That player for the 76ers in the first two games of the Air Tran Orlando Summer League has been Justin Holiday, older brother of Sixers starting point guard Jrue Holiday.
In Monday's opener, Holiday scored 10 points. In Tuesday's 84-80 loss to the Utah Jazz, Holiday again was the steadying influence, playing solid defense (a rarity in these games), while posting 16 points and seven rebounds. He has shown a very nice touch from the outside, despite missing all six three-pointers Tuesday, and has been very aggressive taking the ball to the basket.
An undrafted 6-6 forward and 2011 graduate out of the University of Washington, Holiday spent last season playing for a pro team in Belgium, where he averaged 7.2 points and 2.9 rebounds in 33 games. Now he, like close to 100 other guys participating in this summer league, just hopes someone will see enough to invite him to a training camp. He sprints the floor with endless energy, on legs so spindly, they conjure up memories of former Eagles wide receiver Todd Pinkston.
"I always expect more of myself, but I think I'm doing all right," said Justin, 23. "The only thing that matters is that you come out here and work hard, and I think I've been doing that. You make some mistakes here and there, but that's basketball. It happens.
“I don't know what's going to happen yet, I can't say. It's going to be a while yet before I give up basketball. Hopefully, it works out for me in this league, because that's what I want to be in. I want to get better and be able to play at the best level of basketball."
He knows what it takes to get into the NBA, because his 22-year-old brother is about to enter his fourth season and is currently practicing against the Olympic team in Las Vegas. No doubt those many games on the playgrounds and in the gyms against and with Jrue helped both get where they are.
"They would play one-on-one, but it would stop pretty quickly, because it would get a little heated," said Sean Holiday, their father. "When they were younger, Jrue would start fouling him and then Justin would start fouling back and then they would decide it was probably better to end things.
“I'm excited for both of them, especially for Justin. He didn't get his opportunity last year with the lockout. To see him actually get his opportunity and a chance is awesome. In college, he really didn't get the opportunity to showcase his talents. He's getting his opportunity now. This is how he plays. Justin always would make sure that everything ran smooth; he is that kind of player. You can even notice now when he comes into the game how it changes. There's just something about him. He's just like a magnet to the ball. He's always near the ball. He's always deflecting it or tipping it."
And the Holiday family hopes someone takes notice.
"We like to try to have guys who are versatile, who can play different positions, who can handle the ball, who can shoot the ball," said Sixers assistant coach Aaron McKie, who's directing the summer-league squad. "He's one of those guys. He's a little undersized to be playing the ‘four' position, but in this environment in the summer league, we try to use him in that position where we can take advantage of his skill set."
"This is what he wants to do, he's always wanted to do this," said Sean Holiday. "But he understands that if it doesn't work, he does have his degree, so he does have something to fall back on. Don't get me wrong, this is his dream, but he really doesn't put a lot of pressure on himself, either. He just takes it one day at a time. He's still young. I'm just praying this is it. I'm praying somebody will like him and pick him up."
After playing 9 minutes, 29 seconds in the first half, rookie Maurice Harkless was shut down for the rest of the game, because of his strained left hip flexor. Harkless moved well early, but after, coming out for the last time, was in obvious discomfort on the bench. He finished the day with only two points.
Second-year center Nikola Vucevic sat out his second straight game with a strained left Achilles', suffered when the group participated in a minicamp at the University of Central Florida last week.
"I went for a layup and I landed awkwardly," Vucevic said. "I thought it was just a little twist and I kept playing, and it got worse. I hope to be able to play in a couple of games this week, though."
Guard Jacob Pullen, from Kansas State, led the Sixers with 23 points, while Xavier Silas added 11 and Solomon Jones 10. Alec Burks led the Jazz with 31?…?Sixers CEO Adam Aron said via Twitter that he, coach Doug Collins and president Rod Thorn will be available to the press on Wednesday, the first day teams can make free-agent signings. They will be able to confirm that they used their amnesty clause on Elton Brand?…?Former Sixer and current Toronto general manager Ed Stefanski took in the day's action.
Contact Bob Cooney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BobCooney76. For more Sixers coverage and opinion, read his blog at www.philly.com/Sixerville.