SACRAMENTO – Rodney Purvis and Tyrek Coger played one-on-one approximately ``a thousand times,’’ while growing up in Raleigh, N.C. and often their conversations would broach the subject of them playing together someday in the NBA.
Spiritually, at least, they are now doing so through the caring actions of Purvis, who was signed to a 10-day contract by the Orlando Magic on Thursday.
If Purvis gets into tonight’s game and makes his NBA debut at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center – a distinct possibility considering the Magic’s many injuries – he will do so while wearing No. 15. That’s the number that Coger, once a promising 6-foot-8 forward, wore in high school and community college and planned to wear at Oklahoma State University before his shocking and tragic death in July of 2016.
``Each and every time I step onto that court, it’s for him,’’ Purvis said of Coger. ``I’m definitely going to do everything I can to honor him.
Coger, who was adopted by Purvis’ mother, Shandra McNair, when he was in just the eighth grade, collapsed following an offseason workout at Oklahoma State and later died. Officially, Coger died from cardiomegaly with left ventricular hypertrophy, meaning he had an enlarged heart and suffered from heat-related exhaustion, according to medical reports. As the OSU basketball team was running stadium steps that July afternoon at T. Boone Pickens Stadium, temperatures were at 99 degrees with a heat index of 105 degrees, according to the Associated Press. Coger was just 21 years old at the time of his death.
Purvis, who recently turned 24 years old, kept in close contact with Coger even though the former was playing at UConn and the later was half-way across the country in Stillwater, Okla. They even talked prior to Coger’s conditioning run, but never got to say their final goodbyes because of the untimely death.
``It’s crazy because I was just talking to him like 30 minutes before it happened,’’ recalled Purvis, still seemingly shocked by the series of events some 20 months later. ``It was tough because our rooms were right beside one another (while growing up) and then, boom, you never see the guy again. He was doing something that he loved to do, and it was an unfortunate situation.’’
Purvis getting called up to the Magic is a situation that Coger would have been proud of. Purvis, who went undrafted after his college career at UConn, worked his way to the NBA through the Magic’s G League affiliate, the Lakeland Magic, and showed off his tremendous shooting and scoring prowess this season. In 37 games with Lakeland, he ranked ninth in the G League in scoring (20.5 points per game) while shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range and making 114 shots from beyond the arc. Purvis had scoring outputs of 40, 35 and 31 points earlier this season and drilled six 3-point shots in his final G League game (on March 4) before getting his NBA call-up.
At times, he wondered silently if his shot to prove himself at the NBA level would come after several of his teammates got call-ups and he did not. Purvis went through a similar situation in college when current NBA standout T.J. Warren (now with the Phoenix Suns) passed him on the depth chart late in his freshman season at N.C. State, prompting him to transfer at UConn and being forced to sit out a season.
Purvis’ production at UConn was solid, but not spectacular. It was far from what he expected would happen after he was named North Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2012, and he was once the MVP of the Jordan Brand Class all-star game. Early in his basketball career, he was among the most highly sought-after recruits in the nation, committing to Louisville before picking N.C. State over Duke, UConn, Memphis, Ohio State and Missouri.
Like Purvis’ college career, his run at the pros tested his patience and determination as well.
``I was close a lot to a lot of different (NBA) situations, but that’s how the business goes. I was close to getting a (NBA) chance with different teams and organizations,’’ said Purvis, who was named to USA Basketball’s World Cup Qualifying team in February. ``I did five years of college and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next for me. My college career wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but I’m just thankful that I have this opportunity now and I’m going to make the most of it.’’
Purvis is something of an outwardly selfless person, giving credit to G League point guard Troy Caupain for heling him score 40 points back on Dec. 21, and saying repeatedly how grateful he was to Lakeland Magic GM Anthony Parker and head coach Stan Heath for putting him in positions to shine.
The 6-foot-4 Purvis also knows that he likely wouldn’t be here now – on the cusp of accomplishing the life-long dream of playing in the NBA – without Coger being there with him throughout his childhood and pushing him to be better at basketball. Coger had a rough upbringing and later in life needed to have fluid drained off his brain so that he could continue playing basketball. Purvis still misses his ``brother’’ dearly and he said when he makes his NBA debut, that Coger and his former jersey number, No. 15, will be right there with him every step of the way.
``We played one-on-one a thousand times and we both had the same dreams,’’ Purvis said of the desires to reach the NBA. ``This would have been his last year to play in college. He had played in JUCO and he had a lot of things he had gone through as well, so I just want to make the best of this opportunity with the Magic because I know he would have really appreciated it.’’
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