Jarrod Uthoff working to prove he belongs in the NBA

Jarrod Uthoff doesn’t have much to say, he’d rather show you.

The trouble was that the Pacers found it difficult to play the second-year forward any meaningful minutes during their four-game preseason. The 24-year-old out of the University of Iowa appeared in two games, but did not log enough minutes to make thoughtful conclusions about his game at this level.

“Coming in and playing the right way,” Uthoff said of what he could provide. “I can play both ways, which is so important nowadays. Be able to guard and play multiple positions, create mismatches. I think I’m great in all of those areas.”

This conversation was last Wednesday in the middle of the Pacers locker room. With 20 players in camp and not enough lockers, four of them had a small spot at the front of the room to keep personal items and a change of clothes. Uthoff was one of those.

He was quick to point out how after that final preseason game, a 108-89 win over Maccabi Haifa from Israel, he still had several more practices to compete for a valuable roster spot.

“We have another week of camp,” he said. “Still some time left. I’ve played well. It’s been a great experience.”

He was their 20th and final signing for training camp, but Pacers officials liked his potential.

“The one thing I can tell you is I’m going in with a clean slate,” Kevin Pritchard, President of Basketball Operations, said entering training camp. “I want to see who proves themself on the court because if you come out here, you work hard in the summer, and you prove that you can belong, then we have two open roster spots. We can be flexible with that.”

After making their initial wave of cuts on Saturday (DeQuan Jones, Trey McKinney-Jones, and Ben Moore), the Pacers then waived Uthoff Sunday prior to Pacers FanJam to set their Opening Night roster at 14 — and leaving them with the flexibility to add (or trade) for a player.

Veteran Damien Wilkins, who has been out of the league since 2013, was kept based on need and fit. He can help fill the void of Glenn Robinson III, who had left ankle surgery on Friday and won’t likely return until 2018. He’s also a veteran presence on a roster full of hungry, prove it type of guys. They believe he can help in areas they lacked during their 42-40 season last year.

“We really didn’t have an opportunity to give him a lot of time on the floor because we had fours at that position and we had to try to get T.J. [Leaf] some minutes, so he really didn’t get an opportunity to play a lot,” coach Nate McMillan said on Sunday. “He can score. I think he will be in the NBA very soon.”

Uthoff played the final 2:46 last Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But his only real opportunity came in Detroit when the core of the team was held out. That allowed Uthoff, among others, to play more than 27 minutes. With 11 points (on 5 of 9 shooting) seven rebounds, and two assists, he was one of four reserves to reach double figures.

He had one NBA opportunity last season. Late in the year, Uthoff was called up from the G League by the Dallas Mavericks. He appeared in nine games, and averaged 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game.

When asked what he was trying to show in Pacers camp, the 6-foot-9 forward said, “Honestly, everything that you do and everything that you can, and your knowledge of the game.”

I followed up by asking what the feeling is like ahead of cuts and as a fringe guy. He confidently replied, “I’m not a fringe guy in my mind. I know my abilities.”

The positive mindset is there. Now he needs an opportunity.

If Uthoff is does not sign elsewhere and chooses to play in the development league, the Pacers own his rights so he could play with the Mad Ants, potentially proving his value there under the same system.

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