Welcome to 2010 everyone! It’s been a long hard slog through the autumn months. Loads of stuf has continued to crop up and prevent me from doing what I love — that is, scraping the farthest corners of the internet for crumbs of information about former Syracuse basketball players who are now making their living in leagues across the globe. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to stop sniffing nail polish remover. But another one is to return the Pro Update to being a regular feature on Cuse Country. So let’s dive in, shall we?
As is our custom, we begin with a brief tour of:
but not with any of the more prominent guys you might expect. We begin by paying proper respect to Jason Hart, who was traded to and then immediately cut by the Phoenix Suns in a bit of salary-cap arithmetic. (Hart’s contract with Minnesota was not fully guaranteed — by acquiring that contract, Phoenix was able to cut him without penalty, massaging their roster so that they could keep Jarron Collins.) This may signal the end of Jason’s ten-year NBA career, but then again you never know. Point guards are fragile things, and you never know who might need a reliable, solid, veteran backup PG for the stretch run. Also, the scuttlebutt is that Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis wouldn’t mind Hart back on his bench now that he has been waived. There are rules (as you may expect) against immediately re-signing him in this type of situation, but it could happen 30 days down the road. This season Jason got into one game for the Wolves, Nov 13 vs. Dallas. He played five minutes, and tallied one assist and one steal. If this is his last game, it’d be an ironic symmetry — his first year, with the Bucks, he played in exactly one game as well.
Speaking of the Bucks, they are the current employers of Mr. Twizzler Arms himself, Hakim Warrick. After finally moving on from Memphis, where a revolving door of coaches and systems meant a constantly changing role for Hak, I’m sure he was hoping for more stability in his new home. Well it’s taken a while but Warrick seems to have settled nicely into a sixth-man role for the Bucks. He began the season on the bench, but a 21-point outburst in the second game, a win over the favored Pistons, prompted coach Terry Porter to stick him into the starting lineup. That experiment lasted only six games, though, as he had trouble matching that output consistently. Since mid-November, Hak has been the primary frontcourt sub for the Bucks, often getting “starter’s minutes”. He’s had some dominant games, most notably a 22-point, 10-rebound effort against the Hornets on Nov 25. But the overall tale of the season is cyclical for Warrick. Through Dec 6 he averaged 12ppg. Then he went through a stretch of eight games in which he never scored above 6. The low point was ascoreless ten minutes against the Pacers. But he broke out of that stretch with a 23-point explosion on the day after Christmas, and from that game forward he’s averaged nearly 13ppg. For the season to date he’s clocking 10.2 points and 4.6 boards per contest.
Speaking of scoring averages, the big daddy of ‘em all, Carmelo Anthony, has been scoring more than Tiger Woods in Vegas. He is second to Kobe in the Association with a mere 30 points per game. He started the year on a blistering pace, dropping 30 on the Jazz in the opener and then pouring in 41 in a win over Portland and 42 in a win over the Grizzlies. These are two of five games this season in which he has reached or exceeded the 40-point threshhold, the biggest of which was his 50-point domination of the Knicks on Nov 27. In fact, his game on December 7 was the first game in which he failed to reach 20 points. Melo has also kept his rebounding and passing up to his standards, averaging 6.4 boards and 3.3 assists per contest. Just a dominant all-around performance. Unfortunately he has injured his knee and has missed Denver’s last four games; they say he should be back tonight but until he actually gets on the court, nobody knows for sure.
In an ironic twist, Anthony’s injury occured when he collided with none other than Donte Greene, SU’s other highly hyped, one-and-done small forward from Baltimore, a man who played on “Team Melo” in AAU ball. Donte guarded Carmelo down the stretch in that game back on Dec 28. His defense in the fourth quarter was in fact a key element of the Kings’ upset of the Nuggets that night. Melo did have 34 points but needed 35(!) shots to get them. Donte also had 17 points in that game, continuing a sophomore campaign that has been far, far more successful than his rookie season. HE hardly played during the first five games of the year, but then Kings stud small forward Kevin Martin got hurt, and Donte found his way into the rotation. He has responded with some excellent displays of basketball. His best all-around game is probably his 24 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 6 blocks against the Knicks on Nov 25. But he’s scored in double-figures about a dozen times and is overall averaging 9 ppg. Since mid-November he has been in the starting lineup for all but a handful of games, sometimes as a forward, sometimes as the shooting guard. He seems to have drank coach Paul Westphal’s Kool-Aid, and committed himself to becoming a defensive-minded player who can score sometimes, rather than a scorer who sometimes plays defense. Unfortunately, the injury bug has also bitten Donte in the form of a sprained ankle that has kept him out of the Kings’ last two games. No word on his potential return.
Donte’s erstwhile teammate Jonny Flynn has been climbing the NBA learning curve. He has been the Timberwolves’ starting point guard since opening night, and his game has been occasionally scinitllating, at times frightening, but generally solid. He can have 22 points one night and 8 the next. He is overall averaging 14.3ppg. His assist numbers are low for a starting PG, just under 4 per game. Partly because his Wolves teammates miss a fair number of shots themselves (which is why they are 8-30 right now), but also because he’s still more comfortable trying to score on his own than anything else, and Coach Rambis has asked him to play an entirely new role as part of his mentor’s triangle offense. (Personally I think the triangle is overrated, and only succeeded because it was the best way to get shots for guys named Jordan and Bryant.) Jonny is taking about 12 shots per game and making about 5 (43%). While he is clearly a notch beneath rookie sensations Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans, he is just about the “best of the rest” of this season’s first-year class and is a lock for the rookie-sophomore game at All-Star Weekend.
The last, forgotten member of the SU NBA contingent is Etan Thomas, who has not played a minute for Oklahoma City since early December. At the start of the season it looked as if he’d be playing the primary backup role, and he responded with some good efforts, highlighted by a 9-point 11-rebound performance against the Lakers. But in an understandable move towards the future, those minutes are now going to rookie Serge Ibaka, who is 11 years younger than Etan and was a late first-round pick. Etan’s contract expires at the end of this season; there is usually work to be found for a backup big man if he wants it, but given all of Etan’s other interests, I would not be shocked if he decided to walk away from the game once this year concludes.
And now we take our first step downwards, to the NBA Development League, which has not been kind to Syracuse players this season by any stretch. The situations of the two most recent former Orangemen have been fairly well-chronicled by both the Post-Standard SU Hoops blog and the just-as-timely-but-usually-funnier Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician. Both have relayed the sagas of Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf. In case you missed it, Paul was the top pick of the Maine Red Claws in the NBDL draft this season; however, the ankle injury he suffered while in training camp with Utah has turned out to need surgery, and he will not play a minute of ball this season. Devendorf’s fate is perhaps crueler; he landed a mid-season roster spot with the Reno Bighorns, officially joining the team the day after Christmas (joy!). He lasted into 2010… barely. He played his last game for Reno on Jan 1, and was waived shortly thereafter (though the waiver does not appear on the official NBDL list of transactions — Devo just sort of vanished from the roster). But this is not the only misfortune that has been visited on SU D-League denizens, oh no sir. One Darryl Watkins had a roster spot with the Iowa Energy all sewn up. But he has developed the dreaded plantar fasciitis before the season began and never made it onto the court. He does not appear on Iowa’s roster, nor has he popped up on any overseas teams, at least to this point. Plantar fasciitis is notorious for having longer-than-expected recovery times; you just never know when it is going to finally clear up. The first time I heard of it was when it ended the NBA career of Rony Seikaly (though he’s doing fine now as the tallest dance hall DJ in Miami Beach). So Mookie might end up missing this entire season as well. My advice to all SU players from here on out — avoid the D-League and go play overseas somewhere. You might never make the NBA, but you can have a long, prosperous career… and you can spend your life in places like Naples or Prague, rather than Sioux Falls or Fort Wayne.
In other words, you can be like Otis Hill.
The granddaddy of former Orangemen, Otis has been a traveling pro since he left SU after the 1996-97 season. There were rumblings this summer that he might be ready to hang up his sneakers, but the lure of the Holy Land proved too great. Otis signed on with Ironi Ramat Gan in the Israeli in mid-November. He’d played in Israel twice before, so this was an easy fit for him. Otis played in the team’s five most recent games, averaging 4 points and 2 rebounds in limited minutes. Ramat Gan is winless on the year though, and he was released on December 24 as the league took its midseason break. So perhaps this is now truly the end of a long and lustrous career; or maybe, just maybe, Otis will take his show back on the road and pop up in Finland or Austria or Estonia later this year.
Another master of longevity has also come back this year in midseason. Veteran center Elvir Ovcina is now plying his trade in Slovenia for Hopsi Polzela, which was the team he first played for after leaving SU back in 1999. Hopsi signed Elvir at the beginning of December. He’s played in five games for them so far, averaging a solid 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Hopsi is just 4-9 on the season so far and sit in 10th place in their league. Unlike Otis, Elvir is still on the team — in fact, he just played in their game of January 9, though he only managed 6 points and 3 rebounds in that one (his worst output since joining the team).
Slightly younger and a fair bit more successful than Elvir (at least on the college level) is Mr. Silky, Preston Shumpert. A couple weeks ago I named him to the Cuse Country All-00s Second Team (behind Carmelo at the small forward spot). But who knows whether that news got all the way to him over in Turkey, where he has played for the past several seasons. This year marks his second consecutive season playing for Efes Pilsen, the team named after a beer. Efes is riding high once again, leading the league with a record of 12-1, and Preston has been a big part of their success. I can’t be completely certain from the box scores whether he’s starting or not, but if not he’s certainly playing “starter’s minutes”. He’s averaging 13.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game. He had a couple bad games early in the season but for the most part has been a consistent double-digit scorer, including a season high of 25 points on Dec 13. He also posted a double-double on Dec 22, with 19 points and 10 rebounds (leading his team in both categories). His most impressive stat, though, is his shooting. He is a blistering 62% from the floor this season — but the even more amazing part is, he is shooting 63% from two-point range and 62% from three-point range! That’s inhuman.
Just across the Mediterranean (I think) in Italy, it’s this guy!!
K-Ong has hardly played this season for Sutor Basket Montegranaro in the Italian League. But as far as I can tell he is still on the team. He’s seen action in just two games. The more recent was on Dec 20, when he played 13 minutes, scoring 2 points and grabbing two rebounds. Otherwise my guess is that he just elbows the crap out of his teammates during practice. If he does get the ax at some point during the season, I’m certain he could find work in another European league, one that is a slight step down from the Italian Premier League. Heck, if Matt Gorman can be a professional basketball player, then Kristof Ongenaet can.
By the way: Matt Gorman is still a professional basketball player.
Yes, Matt, it’s true, don’t act so bewildered.
Matt’s Sheffield Sharks have turned in a great season so far. They are currently in first place in the British Basketball League at 15-4. They have also advanced to the finals of the BBL Cup — a midseason elimination tournament featuring all the league’s teams (kind of like the Big East Tourney but it happens halfway through the year). Matt has not enjoyed the individual success that he achieved his first two years in the league. He has only played in 7 games, and he’s been limited to about 4 points and three rebounds per game. It’s unclear whether the team’s roster just improved dramatically, or if Matt is nursing some sort of injury, or what. But his star seems to have faded somewhat. He may need to go back to Ireland to find a league he can still dominate.
Also patrolling European courts (and heeding my advice to stay far from the D-League) is Demetris Nichols. After hardly playing at all with the Pacers in the preseason, he opted for the payday rather than the slim NBA shot. D-Nic is in France, working his way into the rotation for BCM Gravelines Dunkerque Grand Littoral. (Yes, really.) Demetris joined the team at the beginning of December and played an average of only 6 minutes in each of the first three games, going scoreless in each game. But in the new year, he’s been a new man. He exploded for 16 points on 6-11 shooting in 17 minutes on January 2. This resulted in him getting 14 minutes the next game, though he only managed 6 points. Still, I would expect his role to solidify as 2010 rolls along.
Finally (almost), we move from the arenas of Europe to the impeccably-named BJ-League in Japan. Two former Orangemen, of very different eras, are getting their BJ on over there. First, there is Ryan Blackwell, back for a fourth straight season in Japan. He plays for the Osaka Evessa. Ryan’s game has slipped a bit from a couple of years ago when he was a legitimate all-star candidate. He doesn’t start for Osaka (usually) and he has settled into a supporting role. He is still averaging over 11 points per game, along with 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. But gone are the days when we was routinely pouring in 20-25 points a night. He did have one game this season of 26 points, and has reached double figures in rebounds four times in 20 games. He also missed four games in a row at one point this season (presumably with an injury — I see no reason why he would have been flat benched or anything). His most recent game was an efficient, effective 12pt-6reb-5ast effort on Sunday.
Amazingly in a league with only 13 teams, Ryan’s team has not yet faced the Saitama Broncos. I’m assuming it’s coming soonm and when it does, it will be a battle for the ages as Blackwell takes on the man, the legend, the Kodiak bear, Terrence Roberts. After bouncing around a bit last year and not quite fitting in, Terrence seems to have found a place where his talents are needed and appreciated. He began the year in the starting lineup. That didn’t last forever, but he has been in and out of the first 5 all through the year. He’s averaging 10.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. His best showings this year have been 15 points and 15 rebounds in the second game of the season, and 21 points and 12 boards in the third game. He has two more double-doubles on the year. He has also fouled out four times. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Despite their Herculean efforts, both Blackwell’s and Roberts’ teams are 2 games under .500 and in fourth place in their respective divisions. There is a lot of season left to play, though.
Finally (for real this time), we pop into a strange land where nothing is what it seems. I speak, of course, of Southeastern Texas — Beaumont, to be precise — where Josh Pace has been sighted toiling for the SE Texas Miners of the ABA.
Watch out Josh, those Texas lightning storms will eff you up.
Unfortunately, the ABA is the most poorly run professional basketball league in the country, at least that has a profile outside of a single state or metro area. So, I can’t tell you jack squat about Josh’s scoring average or shooting percentage. That information is just not available online. I wonder if it even exists in their own files. I’d call that a 50-50 proposition at best. I can tell you that in his most recent game he ha 16 points and 5 assists. But that’s about all you will get out of me for the moment.
Until next time (which hopefully will not be three months from now), keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars. With your Twizzler arms.