The Dev Report: Week Seven
Here's how an MRI works.
When the human body slides into the tube, a magnet cranks on -- with such force that patients listen to music to cover it -- and creates a magnetic field. But don't worry about that part. The part you should know is that when the magnet's turned on, the millions of hydrogen atoms inside of you hop to attention. Some point toward the top of your body. Some point toward your feet. Some, however, rattle free.
And when a radio pulse is directed at these particular outliers -- a certain pulse for a certain type of tissue -- the rogues change direction. Then, when the pulse is turned off, the outliers go back to their original wobble. But while they're doing so, they squeeze out energy. Their own sort of pulse.
Which means, as opposed to an X-ray, where the body makes an echo, in an MRI, the body talks.
"I believe the knee thing happened because I had to sit down and do some thinking," Summers said. "Is this really what I want to do? If it is, I have to sacrifice a lot more."
"Once I had the knee surgery, I had six or seven months to get my life together," Summers said.
If you happened to put together a March Madness bracket in 2010, you probably know Summers. But there's a reason you forgot about him. Coming into his senior season in 2010-11, he looked like a first-round pick in that spring's NBA Draft. Coming out of it, he looked like he'd forgotten how to play basketball and promptly vanished from the NBA landscape, save an aborted attempt at the NBA D-League last year. Benched down the stretch during MSU's 2010-11 campaign -- owing to a variety of reasons, from an inability to hit anything but iron to friction with the coaching staff to a reported "lack of enthusiasm" -- Summers' stock unraveled game-by-game. After going into the second round of last year's NBA D-League Draft, he fell to the fourth this year.
But it's because of those loose parts, and what he did with them, that you'll start hearing his name a lot more in the future.
As of Monday, Summers, a shooting guard for the NBA D-League's Idaho Stampede, sits at No. 23 on our list of the league's Top Prospects. A far more capable defender and penetrator than he showed at Michigan State, where he appeared content to just wait for his teammates to get him open so he could fire from the perimeter, Summers has put up 14.8 points, 4.8 boards and 2.3 assists a night for Idaho.
"Mentally, off the court, I had to get myself in check, and just grow up," Summers said. "I owe a lot of that to God. I put my faith in God. I started going to Bible study and going to church. I wasn't really a church guy and following the world the way God wants you, and I had to dig deep. It helped me turn myself around 100 percent."
Things fell apart, more or less, last January.
After not getting selected in the 2011 NBA Draft, Summers finally went in the second round of that November's NBA D-League Draft, after which point he didn't do a whole lot. In 12 games with the Maine Red Claws -- split down the middle by an invite to Charlotte Bobcats training camp -- Summers had a couple games worthy of a scout's glance, but, in 25 minutes a night, he averaged 10.8 points, less than a single assist and nearly three turnovers.
And when Paul Harris came back to the Red Claws in early January, Summers was the remainder. Waived on January 10, he signed a contract to play overseas.
He didn't step on the floor.
An injury that had nipped at him since his senior year at Michigan State had grown into something much more. He'd played through the increasingly frequent jolts of pain in his knee that year, then kept on grinding the joint down over the next six months.
"After I went to the Paul Pierce camp that year I'd had a little injury," he said. "I didnít get the proper testing -- they didn't do MRI's, they just went on what the trainer said, and I said it wasn't that bad and I was feeling better, so I went back into action."
Summers came back to the States soon after, then flew to Lansing and asked the medical staff to run an MRI screening.
There, looking those millions of lined-up atoms and those few spinning free -- inside a person whose career looked a lot like that -- they found them.
"I had a couple pieces of bone that broke off," he said.
By now, you know this isn't a story about bone. It is a story about fragments, though. And if you've watched Durrell Summers play basketball at any point over the past three years, from the brilliance -- the type reserved for so few -- of that 2010 NCAA Tournament to the moments of hope driven away by the calamity of that next season to near no-shows in his first shot at professional basketball last year, you're familiar with fragments.
"Before I had the bad senior year, I was a Draft pick, and I knew what I had to do and get better at -- unfortunately, I had the senior season I had," he said. "It helped me grow and learn what to do and what not to do to stay focused and put everything into the game. Not necessarily just work. Off the court, too."
Work wasn't ever really the issue with Summers. After that Tournament run, in which he earned Midwest Regional Most Outstanding Player honors after making pretty much everything he threw up for four games and kept MSU alive despite star teammate Kalin Lucas' injury, Summers didn't even go back home during the summer, opting instead to work out at State.
The problem was that, well, starring at one of the most important -- and one of the most-covered -- basketball programs in the country certainly had its perks. And Summers didn't mind buying in.
"I know the guys on staff and asked about him," said Idaho Stampede coach Mike Peck. "I asked about him, and they said he turned things around. [Assistant coach Dwayne Stephens] said to me that when you're there at State, you're like a celebrity. I think once he got out and realized that he wasn't quite the celebrity he was treated like, he hit rock bottom and said I gotta change my mindset. Be a little more humble. Be a grinder. Be a blue-collar guy."
"I definitely look back on it, and it was a great ride, to be honest," Summers said of his four-year run at MSU, with appearances in two Final Fours. "I learned a lot and had a lot of fun, but that may have been a gift and a curse. A gift and a curse because youíre young and itís happening like that, and there's not really a script for how to deal with it. Your coaches try to tell you, but it's hard. ... I don't want to get into all of it, but you're having fun in college, not necessarily being as productive on the court. If it's not helping me get better as a basketball player, you shouldn't be partaking. That's the thing I had to learn."
"It triple-compounded itself, because it was going bad even though I was still working my ass off," Summers said. "And I just couldn't understand it. It was more like, I don't know, I was getting into my head too deep. I started working myself crazy, but it wasn't a lack of work. It was just something I had to go through. I was at my lowest point ever. Coming into the season we were No. 1 in the country, and everything had me as a first-round pick and I worked my whole summer. I didn't go home for any of the breaks. I stayed up there in the gym."
He scored three points in 38 minutes against Wisconsin on Jan. 11. Four against Northwestern four days later. And after a four-game stretch in double-figures, he scored 10 or more points just twice in the season's final 12 games, as Michigan State stumbled to a first-round exit in the Tournament.
"When stuff was going bad, coach was trying to stick with me, but at that point, we had to win games," he said. "I started getting less and less and less because I was in a funk, and I didn't know what to do to get out of it. I was losing it."
So last summer, after the MRI found the loose bits floating around his knee and the surgeons dug them out, Summers thought about that year. He thought about a lot of things as he recovered in East Lansing. And finally, in a surprise to him, he started thinking about God.
"What attracted me was a smaller church," he said. "I feel the pastor, when he speaks to you, you can relate to him. Some churches you go to, you get the Word. I feel like I can feel what he's saying, the way he preaches and the terms he uses. A lot of times I feel like he's talking directly to me."
Summers started going to Lansing's Kingdom Life Church three times a week. Disciple meetings on Mondays. Bible study Wednesdays. Church on Sunday.
"I started noticing changes in myself and how I deal with people," he said. "I opened up a lot more. I used to be kind of quiet. There's a different light in me. And it's helping."
Faith in a higher being draws a common line through many NBA D-Leaguers. With so many things left up to chance -- NBA Call-Ups generally come because of a combination of performance, timing and situation -- religion often offers a chance to come to terms with the frustration of waiting.
For Summers, though, it started to connect all those fragments. It focused him. When he lost himself in church, it seemed a lot like doing the same thing on the court.
"I feel like wow, when you dive more into it, when I go to church I'm locked in, because I'm trying to receive what he's saying and apply it to my life," he said. "I'm definitely more open. I always felt like I led, but I liked to lead by example. Now it's vocally as well. I can get on a guy's ass and they kind of respect it because I can take it as well. I wanna make sure I'm going hard as well. Bottom line is I'm gonna compete."
"Durrell Summers is an all-purpose guy," Peck said. "Having spent a month with Portland [in training camp], he does for us what Wes Matthews does for Portland, on a lesser scale. He can be that guy. And his pedigree gives him instant credibility."
"He's great," said Stampede teammate Jason Ellis. "He's a super-hard worker. He's always staying after practice, getting extra shots. And he's always one of the last guys to leave the weight room."
He's still got things to work on. His ballhandling, for one -- especially when he faces more athletic defenders in the NBA. His pull-up jumper, too, although that's been his focus since he got back on the court this year, with Summers watching hours upon hours of Kobe Bryant footage to learn the art of the pull-up once the defense closes.
But this time, there's no distraction, Summers said. No celeb status to obscure the holes in the game. Nothing coming loose to crash the whole thing.
"It was real disappointing," Summers said about not getting drafted into the NBA. "But at the time you can always back to what [Michigan State] coach Tom Izzo says, that you get what you deserve. A lot of it was on my end. Coach Izzo was a great coach, and he was always on me about what I was doing wrong and right. He saw what he saw in me. You're young and just growing up and hard-headed, rebellious. I figured I can still do things off the court and still succeed on the court, and eventually it just catches up with you and God sits you down."
Today, we look at the guys more in line with Mack -- the Cinderellas that make March so magic. Click on the image below to see the bracket busters who currently call the NBA Development League home.
And for the very best from the NBA players down on assignment, CLICK HERE!
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