Five To Watch In Training Camp

By Matthew Brennan, D-League.com

With NBA training camps underway, a large number of last season's D-League stars are hard at work trying to earn roster spots in the NBA. Here are five players who excelled in the D-League last season who will be trying to take the next step in their professional careers during the month of October. All of them will hoping to follow in the footsteps of players like Mikki Moore, Ime Udoka, and Matt Carrollwho went from D-League stardom to NBA success.

Darius Rice – Cleveland Cavaliers

Darius Rice
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Few can forget Rice's dazzling performance in last season's D-League title game, where he scored a single-game record 52 points to propel the Dakota Wizards to a championship in their first D-League season. Rice then used a strong summer league performance with the Cavaliers to earn an invite to training camp. In a victory over the Spurs in Las Vegas Rice scored 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting and nailed three treys. NBA.com's Maurice Brooks wrote about Rice's success during the Las Vegas Summer League.

Rice has previous NBA training camp experience with the Miami Heat, but the Cavaliers could definitely use someone with a combination of his height (6-10) and three-point shooting range (he canned 11 in the D-League title game) to knock down some shots out of Lebron James' double and triple-teams. “I need to work on my total game,” Rice told NBA.com during the Summer League. “I have to be more physical in the post. I want to be in the NBA and hopefully I’ll get the chance.”

Jeremy Richardson – Miami Heat

Richardson was one of the most popular D-League players among NBA teams last year, earning call-ups to the Trail Blazers and Hawks as an unheralded rookie out of Division-III Delta State. A 6-7 guard, Richardson was one of the D-League's best pure scorers, averaging 17.4 points in 34 games for the Fort Worth Flyers. He was one of the first 2006-07 D-League players to head to the NBA when he joined the Hawks for a 10-day contract in late January. Richardson played in six NBA games in total last season.

Richardson was limited by injury in the NBA summer league, but the Miami Heat were still intrigued enough by his upside to sign him to a contract. "He needs to build his body a little bit, but we felt he had some real ability to shoot the ball," Heat General Manager Randy Pfund told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Wednesday. Richardson will be competing with the likes of fellow D-League alum Devin Green and first-round pick Daequan Cook for playing time with the Heat in preseason.

Stephen Graham – Indiana Pacers

Graham started last season in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers, but landed with the D-League's Sioux Falls Skyforce in January. He quickly emerged as one of the D-League's best players, averaging 18.0 points and 4.9 rebounds while earning an All-Star berth and leading the Skyforce into the D-League playoffs. The former Oklahoma State star, whose twin brother Joey plays for the Raptors, is a versatile, athletic swingman who reached double-figure scoring in all but two of his 32 D-League games.

Graham followed up on his outstanding year in Sioux Falls by signing with the Pacers on July 3 and heading to the Orlando Summer League, where he earned Honorable Mention honors for the Pacers. He opened the league with a 19-point, six rebound performance in a win over the Bulls and also added 15 points and six rebounds in a blowout win over the Nets.

Indiana GM Larry Bird spoke to Pacers.com about the addition of Graham and some other unheralded but experienced players, including fellow D-League player Andre Owens. "Our bench is a lot better. We've got 11, 12 guys that can play. A lot of guys don't know Stephen Graham, they don't know Andre Owens and they really don't know Travis (Diener) other than from college. But you'll see a big difference in the way we approach the game."

Graham will face a battle to make the roster, but with an NBA legend like Larry Bird confident in his abilities, it seems that he will have a great chance to earn a spot with the Pacers.

. Justin Williams – Sacramento Kings

Justin Williams
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Williams is a bit different than the other players listed here as he has already played half a season with the Kings, but he is still one to keep an eye on as he battle for a frontcourt spot in Sacramento. He was one of the D-League's most dominating shot-blockers and rebounders over the first two months of last season with the Dakota Wizards before getting the GATORADE Call-Up to the Kings. The 6-10 forward went on to appear in 26 games, including one start for Sacramento, who eventually signed him for the remainder of the 2006-07 season.

Williams was impressive at the Las Vegas Summer League for Sacramento, averaging 11.8 points and 10.6 rebounds over five games. After signing a qualifying offer with the Kings, he will be back in camp trying to earn a roster spot for antother season with Sacramento. The Kings made some big additions to their bigman corps over the summer, signing Mikki Moore and spending a lottery pick on Spencer Hawes, but Kings management is still high on Williams. He is expected to bring defense and rebounding to both the center and power forward positions with his athleticism and hustle.

"He's extremely athletic, very good around the basket, jumps out of the gym and loves to block shots," Kings coach Reggie Theus told the Sacramento Bee over the summer. "(But) he's someone who has really relied heavily on his athletic ability most of his life, and he has to learn some of the other nuances about basketball that will make him a much better player in the long run."

Assistant coach Kenny Natt, who coached Williams during the NBA summer league, was also effusive in his praise of Williams. "Every team needs someone who is willing to sacrifice his body and go get rebounds, a defending-type guy like that," said Natt to Sam Amick of the Bee. "Obviously, his ability to run the floor -- which is something we'll implement in -- is going to help him because he's such a great athlete. He can run the floor and get easy baskets. I haven't seen any downside. I've been impressed with his effort and his concentration trying to do what we're asking him to do."

Elton Brown – Los Angeles Lakers

Brown lived up to his billing as the first pick in the 2006 D-League Expansion Draft as he enjoyed a spectacular season with Colorado in the D-League. A First Team All-D-League performer who ranked among the league leaders in scoring and rebounding, Brown was arguably the best D-League player who did not receive a GATORADE Call-Up last season. Brown parlayed his successful season into a signing with the Lakers, where he will try to earn a spot in their crowded frontcourt.

Brown, who was cut in preseason by the Knicks last year, has come into his own after two great seasons, last year with Colorado and the year before in Greece. If things do not work out with the Lakers, it would not be a surprise if he caught on with another NBA team or took a lucrative offer overseas. After last year's dominating performance there is not much that he has left to prove in the D-League.