Summer league players out to make a good impression

Posted: July 09, 2014

ORLANDO - Just make the shot and then the one after that and the one after that.

That is what former Oakland University player Travis Bader had on his mind when he suited up for the Sixers in the Orlando Pro Summer League.

Your reputation with the Sixers' coaches and all of the other talent evaluators in the practice gym at the Amway Center is that you are a shot maker. Show them that you are.

Grab some rebounds, former Saint Joseph's University star Ronald Roberts Jr. thought.

Crashing the boards was the mission; prove to them that you belong, that you should have been drafted, that you deserve another look.

That is the mindset for most of the players in Orlando this week and those who will be traveling out west next for the Las Vegas Revue Summer League.

The marquee attractions of these summer games are the lottery selections and first-round picks who are making their debuts as professionals for their teams. Those are the players most NBA fans want to know about.

But the vast majority of the players on these rosters in Orlando and Las Vegas are not high lottery selections, such as the Orlando Magic's Aaron Gordon, drafted fourth overall 2 weeks ago, or Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (sixth overall).

They aren't second-year professionals, such as Sixers center Nerlens Noel, Orlando guard Victor Oladipo, Oklahoma City center Steve Adams, Detroit forward Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Boston forward Kelly Olynyk.

They aren't even second-round picks who will get some benefit of the doubt from the organizations that drafted them.

In fact, most of the players here will be lucky if they can even earn an invitation to a NBA camp to get the opportunity to compete for a spot deep on the bench of an Opening Night roster.

They are guys taking the longest shot while chasing the longest of shots. Most of the guys here are undrafted rookie free agents, guys who played in the developmental league or in a league overseas.

Some, such as Sixers diminutive point guard Casper Ware, are looking to turn the cup of coffee they had in the NBA into a full kettle.

For most of the players on display here, each game they play will be the most important, among the thousands of games they have played up to this point.

They will have limited opportunities to create reasons for them to get more opportunities.

Everything is about catching the corner of someone's eye, making them turn a quick glance into a look or, better yet, a stare.

"We all want to leave the gym, saying, 'What is the one thing this guy does that makes it an elite NBA skill?' " Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "Oh, he's got a high motor, he blocks shots, he can shoot, he can guard somebody. Something has got to stand out with all of these fringe guys."

That is the dichotomy in Orlando.

For their entire lives, these guys have had it drilled into them that basketball is a team game, that you sacrifice individual glory for the team's sake.

Being a complete team player, however, isn't likely to make you stand out they way you need to stand out, but then, forcing the issue and pushing the individual envelope too far is the best way to get you shown the exit to the gym.

That fine line must be walked well.

"It's exciting," said Bader, a first-team all-Horizon League selection who is the NCAA career leader in three-point field goals made. "I played in [the Portsmouth Invitational], which is kind of similar.

"You weren't on a team, but you are trying to impress scouts, coaches, general managers that are sitting there watching.

"This is the dream to come here and perform well, to have a bunch of eyes on you and hopefully take advantage of the opportunity. But it is still basketball, and once you get out there, you just have to play and play the game the right way."

Considering how high the stakes are for some of these guys, they might have never played in games that mean so much to them, yet so little to just about everyone else.

The pressure to perform is incredible, but dealing with it is essential.

"It's a lot of pressure, because it is your dream," Ware said. "You want to play in the NBA, but who doesn't?

"But you really can't look at it as you've got to make yourself stand out. That's not how it works. You just have to go out there, play your best and do what you do.

"It is hard to put it out of your mind that I am trying to make it; I am trying to impress people. But at the end of the day, you just have to focus on playing good basketball."

You also have to make that shot, grab that rebound or create that turnover.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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