Pelicans Summer League training is in full swing at the team's practice facility.

Father and son team up on Pelicans’ summer squad

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Cameron Ayers had options when it came time to choose his NBA Summer League team, but he ultimately picked the New Orleans Pelicans, partly out of his familiarity with the team’s coaching staff. How familiar? His father, Randy Ayers, has been one of Monty Williams’ assistant coaches since 2010.

Although NBA teams occasionally have been known to dole out end-of-the-bench summer roster spots as a favor to someone, the younger Ayers is anything but roster filler. The four-year Bucknell University guard earned the Patriot League’s 2013-14 Player of the Year award, after averaging 15.4 points and 4.5 rebounds. He also shot 40.8 percent from three-point range. Sure, the Patriot League may not be recognized as one of the nation’s premier conferences, but its reputation is quickly changing – the circuit’s previous two Player of the Year winners, Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum and Bucknell’s Mike Muscala, are both in the NBA.

Ayers’ chance to make it three straight Patriot League POYs in the NBA begins Friday, when the summer Pelicans face the D-League Select team in Las Vegas (9:30 p.m. Central, live on NBA.com). The 6-foot-5, 203-pounder, who brings experience at both backcourt positions, is one of just four first-year pros on New Orleans’ roster. The others are Louisville guard and second-round draft pick Russ Smith, Florida center Patric Young and Northwestern guard Drew Crawford.

“I think coming here was a good decision for me,” said Ayers, who also considered playing for the Denver Nuggets. “(Summer league head coach Bryan) Gates talked to my dad about it, as well as my agent, just to see if it would be weird or a different perspective (to have father and son with the same team). But I think this was the best fit for me, coming in and learning from a veteran team. I was familiar with the coaching staff and obviously my dad has been coaching me my whole life on and off the court, so that was nothing new.”

For Randy Ayers, this will be the first time he’s ever officially been Cameron’s coach in a competitive situation. Randy followed both of his sons’ college careers closely – Ryan Ayers was a standout player at Notre Dame and played professionally last season in Finland – but the coach’s NBA schedule always made it difficult to see them play in person.

“The only time I know I’m going to be off during the season is the All-Star break,” noted Randy, who attended Cameron’s Senior Day game at Bucknell in mid-February.

Randy is looking forward to the rare up-close opportunity to see a son launch his pro career, which could result in Cameron being able to stay in the U.S., or perhaps play overseas. Cameron entered NBA draft night on June 26 hoping to be picked, but he realized that the odds were against him.

“I always hoped to get drafted, but I thought it was slim,” said Cameron, who played in two NCAA Tournaments and one NIT at Bucknell. “Wherever I land is a great opportunity, whether it’s here or in Europe. You’re always trying to develop. Obviously it’s a business now and you’re trying to make money. You want to find the best opportunity, the best fit. Wherever I go, I will be happy and I want to play as long as I can.”

“I’m going to just try to enjoy it,” Randy said of coaching his son. “Part of me, as a dad, wants to see him do extremely well, but as a coach, I’m trying to be respectable of the process. He’s just got to try to find a way. This is a man’s league – I’ve always told him that. You’ve got to try to carve out a niche in this league. If he can do that, he may have a chance. But if he can’t, there are other good opportunities for a player of his abilities.”