By Rob Reheuser, for NBA.com
Posted Apr 5 2011 2:56PM
The answer was simple, efficient and, above all things, honest.
"Portsmouth was big for me," said Landry Fields, the 39th overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft, who has appeared in 76 games this season, mostly as a starter, for the playoff-bound New York Knicks. "I think going out there helped me a lot in terms of showcasing some of my skills for the GMs and scouts."
The fact that Fields' answer came on Center Court at Jam Session during NBA All-Star Weekend -- where the league's top rookies and sophomores met the media -- simply solidified his words. The Portsmouth Inivitational Tournament -- which begins Wednesday and runs through Saturday night in Portsmouth, Va. -- is a place where NBA hopefuls can make a name for themselves.
Fields, who played four years at Stanford, arrived at the 2010 PIT flying very much under the radar for a guy who averaged 22.0 points and 8.8 rebounds as a senior in one of the nation's elite conferences. Rather than turning the week into a personal platform, though, Fields made the simple plays. He was efficient as a scorer and rebounder. He was a good teammate. He played hard. In short, he was himself.
Credit the Knicks for finding a key piece for the future, and shame on some of the pundits who continue to question the importance of the PIT. In addition to Fields, Jeremy Lin (Golden State), Ben Uzoh (New Jersey), Hamady Ndiaye (Washington) and Ish Smith (Houston, Memphis) all turned solid performances at the PIT last year into rosters spots in the NBA this season.
In 2009, Wesley Matthews suited up at the PIT, then worked his way into training camp with the Utah Jazz. He appeared in all 82 games in 2009-10, averaging 9.4 points. In the postseason, Matthews averaged 13.2 points, and eventually signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Portland Trail Blazers. This season, Matthews (15.8 ppg) has been Portland's second-leading scorer and one of the team's most indispensable players.
The majority of the 64 college seniors invited to take part in the action this season likely will begin their careers overseas or in the NBA Development League. Jerome Randle, the 2010 PIT MVP, is currently averaging 17.5 points for Turk Telekom of the Turkish League. DeShawn Sims, who made the All-Tournament Team last year, currently ranks sixth in the NBA D-League in scoring.
Still, the PIT remains a viable NBA launching pad. When the 2011 NBA playoffs begin on April 16, the Dallas Mavericks will rely heavily on the energy and scoring punch off the bench of Jose Juan Barea, who set the PIT record with 41 assists over three games in 2006. The New Orleans Hornets, who recently lost David West for the season with a torn ACL, will hope PIT alum Carl Landry can pick up the slack. Landry was a standout at the 2007 PIT and wound up the 31st overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft.
As much as it's been a springboard for professional basketball players, the PIT, now in its 59th year, is more than just a basketball tournament. All of the proceeds go toward providing scholarships for local high school students and assisting local charities. The contributions and scholarships have risen significantly over the years thanks to the support of local sponsors, advertisers, ticket sales, the City of Portsmouth and the NBA. None of this is possible without the selfless efforts of the more than 100 volunteers involved in producing the tournament each year.
Here are some players to keep an eye on this week:
(Note: it's common for players to withdraw from the tournament at the last minute)
Jimmy Butler, Marquette -- Had a strong senior season, averaging 15.7 points and 6.1 rebounds, earning All-Big East Honorable Mention honors. Versatile and smooth offensive player who excels in the mid-range game. Willing defender, who can guard several positions and will stick his nose in for rebounds. Not a freak athlete, but has a solid overall package of skills to go with a great attitude.
Dwight Hardy, St. John's -- Led St. John's back to respectability in the Big East and its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2002. Averaged 18.3 points on his way to earning All-Big East First Team honors. Has terrific scoring instincts and is willing to take big shots but, at 6-foot-2, will have to show he's more than just shooter/scorer. Should see major time at the point this week.
Justin Holiday, Washington -- Jrue Holiday's older brother has made a name for himself as one of the best defensive players in the country. Averaged 10.5 points and 5.2 rebounds on a talented Washington squad that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Has good size and athleticism for the wing position, with a strong, wiry frame. NBA-caliber athlete who's improved as a shooter and has very good intangibles.
Rick Jackson, Syracuse -- Jackson is coming off a terrific senior season in which he averaged 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds for the Orange. Struggled with conditioning issues early in his career but got into terrific shape this season and it paid dividends. High-energy, junkyard dog-type player who'll battle on the interior. Decent touch around the basket but not much of an offensive threat for the next level.
Jamie Skeen, Virginia Commonwealth -- One of the darlings of the NCAA Tournament. Helped lead VCU to the Final Four, where the Rams lost to Butler. Strong player with solid length and range out to the 3-point line. Gritty finisher around the rim, despite not being explosive. Heavily recruited high school player who transferred to VCU after two-plus seasons at Wake Forest.
Durrell Summers, Michigan State -- When Summers made the decision to return to Michigan State for his senior season to take a run at a national championship, he was applauded for his competitive spirit. Unfortunately, the Spartans tanked this season and Summers' Draft stock took a sizable hit. He has the requisite athleticism, bounce and length you look for in a prospect, to go with a solid stroke, but has struggled with consistency.
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