I remember a time when summer was a hot, arid desert for basketball junkies. Sure, the draft provided a little glimmer of basketball discussion between the NBA Finals and the opening of the NBA/college preseasons, but otherwise, SportsCenter was a vast wasteland of baseball highlights from June until football season kicked off. As a player, summer offered camps and a chance to work on your game, but as a spectator, good basketball was hard to find in non-Olympic years.
The flattening of the media universe, however, has opened up new opportunities to consume basketball outside the traditional boundaries of the NCAA and NBA seasons. For Fighting Irish fans, we won't get a glimpse of how our current student athletes until their first exhibition games roll around this fall, but there are plenty of opportunities to cheer on Irish alumni on the hardwood this summer.
The NBA has done a lot in recent years to add more structure around their summer leagues. Summer leagues in Orlando, Utah, and Las Vegas give teams opportunities to stretch the bottom of their rosters while their stars rest. They can also groom assistant coaches for the head chair. For newly drafted rookies, it is their first chance to show their stuff versus paid competition, and for guys fighting to get on the end of an NBA bench, it is a chance to show teams you belong.
One guy clawing to get on the end of an NBA bench is Jack Cooley. The 2013 Irish alum went un-drafted, but after a year in Turkey, made his way back to the D-league in 14/15, and managed to snare a 10 day contract with the Utah Jazz near the middle of this season. While that initial 10-day call-up didn't get extended, he was called up again late in the season, and Cooley made the most of his second shot. He played in 16 games, averaging about 5 min/gm. Cooley's effort on the glass (13.8 rebounds per 48 minutes) was enough to convince the Jazz to sign him to a multi-year deal this spring. Cooley is generating some buzz with a 13 point, 13 rebound performance in 16 minutes during his first game with the Jazz's entry in the NBA Summer League in Utah. Cooley was +15 in in Utah's 18 point victory over the Celtics.
Jack Cooley posted a ridiculous 13 pts and 13 rebs in just 16 min last night. He's yet another promising Jazz player http://t.co/KdbgA7BN2d— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) July 7, 2015
Cooley's Jazz team played San Antonio Tuesday night (after this post was put together) and will play Philly at 9PM on 7/9, Miami at 10:30PM on 7/11, Minnesota at 10:30PM on 7/13, and Phoenix at 7:30PM on 7/14 (all times Eastern).
Another guy looking to fight his way back on to an NBA roster is Luke Harangody. The Phoenix Suns picked up the 2010 graduate for their summer squad. They must have liked his toughness:
Luke Harangody paid his dues to be on the summer Suns. This happened in March and he returned to play the next game: https://t.co/IoMPx0qht6— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) July 7, 2015
Of course, the NBA Summer League will also mark the professional debuts of the first pair of Irish alum to be drafted in the same season since 1991. Both Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton will be suiting up in the Las Vegas league this summer. Grant's Knicks open play versus the Spurs at 4:30 on 7/11 and follow that up with games vs. the Lakers at 8:30PM on 7/13 and vs. Philly at 5:30PM on 7/14. The Sixer game will be notable as Jerian will square off vs. younger brother Jerami's squad. Connaughton's Trailblazer side kicks things off vs. Boston at 8:00PM on 7/11 followed by Dallas at 10PM on 7/12 and San Antonio at 3:00PM on 7/14 (all times Eastern). Of course, the Vegas league is set up as a tournament with a single elimination bracket seeded based on performance in the first three games. Perhaps we'll even see Pat and Jerian square off in the knock out phase.
Grant will suit up for head coach Derek Fisher on a roster filled with overseas talent, including the Greek Freak's younger brother Thannnis. Only 3 of his teammates suited up for the Knicks last season.
Meanwhile, Connaughton's Portland squad is incredibly perimeter oriented with 11 year vet, Keith Bogans on the roster.
All the games listed above are televised by NBA TV. Be sure to tune in to check out the former Irish as they try to secure roster spots for next season.