Philly Connection: Casper Ware

by Dan Cappetta

It’s all about who you know in the business world – connections are everything. The business of basketball is no different, and as it turns out, our young squad may be more closely connected to the city of Philadelphia than you would have guessed. Here’s the first installment in a series of articles highlighting those degrees of Philly separation.

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The NBA offseason is a time for players to unwind – to spend time with family and friends, reflect on their season, and allow their bodies to recover from a grueling 82-game schedule. But the summertime is also about honing skills and showcasing talent. Whether at team practices, during offseason workouts, or while shaking defenders with ridiculous crossovers in hometown Pro-Am games, players are always looking for ways improve their games and to show off that progress.

Casper Ware spent his July competing for the Sixers’ Summer League team. Ware took full advantage of the opportunity, posting averages of 19.0 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game while leading the Sixers to a Summer League Championship in the Orlando Pro Summer League. But before joining Sixers as a free agent in March, Ware played his ball in Italy’s Lega Serie A for Virtus Bologna. That team has an impressive list of alumni, headlined by Spurs star Manu Ginobili.

After being drafted by the Spurs in 1999, Ginobili, who is of Italian Argentine descent, put off signing an NBA contract to play for Bologna. This proved to be a wise decision. Ginobili sharpened his skills and gained experience in Europe, leading the team to a 2001 Italian Championship, back-to-back Italian Cups in 2001 and 2002, and the Euroleague Final Four Championship in 2001. Ginobili’s efforts during that stretch did not go unnoticed – he was named MVP of the Italian League in ‘01 and ‘02, and received the same recognition following the Euroleague Finals in ‘01. He decided to make the jump to the NBA before the start of the 2002 season. In just his first year with the Spurs, Ginobili helped bring the franchise its’ second NBA title. 2002-03 also happened to be Speedy Claxton’s first season with San Antonio.

Standing at just 5’11” and coming out of a relatively small program at Hofstra University, the odds were stacked against Claxton from the start. But he shined at Hofstra, winning the America East Conference Player of the Year Award in both 1998 and 2000 before graduating as the program’s all-time leader in both assists and steals. All of this success came under a young head coach by the name of Jay Wright. Together, the two led the Pride to their first NCAA Division I Tournament in over 20 years. The pair’s success propelled each of their careers. After being selected by the Sixers in the 2000 NBA Draft, Claxton became the first player that Coach Wright sent to the pros.

Wright, now one of the most respected names in college basketball, had gained a great deal of coaching experience before his position at Hofstra. Much of that came during his time as an assistant on Villanova legend Rollie Massimino’s staff from 1987-92. And who was sitting in the stands watching games at The Pavilion during that period? Sixers CEO, and Villanova graduate Scott O’Neil.

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