Rudy Gobert knows the day might come, and possibly soon, when he will have to say goodbye to the assistant coach who was instrumental in his growth from a rarely used rookie to All-NBA center.
But there are things Gobert would love to accomplish before Alex Jensen takes over as head coach. So when news broke this week that Jensen had taken his name out of the race to become the head coach of the University of Utah men’s basketball team, his alma mater, Gobert was relieved.
“He’s like me, like us. He’s a competitor, ”said Gobert. “I think he’s excited about the way we’re growing year after year. For him, it wouldn’t make sense to leave us now. He wants to be part of it. I’m glad he’s part of it.
This is not the first time that Jensen’s name has been associated with a head coaching position elsewhere. Jazz head coach Quin Snyder knows it’s only a matter of time before Jensen, 44, leads his own team.
“He will be a successful head coach here in the future,” Snyder said recently.
Jensen has been a Jazz assistant since 2013 and Snyder said he has been instrumental in the team’s rise over the past eight seasons.
“It’s pretty obvious and I know how I feel for Alex,” Snyder said. “He’s incredibly important to our program and to me personally. Whether it’s the management of the game, what people see the most, our preparation process and our teaching, he just ticks all of those boxes. I know, and the Jazz people know how talented Alex is.
Among Jensen’s myriad of tasks he has been tasked with training and developing Gobert since the 7-footer rookie campaign.
“It’s hard to express,” Gobert said when asked what Jensen has meant to him over the years.
Jensen has been with Gobert since the 7-footer’s rookie season, turning him into an All-NBA center in a relationship built on loyalty and honesty.
When Gobert was fighting for playing time as a rookie, he and Jensen would return to the team premises after practice, sometimes late at night. Jensen was a regular at Gobert’s camp in Saint-Quentin, France during the summer. And whenever Gobert needed it, Jensen was there to provide him with encouragement or a reality check.
“He really helped me grow as a person and as a player,” said Gobert. “He’s someone who has always been honest with me. A lot of guys in this business tell you what you want to hear. Alex has always been very honest with me. This is one of the main reasons I have been able to improve year after year.
In addition to helping Gobert develop, Jensen helped oversee the development of Georges Niang from two-way player to key member of the Jazz rotation. So count Niang among those who did not want to see Jensen leave the city center 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 pitch, off the pitch, and keeping a calming way about him to help us get out and run.
Gobert spoke to Jensen about his ambitions for the future and encouraged his coach to explore his options.
“We had a lot of conversations, even last year when he interviewed 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 leave Jazz anytime soon.
“I am happy that he is still part of the team,” said Gobert. “I hope for a few more years.”