Say this about Jake Voskuhl: The Phoenix center picked a hell of a time to take a star turn. During the Suns' first-round playoff series against the Spurs last spring, Voskuhl channeled his inner Bill Russell. In addition to playing assertive defense against league MVP Tim Duncan, he hit the first game-winning shot of his career (not of his pro career, mind you; the first since he began playing organized basketball as a six-year-old) in Game 4. Sure, San Antonio won the series four games to two and went on to take the tide, but Voskuhl's postseason dramatics changed the trajectory of his career.
A second-round draft pick by the Bulls in 2000, Voskuhl toiled perilously close to the line separating serviceable journeyman from waiver-wire fodder. Two months after his heroics against the Spurs, however, Phoenix resigned him to a three-year, $5.1 million deal. Then on Sept. 30 the Suns traded Jake Tsakalidis, who started at center last season when he was healthy, and another big man, Bo Outlaw, to the Grizzlies. Even before Phoenix's other inside banger, Scott Williams, injured his left thumb in training camp, it was clear that the 6'11", 245-pound Voskuhl had earned a significant role on a promising team. "Things just sort of fell into place for me," says Voskuhl, the starting center on Connecticut's 1999 NCAA title team. "I've worked hard, but I definitely feel lucky, too."
By his own admission Voskuhl has plenty of rough edges in need of sanding. While he relishes contact and competes energetically, his offensive repertoire is not expansive. (That is, he is often left unguarded because he lacks a semblance of a reliable jumper.) "I'm not where I want to be yet," Voskuhl says, "but I'm getting after it." That's a sentiment that also applies to the rest of the Suns.