Practice Report: Rookies Ready For Opening Night

by Max Rappaport
Sixers.com Writer
@MaxRappaport

INDIANAPOLIS –– Brett Brown is a basketball lifer, and during a coaching career that’s spanned four decades he’s experienced nearly 30 opening nights. 

Listening to the veteran coach talk to reporters after his team’s shoot-around session on Wednesday morning, the focus wasn’t on the pageantry and excitement of his second opening night with the Sixers. Rather, he talked at length about the Xs and Os, how he’s going to utilize newcomer Malcolm Thomas, and how the team will look to contain C.J. Miles, who knocked down 10 threes in a game against Philadelphia last season.

But for rookie big man Nerlens Noel, Wednesday’s 7pm (EST) meeting with the Pacers will be a bit more sentimental than for Brown. The 20-year-old missed all of last season while recovering from knee surgery, watching childhood friend and fellow 2013 lottery pick Michael Carter-Williams put together a Rookie of the Year campaign that was sparked by a near quadruple-double performance in the Sixers’ 114-110 opening night win over the Miami Heat last year.

Noel has high expectations for himself this season but isn’t worried about matching Carter-Williams’ historic debut performance. For him, a double-double and an efficient line on the stat sheet are his only personal goals for the evening. 

“I feel really good, and a little nervous as well. Just coming out trying to play my own game and do what I can to help [the team win the game],” he said. “I definitely feel [being a second-year rookie] makes me more prepared. To be on the bench and experience it from the bench… I feel like I have an advantage over other rookies. 

Mbah a Moute Returns From Cameroon, But Will Miss Opener

Two weeks ago, the Sixers announced the tragic news that rookie Joel Embiid’s younger brother, Arthur, had passed away suddenly in Africa. Embiid returned to his hometown of Yaounde, Cameroon the following day to be with his family and was later joined by teammate and countryman Luc Mbah a Moute, who has served as a mentor for Embiid since meeting him at a basketball camp in 2011.

Mbah a Moute rejoined the team after taking a 17-hour flight back to the United States that spanned from Monday well into Tuesday because of a connection in Paris and a five-hour time difference. The 28-year-old has been ruled out of Wednesday’s game, but head coach Brett Brown noted that he hopes to have him back in time for the Sixers’ home opener against Miami on Saturday.

“The [Embiid] family’s spirit is better now than when I first got there. They’re trying to move [on] from this hard experience, but everybody’s pretty positive,” he said. “I think the fact that Joel was [home] with his sister really helped his mom and dad. It was great that could be there.”

It is uncertain when the 20-year-old will return to Philadelphia to rejoin the team.

McDaniels Excited To Get Started

Swingman K.J. McDaniels is one of a league-high five rookies on the Sixers’ opening night roster. Coming off a strong preseason in which he averaged 7.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, and 1.0 steals in 22.3 minutes per game, he’s ready for the real games to start.

With starting small forward Luc Mbah a Moute unavailable Wednesday against the Pacers, McDaniels is one of a handful of players who could see their minutes increase in his absence. The 2014 ACC Defensive Player of the Year knows that his role will be to “be a good defender, guard multiple positions, and knock down open shots.”

“I’m extremely excited,” said McDaniels, noting that he went to bed especially early last night to prepare. “I worked hard all summer and preseason, so I’m just looking forward to it.” 

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