66ers Put on a Show in OKC
The Thunder and the Tulsa 66ers are as tightly knit as NBA and D-League organizations can be, and on Tuesday, the bond got even closer.
In front of over a thousand school children from the Oklahoma City metro area, the Thunder’s affiliate, the 66ers, hosted the Iowa Energy in a game at Chesapeake Energy Arena to show off the exciting, high-level talents the team has to offer. Head Coach Darko Rajakovic’s 66ers club used a 10-2 burst to start the fourth quarter to help make a late charge, but ultimately it fell short, 114-106.
Nevertheless, the experience was rewarding for all who took part. From 66ers fans and courtside ticket holders who made the trek down the turnpike from Tulsa to see their team play to the children in attendance during the Thunder-hosted Field Trip Day to the coaches and players on the floor, the chance to host a 66ers game in an NBA arena was special.
“It was a lot of fun for me to coach and for our players to play here and play in an NBA facility,” Rajakovic said. “It was a chance for those guys to live one day of their dreams of playing in the NBA.”
Over the past few seasons, the Thunder’s ties with the 66ers have grown even stronger, and the fan bases have grown accustomed to seeing players on the court for both squads. Thunder rotation players Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones all saw time with the 66ers last season, and did so with great frequency. The Thunder racked up 40 player assignments to the 66ers last season, the most of an NBA team in history and more than the second and third teams combined last season.
Thanks to the synergy between the two organizations and the work ethic of both the players and coaching staff to strive for improvement, the players’ time in Tulsa has paid off. Jackson has started 25 games this season after starting 11 in the playoffs last year, averaging 13.3 points, 4.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. Lamb’s 10.0 points per game average this season with the Thunder is the most of anyone who played in at least 20 D-League games last year, while Jones has shot 49.1 percent while averaging 12.2 minutes per game this year.
“Our whole coaching staff and everyone in Tulsa is following OKC in every single game and we’re very proud of their progress and how they play on the NBA scene,” Rajakovic said. “It’s great and it’s very rewarding. I just talked to Jeremy a couple of days ago about our experience last year, and we had a lot of fun.”
More Thunder players are utilizing the 66ers this year as a place for improvement and game experience. The second of the Thunder’s two 2013 first round draft picks was Andre Roberson, who played for the 66ers today and went for 20 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in 32 minutes of action as he helped will his team back into within two possessions of the lead in the fourth quarter by being energetic and active. The lanky forward has played in 12 games for the 66ers this year, getting 35 minutes per night, but has also played 20 games for the Thunder, starting in four of them. The combination of experiences has been a great avenue for Roberson to be able to learn from both sets of coaching staffs, watch NBA players and then get on-court time with the 66ers.
“It’s been great, getting a chance to develop and get more comfortable with myself,” Roberson said. “I see it as an opportunity to get better day-by-day and one day help this organization out. I’m working hard every day, doing the things I can.”
“Everybody has their own path,” Roberson said. “That’s a great thing about this organization, they do a great job of scouting and finding the things that pinpoint that they need from the player that helps the team. (General Manager) Sam Presti and (Assistant General Manager) Troy Weaver do a great job of that – finding players and putting them in the system.”
Another player who is taking the 66ers path, although with different circumstances, is one of the Thunder’s 2013 second round draft picks, Grant Jerrett. The long, sharp-shooting forward scored a game-high 24 points and grabbed six rebounds for the 66ers in Tuesday’s game, and was a bright spot for the 66ers as he shot 4-for-7 from the three-point line, including a few important ones down the stretch before Tulsa’s comeback stalled out. The 19-year-old forward has taken advantage of Rajakovic and the 66ers coaching staff ignite development in all parts of his game.
“I feel like every aspect of my game has had an improvement,” Jerrett said. “We don’t just work on one thing… It’s a day-to-day process where you pick up something new every day.”
The Thunder and 66ers sold more than 12,000 tickets for today's Field Trip game, mostly to school groups from across the state-from as far away as Guymon and Idabel. The winter weather and Oklahoma City Schools canceling classes for the day kept a great many of the students from attending. Even with the inclement weather, the 66ers and Thunder were proud to welcome almost 1,100 fans to the game.
The Thunder and 66ers have arranged for a make-up game. It will be on March 11 at 11 a.m. vs. the LA Defenders, again in Oklahoma City at Chesapeake Arena. Anyone with tickets to today's game who was unable to attend can use those same tickets on March 11. The Thunder plays that night at home vs. the Houston Rockets.
All tickets to that 11 a.m. 66ers game on March 11 are $7 ($12 day of game). To buy tickets call the Thunder at 405-208-HOOP (4667)