex Jensen takes a job as a head coach. So when news broke this week that Jensen had taken his name out of the running to become head coach of the University of Utah men’s basketball team, his alma mater, Gobert was relieved.

“He’s just like me, just like us. He’s a competitor,” Gobert said. “I think he’s excited about the way we’ve been growing year after year. For him, it wouldn’t make sense to leave us now. He wants to be part of it. I’m happy that he’s going to be part of it.”

This is not the first time Jensen’s name has been linked to a head coaching job someplace else. Jazz head coach Quin Snyder knows it’s only a matter of time before the 44-year-old Jensen is running his own team.

“He’ll be a successful head coach sometime here in the future,” Snyder said recently.

Jensen has been an assistant with the Jazz since 2013, and Snyder said he has been instrumental in the team’s rise over the past eight seasons.

“It’s fairly obvious and known how I feel about Alex,” Snyder said. “He’s incredibly important to our program and to me personally. Whether it be game management, the thing people see the most, our preparation process and teaching, he just checks all those boxes. I know, and the people at the Jazz know, how talented Alex is.”

Among Jensen’s myriad duties, he has been charged with coaching and developing Gobert since the 7-footer’s rookie campaign.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Gobert said when asked what Jensen has meant to him over the years.

Jensen has been by Gobert’s side since the 7-footer’s rookie season, molding him into an All-NBA center in a relationship based on loyalty and honesty.

When Gobert was fighting for playing time as a rookie, he and Jensen would come back to the team’s facility after practices, sometimes late at night. Jensen has been a regular at Gobert’s camp in Saint-Quentin, France, in the summertime. And whenever Gobert needed, Jensen has been there to provide him with encouragement or a reality check.

“He’s really helped me grow as a person and a player,” Gobert said. “He’s someone who has always been honest to me. A lot of guys in this business tell you what you want to hear. Alex has always been really honest with me. That’s one of the main reasons I was able to get better year after year.”

Along with helping Gobert develop, Jensen has helped oversee Georges Niang’s development from two-way player to key member of the Jazz’s rotation. So count Niang among those who didn’t want to see Jensen leave downtown for a job on the hill.

“It really means a lot to me selfishly,” Niang said. “Being a head coach is something Coach Jensen really wants but he’s been instrumental in my development here with the Jazz. He’s always pulled me to the side and helped me grow, as a player and as a man. I think his value to this team is immeasurable, the things he does on the court, off the court, and keeping a calming way about him to help us get out there and execute.”

Gobert has talked to Jensen about his ambitions for the future and has encouraged his coach to explore his options.

“We had a lot of conversations, even last year when he was interviewing for some other NBA teams,” Gobert said. “I always tell him that I want him to do what’s best for him and his family and what makes him happy.”

But that doesn’t mean Gobert wants to see him leaving the Jazz anytime soon.

“I’m happy to have him still be part of the team,” Gobert said. “Hopefully for a few more years.”

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