Three friends set out on a pheasant hunt early one morning. Two of them were from the country, were seasoned hunters and knew their way around a shotgun; finding the game bird was second nature to them. The third hunter was a city boy. He had never used a shotgun and when it came to hunting, he didn’t have the slightest clue.
Greg Foster knew why Jerry Sloan and Karl Malone took him hunting that morning.
“They told me when you hunt pheasant you use a ‘bird dog’ that finds them for you,” Foster said. “We didn’t have one so they had me running around trying to scare up these birds. Here I am running like a mad man, waving my arms around while Jerry and Karl laughed in the distance. “
Foster recounted the story with a wide grin and fervor for the old days. He spoke of camaraderie and teammates, bus rides and practical jokes.
“Sometimes I laugh myself to sleep,” he said.
For four seasons, Foster helped man the middle on the best Jazz teams to date. He was part of the NBA Finals twice with the Jazz, and was the starting center for the majority of the 97-98 season.
Today, Foster is an assistant basketball coach at his Alma mater, the University of Texas at El Paso, and a busy father of three. He and his wife Victoria have a 19-year-old daughter who plays volleyball at the Air Force Academy and a 17-year-old daughter about to join her sister on the team. His 12-year-old son keeps him young at heart and active.
“We have great kids,” he said. “They’re great in the classroom and are great people. We have the kind of kids that make you proud everyday. They’re really what it’s all about and we’re blessed.”
At UTEP, Foster coaches under Tim Floyd who originally recruited him to be a “Miner” more than twenty years ago.
Foster (who looks like he could still play in the NBA) was recently in town recruiting for UTEP and stopped by a Jazz practice.
“I love being a coach and teaching kids how to play the game the right way,” he said.
He reminisced about playing for Sloan and talked about how “Coach” got the best out of him.
“He demanded that you executed and were consistent at every aspect of the game and it showed on the court,” he said. “He would definitely ride you but he got the most out of us.”
When asked if he had a little of Sloan in his own coaching style he let out a big laugh with a resounding nod.
“Oh you bet I do,” he said. “I’ll get after a guy and have no problem with it. I learned playing for Jerry that it’s not personal and we’re just trying to make the player better. It’s all about winning and nothing else really matters.”
Being in Salt Lake for the day made the memories flood back for Foster.
“I still get chills when I see the city,” he said. “I had so many good years here. Hands down I loved playing for the Jazz more than any other team. We played the right way and had a great group of guys. We came up a little short but I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.”
Talking about losing in the Finals wasn’t his favorite topic and that’s to be expected, but he beams when he tells stories about his old team and how they played the right way.
“Some people play this game for money but I played for the friendships and the memories,” he said.
He still keeps in touch with most of his old teammates. They talk about the battles they fought on the court and would love nothing more than a reunion of the whole “gang.”
He follows the NBA and always keeps his eye on what the Jazz are doing.
“It’s almost second nature to keep tabs on the Jazz. This current team has nothing but upside,” he said. “Their frontcourt is deep and athletic and their guards can score.”
Foster says he’ll always appreciate the Jazz and Jazz fans. He mentioned how they made him feel welcome and it was “almost like family.”
“Whenever I run into someone from Salt Lake, they remember me and say hello and it feels good,” he said. “It was a special time in Jazz history and I’m glad I was a part of it.”