FAMILIAR TIES: MAALIK WAYNS AND DAJUAN SUMMERS
Even before they met, Maalik Wayns and DaJuan Summers were close.
Their hometowns of Philadelphia and Baltimore were adjoined almost two centuries ago by a 63-mile stretch of railroad. They both emerged from standout local high school careers to play in the Big East Conference. And while they never crossed paths they knew of each other. Wayns watched Summers, three years his senior, on the collegiate stage when he was a high school All-American at Roman Catholic in Philadelphia and Summers would catch glimpses of Wayns after Summers had moved on to the NBA and Wayns’ Villanova Wildcats would take on Georgetown.
“It’s funny me and Maalik have a relationship that is [connected],” Summers said while lacing up his sneakers before practice in Las Vegas for his second go-around in Summer League. “He’s from Philly. I’m from Baltimore. That’s right up the street. He’s a Villanova guy. I’m a Georgetown guy. It’s funny how our histories tie up so much. Me and Maalik are really close.”
When they became teammates on March 15 with the Clippers, there was an unavoidable sense that they were in it together. They were both on 10-day contracts, Wayns a week sooner than Summers. They were both coming off being cut (Wayns by Philadelphia and Summers by Detroit, New Orleans, Charlotte and then the Clippers on July 9). They had spent time in the D-League. They were both hoping to latch onto their NBA dream and never let go.
And that’s where their connection likely is the deepest. They both understand what the other is going through. Prior to the start of the Las Vegas Summer League they were at the Clippers’ facility every morning. And when the marine layer outside gives way to sunshine, they are likely still inside, working, or sitting on a training table near the entrance to the team’s weight room, just talking.
“We’re really close,” said Summers, who has averaged 11.8 points and 3.5 rebounds through four games in Vegas. “I always try to give him my two cents about what I see from having more years in the league than him and letting him know what to expect so that he won’t do some of the same things that I did.”
To Summers, 25, Wayns is like a little brother. In fact, his real brother is a 16-year-old high schooler back in Maryland. His name is Malik as well. “Maalik listens more than my real brother, though,” Summers joked.
But Wayns knows he can learn from the elder Summers, who has been cut four times since entering the NBA and admitted it took a couple of years to learn what professionalism meant. And that’s what he’s trying to convey to Wayns, his brother in red, white and blue.
“I would not lie,” Summers said. “I would not sugar coat it. It’s not an easy process. It’s as easy as I’ve made it. I’m more mentally focused now. There have been times in my career when I haven’t been. I can see the differences in what I need to do to stay focused. I don’t worry about the things I can’t control now. I would love to have a more stable career as far as being with one team and things like that. But I know it will come in time if I keep doing what I’m doing now.”
That’s the message. And Wayns, a 6-foot-2 fleet-footed point guard who spent three years at Villanova before playing in the 76ers organization for three months, is listening.
“I knew he was a great player,” Wayns added, “and he’s been out of school for about four or five years now so he knows the NBA game. He knows what to expect.”
It is apparent by their interactions in Vegas. They were on a fast break in the second quarter of a July 14 game against the D-League select team and Wayns threw a no-look pass that was both too hard and ill-timed to Summers as he filled the lane to Wayns’ right. The ball ricocheted off Summers’ hands and could have smacked him squarely in the face. They exchanged words about the turnover on the way back down the floor.
Summers rolled his eyes ever so slightly and Wayns shrugged his shoulders. But a few plays later, when Wayns was fouled hard on a layup attempt the first to help him up was Summers. He rushed to his teammate, pulled him up and they spoke briefly before exchanging pats to each other’s chest.
Summer League is not easy. It is a two-week long audition for more than 80 percent of the individuals in town. They have gone through it before, so that helps.
“It’s a process, part of our careers as basketball players,” Summers said. “I think a lot of people don’t really understand how much of a journeyman most of us have to be in order to be successful in this business.”
That’s what Summers learned the hard way. Of all the things he said that changed his approach to basketball, getting cut, playing in Siena, Italy during the lockout, looking to join his fourth NBA training camp in four years, it was the realization that you have to act like a professional at all times.
“I understand more so than ever that this is my career,” Summers said. “I should just treat it as such. I would work really hard at it, but I didn’t understand that it’s just like my mom getting up every day to do her job is what I do now.”
Summers and Wayns have both adopted that approach. They have been leaders on a Summer League squad of four rookies and five others with previous stints in at least an NBA training camp. They live by the motto that basketball never sleeps. It never takes a day off. It’s work.
“You try to take the positive out of things and get better every day,” Wayns said. “You can practice when you know we’ve got a day off and every day do something to get better and better.”
Summers added, “People are always working, trying to get better, analyze the game, guys are getting better, people are taking better care of their bodies. We’re in the gym every day to stay ready.”
And while most endure that cycle of work as individuals, thanks to their old connection and newfound bond, there is some solace that Summers and Wayns can take it on together.