Early prediction time: I’m picking Nerlens Noel to win Rookie of the Year. After seeing him play at Summer League, after he got that “Blake Griffin year” to be around the league without playing, with the touches he’ll get in Philadelphia, he’s my preseason call.
Noel would not be bouncing back like this without more than a year of hard work in the gym and on the court at rehab.
That can be a long, solitary process. In a fascinating Q&A with James Herbert of CBSSports.com’s Eye on Basketball (go read the entire thing) Noel said it was fellow Kentucky Wildcat Rajon Rondo who was reaching out and being supportive.
Noel: With all the support and love, certain guys, especially Rajon Rondo — he was definitely the biggest helper through this whole process, he actually gave me his phone number and told me I could hit him up whenever about it. Being from Boston, watching him growing up, and he went through it and he came back as strong as possible, actually before me, so it gave me a lot of confidence, having his good faith.
Q: Is that kind of crazy, being a Celtics fan growing up, to get to know him on a personal level?
Noel: Yeah, definitely. That’s definitely what made it even more of a thrill. Being able to interact with Rondo and get good advice from him, ’cause he’s more of a veteran point guard now in this league, gone through so much with the Big 3, he’s a world champion, he’s a player who’s very mature in this league now. So definitely, it was crazy. I took a lot from him.
Good on Rondo. It would have been easy to do the perfunctory “hey, get better kid” text and put Noel out of his mind, but Rondo was genuine.
And somewhere, three more recruits just committed to John Calipari.
Hey, if Mike Krzyzewski can do it, so can other NBA stars.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has gone fully viral — promoting awareness and increasing donations to the fight against “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” — and NBA players have gotten in the act. (Hat tip to NBA.com’s All Ball for the compalation.)
On it’s way to Spain for the World Cup, Team USA was going to make a stop in Dakar in Senegal to do a day of clinics and events to promote basketball on the African continent.
But in the wake of the Ebola breakout in that region USA Basketball has decided to cancel that event, reports Marc Stein of ESPN after speaking with USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo.
“I speak for all at USA Basketball when I say we’re extremely disappointed we will not be able to visit Senegal,” Colangelo said. “Our entire traveling party was very much looking forward to the experience…
“Although the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] does not yet suspect any [Ebola] cases in Senegal, the country’s position as a neighboring country to Guinea and Dakar’s role as a gateway to West Africa heightened our concern,” Colangelo said.
USA was to be in Senegal, which borders Guinea, a country that has seen more than 500 reported cases of the deadly ebola disease and 377 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. In total there have been more than 1,000 deaths from the virus in the West African region.
USA Basketball is currently in Chicago, where there are a couple days of practices followed by a friendly against Brazil on Saturday night. From there Team USA moves on to New York for a week of practices and exhibitions. After that it is on to Spain for some final tune-ups and, eventually, the World Cup itself.
Team USA opens the World Cup in Bilbao, Spain, on Aug. 30 taking on Finland. The USA and host Spain are considered the gold medal favorites.
Sim Bhullar is huge.
The 7’5”, 360-pound center who played his college ball for New Mexico State was part of the Kings’ Summer League team and even around other NBA players he looked huge. He dwarfed DeMarcus Cousins. In a timeout huddle he was literally a head taller than every other guy there.
He also has a long, long way to go in terms of conditioning and fundamentals to be considered a real NBA prospect, but he’s got an invite to the Kings training camp this fall, the team announced.
Bhullar was born in Toronto becomes the first player of Indian heritage to sign an NBA contract.
“I’ve long believed that India is the next great frontier for the NBA, and adding a talented player like Sim only underscores the exponential growth basketball has experienced in that nation,” said Kings Owner Vivek Ranadivé (also of Indian heritage) in a released statement. “While Sim is the first player of Indian descent to sign with an NBA franchise, he represents one of many that will emerge from that region as the game continues to garner more attention and generate ever-increasing passion among a new generation of Indian fans.”
Bhullar is a project. Expect him to spend next season with the Kings’ D-League affiliate in Reno as they work to hone his game. After watching him for a couple games in Las Vegas I’m not sure he will ever be an NBA player. But he’s not a bad project to take on.
NBA players — and NFL, NHL, and Barclays Premier League players as well — know on some level that every time they step on the court or field they risk a catastrophic injury. Intellectually they get that. They also block it out of their minds — you can’t play all out if in the back of your mind there are concerns about a knee or whatever.
A fluke injury like Paul George’s happening right in front of the players can bring those fears to the front of the mind.
Golden State’s Stephen Curry — who is expected to be a starter for Team USA — has battled his share of injuries over the years and admitted George’s injury gave him pause, speaking with ESPN.
“Reacting to Paul’s injury is natural,” Curry said. “I think just talking to my family and guys in the Warrior front office, just kind of seeing where everybody was, but at the end of the day it’s a great honor to wear this jersey and to have these experiences and I’m going to take advantage of it.”
“Everyone’s all in,” (USA coach Mike) Krzyzewski said. “They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t all in. And they’ve been all-in. These guys love playing for the United States and they understand that we have a one month commitment now. And actually a month from today, if things went well, we would be playing for a gold medal in Madrid.”
Despite the loss of George and Kevin Durant — not to mention guys such as Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge not taking part this summer — Team USA has the talent to get to that gold medal game. The USA lucked out with the draw and got a soft group and, once it enters elimination play, a soft side of the bracket if they win the division. The USA will likely face Spain in that gold medal game, and that presents some real challenges, but the USA should get there.
If more guys pulled out in the wake of the George injury, maybe that equation changes. But those guys all know the risk every time they step on the court anywhere.