UK Men's Basketball

NBA types say fans should not over-react — or react at all — to summer league performances

Wenyen Gabriel got down on defense during an NBA pre-draft workout in Sacramento. Gabriel is playing for the Kings' team in the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League.
Wenyen Gabriel got down on defense during an NBA pre-draft workout in Sacramento. Gabriel is playing for the Kings' team in the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League. Sacramento Kings

Trey Young, the fifth player chosen in this year’s NBA Draft, caused consternation by making only two of 16 three-point shots in his first two summer league games last week. By contrast, Jaren Jackson, the fourth pick, drove a play-by-play announcer to euphoria by making eight of 13 three-point shots in his summer league debut.

In both cases, ESPN’s analyst of front office machinations, Bobby Marks, shrugged. “I don’t get caught up in summer league,” he said. A moment later, he scoffed at the idea of summer league play leading to “all of a sudden we can have an opinion on a player.”

As the University of Kentucky's sports media operation noted, 14 former UK players were involved in summer league basketball this year. The caution against a rush to any kind of judgment applies.

Longtime NBA Coach Del Harris went so far as to say the G League is a “far superior gauge” for evaluating players than the summer league. The G League involves more preparation, more practices, better coaching, better competition and teams that often run the same plays as their NBA parent team, Harris said.

Marks, once an assistant general manager of the Nets, likened the summer league to “slapping together rosters” for the glorified pick-up games at the NBA Combine.

To borrow from baseball, the summer league is the Florida Instructional League for beginning pros and the G League is AAA (one step from the majors).

“It is fair to say that the summer league now is more about filling out the G League affiliate,” Harris said.

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NBA types say Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should play to his strengths (drive to the basket) in the summer league. Gilgeous-Alexander plays for the Los Angeles Clippers. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

That’s not to say the summer league is unimportant. It’s sort of an introduction to NBA people and philosophies.

“I think the most important thing is picking up concepts that the coaching staff is putting into place because that will carry over into training camp,” Marks said. “I think it’s more about familiarity than going out and getting 20 points and eight rebounds.”

Harris and Marks said that players should not try to prove something to NBA people in the summer league. For instance, players seen as suspect shooters (Hamidou Diallo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) should not try to prove they can shoot.

Harris, the vice president of the G League’s Texas Legends, said, “What I tell our guys who come down is . . . you can work on your weaknesses in practice. But when you’re going in a game where we’re watching, you do your strengths.

“Because invariably, these guys who are not knock-down shooters come down and think, ‘Now that I’m on the development league team, I’m better than these guys. I can take any shot I want. I can show them I can actually shoot.’”

Similarly, a proven shooter like Wenyen Gabriel should not strain to show he should have been drafted.

“Don’t force things,” Marks said. “That’s probably the worst thing you can do. . . . I always think if you’re not scoring, how could the coach keep you on the floor. Making an impact not just on the offensive end, but on the defensive end. If you’re a guy trying to make a team, I’d advise you not to go out and shoot 20 shots.”

Summer leaguers

The 14 former UK players on summer league rosters are Marquis Teague (Raptors), Alex Poythress (Pacers), Dakari Johnson (Thunder), Hamidou Diallo (Thunder), De’Aaron Fox (Kings), Wenyen Gabriel (Kings), Archie Goodwin (Blazers), Kevin Knox (Knicks), Derek Willis (Pelicans), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Clippers), Isaiah Briscoe (Magic), Bam Adebayo (Heat), Malik Monk (Hornets) and Aaron Harrison (Wizards). Rookie Jarred Vanderbilt is not on Denver’s summer league team because of the same foot injury that sidelined him for UK’s final six games last season.

Other summer leaguers who might be familiar include former Florida guard Chris Chiozza (Wizards), former Tennessee strongman Jarnell Stokes (Bulls), former South Carolina wing Sindarius Thornwell (Clippers), former Vanderbilt shooter John Jenkins (Blazers) and former Valparaiso forward Alec Peters (Suns).

Del Harris said that more experienced players like Teague, Poythress, Briscoe and Harrison can use the summer league to "establish themselves" as useful NBA players.

‘A blessing’

The Celtics unveiled a new practice facility (the Auerbach Center at Hellenic College) last month. First-round pick (and former Texas A&M forward) Robert Williams was impressed.

“At (Texas) A&M before my sophomore year started, we got a new facility,” he told the Boston Herald. “But it was definitely nothing like this. . . . It’s a blessing giving me the perfect platform to perform in.”

The Auerbach Center has three hydraulic pools, a “float tank” that enhances relaxation therapy, a massage room, two lounges, a pool table, a barbershop, a putting green and — oh, yeah — two basketball courts (with floors designed to prevent injuries).

In planning for this 70,000-square-foot fun house, the Celtics looked at college practice facilities at Michigan, Texas and Oregon.

Hall of Famer Tom Heinsohn, who played for the Celtics during almost all of their run of eight straight NBA championships, told the Boston Herald how different practices were in the dynasty days of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Sorry, no float tanks. For a time, the Celtics practiced at The Cambridge YMCA with the understanding that the players had to leave by noon so Y members could use the gym, he said.

‘Nonchalant’

Sportswriter Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times wrote about good friends Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler possibly teaming up next season (if the Celtics trade for Butler) or the following season (when both can opt out of contracts via player options).

“Irving has already said he won’t be signing a contract extension this summer,” Cowley wrote. “As for Butler, a league source said that he also has no intentions of signing an extension with Minnesota, all but fed up with the nonchalant attitude of his younger teammates, specifically Karl-Anthony Towns.”

Players of the Year

A quick skim of Reid Travis’ bio compiled by Stanford after this past season led to a mistaken conclusion. Travis was not the Pac-12 Player of the Year the last two seasons. But he was an All-Pac-12 first-team player the last two years.

That led to a question that inquiring minds might want answered: with early entry into the NBA Draft increasingly prevalent, when was the last time someone in a power five conference was league Player of the Year two straight seasons?

In the SEC, the answer is Corliss Williamson of Arkansas. He was Player of the Year in 1993-94 and 1994-95.

The last Big Ten player to go back-to-back was Mateen Cleaves of Michigan State (1997-98 and 1998-99). He shared the award with Scoonie Penn of Ohio State the second year.

Buddy Hield of Oklahoma was Big 12 Player of the Year in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

In the Pac -12, the last two-time Player of the Year was Sean Elliott of Arizona (1987-88 and 1988-89).

And in the ACC, J.J. Redick of Duke was Player of the Year in 2004-05 and 2005-06.

Former Kentucky basketball star Anthony Davis returned to Lexington to host a basketball camp at Lexington Christian Academy.

Team USA

Ex-Cats Devin Booker, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and John Wall are among 35 players named to the 2018-20 USA National Team roster. Those players will participate in a mini camp July 25-27 in Las Vegas.

Eventually, a 12-player team will be picked for the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympic Games.

Two college coaches were among nine assistants named to assist Coach Gregg Popovich at the mini camp. The two are Mark Few of Gonzaga and Jay Wright of Villanova.

OC, RIP

Just an educated guess, but the late Jim O’Connell’s favorite college basketball event to cover may have been the Maui Invitational.

O’Connell, affectionately known as “OC,” covered more than 20 Maui Invitationals as the college basketball reporter for The Associated Press. He went to Hawaii for the basketball, not for the sun, surf, refreshing ocean breezes of November and, of course, the company expense account.

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Longtime Associated Press college basketball writer Jim O'Connell died July 2. He was 64. Chris O'Meara, File AP Photo

O’Connell delighted in saying he was the only sportswriter who covered the Maui Invitational and never saw the ocean. He also liked to recall covering a Maui Invitational that had Kentucky in the field and overhearing UK fans assuming that blue decorations at a Maui restaurant’s tables were meant as a tribute to Kentucky.

O’Connell, who worked for The AP for four decades, was a former president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and the 2002 winner of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Award. He died Monday. He was 64. His professionalism and good humor will be missed.

Belated Happy birthday

To former Duke point guard Bobby Hurley. He turned 47 on June 28. . . . To former UK Coach Tubby Smith. He turned 67 on June 30. . . . To Tom Parker. He turned 68 on July 1. . . . To former Ole Miss Coach Ed Murphy. He turned 77 on July 1. . . . To former radio play-by-play man and UK athletics Hall of Famer Ralph Hacker. He turned 74 on July 2. . . . To CBS analyst Clark Kellogg. He turned 57 on July 2. . . . To former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps. He turned 77 on July 4.

Happy birthday

To Todd May. He turned 54 on Thursday. . . . To Ashton Hagans. He turns 19 on Sunday (today). . . . To Carlos Toomer. He turns 46 on Monday.

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