Wednesday April 9th, 2008

He enters the game to the sound of high-pitched screams, the kind of reception usually reserved for teeny-bopper stars like Zac Efron or Miley Cyrus. (Then again, some of the screamers are probably fans of all three.) Signs bearing marriage proposals are scattered throughout Utah's EnergySolutions Arena, and mothers and daughters alike swoon with his every move.

They have come to see Kyle Korver, the Jazz's recently acquired outside threat/heartthrob, who has, in the words of team president Randy Rigby, "created a new fan demographic" for the franchise.

Since the Ashton Kutcher lookalike joined Utah on Dec. 29, the team's television ratings have steadily increased and, according to Rigby, it's due to the "huge interest in females wanting to watch Jazz basketball." Indeed, women seemingly will stop at nothing to get Korver's attention. One mother brought a letter to Korver from her 21-year-old daughter that outlined why she was perfect for him. At a recent season-ticket-holder event, a woman claiming to be an interior decorator handed Korver a business card that said on the back, i don't want your booty. ... i want your business. "Now that was creative," Korver said.

Fortunately, Korver, 27, also brings something else to the table: a reliable long-range jump shot, which (sorry, ladies) was the primary reason Utah acquired him from the 76ers for Gordan Giricek and a first-round pick. A career 40.8 percent three-point shooter, Korver gives Utah something it had been missing since Jeff Hornacek retired in 2000: someone who can create space for an All-Star power forward (Carlos Boozer) inside and give a pick-and-roll-savvy point guard (Deron Williams) another option when coming around the screen -- which, in case you forgot, is a play the Jazz have run about 678,912 times in Jerry Sloan's 20 years on the bench.

"Kyle is ready-made for a person like Jerry Sloan," Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said. "[He] takes tremendous attention off their two main players."

While several Western Conference powers were performing reconstructive surgery on their rosters before the trade deadline, Utah remained happy with its facelift. The deal for Korver, coupled with the departure of Derek Fisher in the offseason, served as the only significant changes to a team that advanced to the Western Conference finals last season.

"When nobody calls, you don't make a lot of trades," Sloan said. "We're a young team and we're trying to get better together."

Still, there is little question that by picking up Korver, the Jazz addressed what was their most glaring deficiency. Prior to the trade, Utah ranked second to last in the NBA in three-point field goals and its top threat from beyond the arc was its starting center (Mehmet Okur). Defenses made a habit of clogging the paint and daring the Jazz to beat them from the perimeter. Now, in the freewheeling Korver -- who through Tuesday was averaging 10.1 points and shooting 40.3 percent from three-point range in 21.4 minutes off the bench-- the Jazz have, as one Western Conference scout put it, "one of the eight pure shooters in the league."

"Even if he is not making shots," Hornets coach Byron Scott said, "you have to respect that he can."

While a brutal December schedule contributed to Utah's slow start (16-16), Korver's silky-smooth release has helped the Jazz reemerge as a popular dark-horse pick to win the West. Since adding Korver, the Jazz have gone 36-10 to jump from a tie for ninth to the fourth seed in the conference standings (Utah clinched the Northwest Division title Tuesday).

"He's a magnet to the ball," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "When they run, he has a knack for finding the ball in open spaces. And if he gets a clean look, it's over."

His reliable jump shot alone would probably be enough to make Korver stand out in any NBA town, but in Salt Lake City, the unofficial religious capital of the United States, Korver's popularity runs even deeper. His father, Kevin, is a minister (as are his grandfather and two of his uncles), and Korver and his three brothers share the family's religious values.

"He has been one of the most quickly embraced players I have ever seen," Rigby said. "This is a very religious market and people are impressed that he is a God-fearing guy."


On the wall of senior pastor Kevin Korver's office in the Third Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa -- located in the south-central part of the state and the childhood home of Wyatt Earp -- hangs a calendar that has been marked with so many different shades of highlighter that it looks as if a first-grader accidentally mistook it for a coloring book. There is a similar calendar hanging in the kitchen of Kevin and Laine Korver's house. Their purpose is to remind the Korvers which of their sons is playing on a given night.

"I honestly don't know which color belongs to which kid anymore," Kevin said. "I count on my wife to remind me."

The Korvers are legends in the Hawkeye State. Dubbed Iowa's first family of basketball by The Des Moines Register, the Korver house has been a hotbed of top basketball talent. Kevin and Laine met in the mid-1970s when both played for Division III Central College in Pella. (Laine once scored 74 points in a high school game.) After attending seminary and starting his career in Southern California, Kevin moved the family back to Pella in 1993. The couple's first-born, the 6-foot-6 Kyle, starred for four years at Pella High before becoming a second-team All-America at Creighton; Klayton, a gunslinging 6-5 forward, played his final college game in Drake's first-round loss in the NCAA tournament; Kaleb, a sharpshooting (sensing a trend?) 6-4 guard, recently finished his freshman season as Creighton; and Kirk, a 6-5 junior guard at Pella High, has already drawn interest from three Division I programs.

"If the Korvers aren't the first family of Iowa basketball," said Bryce Miller, the executive sports editor at the Register, "it would take quite an argument to prove who is."

Despite having children scattered throughout the country, the Korvers do their best to remain a close-knit family. Nearly every day during the season, Kevin and Laine will hop in the family minivan and drive to one of their sons' games. Some afternoons they will make the three-hour trip to Omaha, Neb., on the Iowa-Nebraska border, to see Kaleb's Bluejays. On others they will travel 45 minutes to Des Moines to watch Klayton's Bulldogs. "We see a lot of corn," Kevin said. They have even loaded up the car and made the 1,055-mile, 17-hour drive to Philadelphia to see Kyle play for the 76ers, passing the time by listening to scripture on tape.

"We have to get a new van every few years," Kevin said. "Once it hits 200,000 miles, it's time for a change."

Said Klayton: "We've tried to get them to buy an SUV or something. It's Mom -- she just loves the van."

The brothers communicate through phone calls and text messages on a daily basis. In January, Kyle received permission from the Jazz to fly to Omaha on an off-day for the Drake-Creighton game, the first collegiate matchup between his younger brothers. (The visiting Bulldogs won 68-60 in overtime; Klayton scored a game-high 14 points while Kaleb chipped in seven in just 15 minutes.)

"It reminded me of home," Kyle said. "I was so proud of them."

Just before Christmas the entire Korver clan reunited in Philadelphia, where, Laine included, they engaged in a spirited shooting contest at the 76ers' practice facility. "Everyone took turns winning," Kevin said. "But when there was money on the line, Kyle won."

The competition among the boys extends to everything from playing Pepper, a strategic card game, on family vacations ("That can get a little intense," Kevin said) to doing pull-ups at the local gym. "Kyle always wins at that," Klayton said. "But it's only because he goes last."

The six will not be able to get together again until sometime this spring. The family has yet to make a trip to Salt Lake City but, Kevin said, "We're hoping to get there for the playoffs." Now that Kyle has become another weapon in the Jazz's arsenal, bolstering an already strong team, the Korvers figure to have plenty of opportunities to drop in for a postseason visit.

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