OPSL Camp: Day One Recap

by Max Rappaport
Sixers.com Writer

Along with the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets, the Sixers are one of three teams set to participate in both the Orlando Pro Summer League (OPSL) and Samsung NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this month. Tuesday, 14 players gathered at the team’s practice facility in Philadelphia for the first day of a four-day OPSL mini-camp.

“Summer League is here for young players to develop, and it’s an opportunity for coaches to evaluate young players,” said Sixers assistant coach Lloyd Pierce, who will serve as the team’s head coach at the OPSL beginning Saturday. “It’s not [about] Jerami [Grant] specifically, it’s not about Nerlens [Noel] specifically, it’s for all of these guys to come in here and get an opportunity in front of our organization, within our system, to develop and grow.”

Eleven of the 14 players invited to the camp were not with the team last season, and seven of those 11 went undrafted in last week’s draft. On the first day of mini-camp, energy and nerves were high. 

“It’s been a really long time [since I’ve had to prove that I belong],” said invitee Aaron Craft, a four-year standout at Ohio State who didn’t hear his name called during the 2014 Draft. “It’s a little similar to being recruited out of high school, but there’s a little more certainty [with that]… Now you just don’t know.”

But it’s not just players like Craft who feel pressure to impress during Summer League. Hollis Thompson, who appeared in 77 games for the Sixers last season, starting 41, is Philadelphia’s most experienced OPSL invitee. Thompson, who led the Sixers in practice and development hours last season, is excited for the opportunity to hone his game.

“Honestly, I was going to be in the gym here working out anyways,” he said. “I think I’ve got a lot to prove, more to myself than anybody else. I’m going to keep getting better every day, and I love playing basketball, so I’m going to do that. I still need to prove that I belong here, that I can play.”

Joining Thompson on the Sixers’ OPSL roster are returning veterans Casper Ware and Nerlens Noel. Ware was signed by the team in April, making nine appearances and logging just under 13 minutes per game, and Noel spent last season rehabbing from left knee surgery. For Noel, the sixth-overall pick in the 2013 Draft, the OPSL is an opportunity for him to see action in his first competitive game since suffering an ACL tear 17 months ago as a freshman at Kentucky.

“Nerlens looks good,” Thompson said of his teammate. “He’s doing well. He’s running everywhere, jumping all over the court, blocking shots and everything. I’m excited to play with Nerlens.” 

Asked if he’s been on the receiving end of any of Noel’s swats, Thompson paused and tried to conceal a smile before laughing and admitting that he had, indeed, had the misfortune.

Orlando Pro Summer League play begins on Saturday, with the Sixers set to take on the Magic at 1pm (EST). Games will be televised on NBA TV, as will the team’s games at the Samsung NBA Summer League in Las Vegas (July 12-21).