Some of the NBL’s top coaches have been sweating it out in the American desert this week, working the sidelines at an international player showcase in Las Vegas.
Aaron Fearne (Cairns Taipans), Joey Wright (Adelaide 36ers) and Dean Vickerman (Sydney Kings assistant) have all been coaching at the Worldwide Invitational, which runs alongside the NBA Summer League and serves as a showcase for players seeking overseas contracts.
All three are veterans of the event and have been joined at this year’s camp by heads of Italian, German and Belgian pro teams.
The Worldwide Invitational is an opportunity for players who have completed their NCAA or NAIA eligibility (or are looking to forego their college eligibility) to showcase their skills.
Former NBL imports Shane Edwards (Cairns Taipans), Jesse Sanders (Sydney Kings) and Kenyon McNeail (Adelaide 36ers) as well as Australians Daniel Carlin (Adelaide 36ers) and Drake U’u (Perth Wildcats) are all past participants.
“There are some talented guys here,” Fearne said.
“There’s definitely some guys there that have played some professional basketball and some really good college players who have posted some good numbers.”
The event took place at the UNLV Student Wellness and Recreation Center, just 500 meters from the Cox Pavilion, home of the NBA Summer League.
General Managers and coaches from numerous European, Asian, South American and NBA D-League teams have also been in attendance.
According to Fearne, therein lies much of the appeal to the players.
“They know that they’ll be coached by professional coaches and there are a lot of coaches and a lot of GMs that come through the gym while they’re playing games to look at these guys,” Fearne said.
For Wright, this marks his third consecutive year coaching at the event.
“It’s fantastic,” Wright said.
“We get a chance to see a lot of talent in positions one through five and we also get to mix with different coaches and get some ideas and philosophies from them.”
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So how much of the experience is about professional development and how much is about recruiting players?
“It’s probably 50/50,” Wright admitted.
“While we’re here we’re definitely looking at out-of-bounds plays, last-second plays, different ways to defend the on-ball (screen) and things like that. We’re also talking to coaches about philosophies.
“It’s definitely about professional development because, as coaches, the offseason is our opportunity to do that.”
Fearne, Wright, Vickerman and the European coaches conducted an online draft ten days prior to this year’s event, selecting their rosters from players who had registered and committed a non-refundable registration fee.
Interestingly, the Australian coaches all used their first round picks to select 6-foot-8 power forwards, keen to get an up-close look at some of the bigger prospects at the camp.
With the number one overall pick, Wright selected veteran power forward Devonne Giles, a 32-year-old who played his college ball at Texas Tech and last played professionally in Finland.
He also used his third round pick to select former Adelaide import Kenyon McNeail, whom the 36ers released early in the 2015/16 NBL season.
“We wanted to give Kenyon an opportunity,” Wright said.
“He knows we’re not looking for a point guard but he knows a lot of the sets we wanted to run and it was good to help him be at the camp and be seen by some other coaches.”
With the fourth pick, Fearne selected Charles Mitchell out of Georgia Tech University. Mitchell is a 6-foot-8 banger who uses his bulky frame to bull his way to the front of the rim or attack the offensive glass.
In search of a point guard, Fearne used his second round pick on diminutive playmaker Devan Downey.
Standing 5-foot-9, Downey played his senior year at the University of South Carolina back in 2010 and has had a number of professional stops since then, including the NBA D-League, Romania and Qatar.
Downey is lightning-quick and a fearless competitor; think Jerome Randle 2.0.
As for Vickerman, he used the fifth pick of the draft to select Stanton Kidd, a versatile forward out of Colorado State who played last season for Limburg United in Belgium.
Wright is so serious about the talent on show at the Worldwide Invitational, he’s keen for Adelaide eyes to capture every moment of it.
“What we do here, which is probably unlike some of the other coaches, we actually have a scout on every court,” Wright explained.
“Every game is being watched by someone who understands the Adelaide philosophy and knows what we’re looking for.
“There have been some great players here. I‘ve seen seven, maybe eight, standout players this week.”
One of those standouts has undoubtedly been Tyler Harris, brother of Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris.
Harris, who recently completed a four-year career at Auburn University, scored 35 points in Team Wright’s opening game, shooting 10-of-15 from the floor including 3-of-4 from long range.
The question is: will we see any of these guys in an NBL jersey this season?
Only time will tell.
— WW Invitational (@WorldwideInvite) July 13, 2016
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In other NBL news, free agent Lucas Walker is currently in Las Vegas observing the behind the scenes operations of the Utah Jazz strength and conditioning team.
Walker, who played last season with the Adelaide 36ers after five years in Melbourne, also participated in a player showcase over the weekend, displaying his skills in front of numerous coaches, scouts and GMs from around the world.
Walker, 31, told nbl.com.au that he has been enjoying his time in Vegas, learning from some of the best in business.
“I’m interested in getting into strength and conditioning after I play so that’s been really interesting,” Walker said.
“As for the showcase, I’m just trying to cover all bases and consider all options.”