Ray Spalding Looking to Make Most of Final Week of Season

by Cody Cunningham

In the past 12 months, a lot has changed for Ray Spalding. From playing in the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament last March to scoring his first NBA bucket almost exactly one year later for the Phoenix Suns, he’s had quite the journey in a year.

Spalding was an Honorable Mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection following a strong junior campaign at Louisville before being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers and subsequently traded to the Dallas Mavericks on draft night. After appearing in just one game with the Mavericks, he was waived and signed to a 10-day contract with the Suns. On March 3, the Suns announced that they had signed Spalding for the remainder of the season.

“Beyond blessed for the opportunity,” Spalding said. “Just happy to be here. I’m really still just getting a feel for the organization, the players, the coaches, the playing style, different coverages, different positions. I’m enjoying it and just learning a lot while I’m here.”

A quick look back at Spalding’s college tape shows what a dominant force in the paint he is capable of becoming at the next level. He was an efficient big man who shot 54.3 percent from the field (4th highest in the ACC) who hustled his was to 312 rebounds during his final season (5th in the ACC). His instincts on the defensive end led him to 54 steals (5th in the ACC) and 62 blocks (7th in the ACC).

While it’s been an up-and-down journey thus far for Spalding, he has a list of motivators that keeps him pushing each and every day to continue this dream of playing in the NBA.

“My family keeps me motivated,” Spalding said. “I talk to my mom each and every day. My youth [keeps me motivated], I’m a pretty young guy, so I’m always upbeat about life and the future so I’m prepared for the journey. And of course, the team. The guys on the team. Jamal Crawford, the veterans I’m around. They’re all nice guys, great guys and the coaching staff here is great for development.”

Spalding credited Crawford along with T.J. Warren as two of his biggest supporters in the locker room that have helped guide him to where he is today.

“Those are my guys,” Spalding said. “They help me each and every day. Talk to me, keep me upbeat, keep a smile on my face and let me know that every day you just have to get better in some type of field.”

Crawford, the 19-year-vet, said he’s taken to Spalding as he’s continued to assist in the growth of the rookie throughout the final month of the season.

“You can tell he was raised right,” Crawford said. “His talent, work ethic, his character and the way he listens. He will be in the league a long time. He has a big brother in me for life.”

Spalding made the most of his first real playing time on March 16 in the Suns win against the New Orleans Pelicans. The big man did a little bit of everything in his 15 minutes, scoring eight points on 80 percent shooting to go along with his four rebounds, two assists and two blocks.

While he hasn’t logged a ton of minutes, Spalding has played in the previous eight games for the Suns and is averaging 7.8 points, 11 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.0 block per 36 minutes.

With just four games remaining on the schedule, Spalding is aiming to prove to himself, the Suns organization and the Phoenix fan base that he’s an all-around basketball player as well as a good guy off the court.

“Stretch the floor, play off the pick-and-roll and defend,” Spalding listed as skills he wishes to showcase. “With the time I’ve gotten, I’ve shown some, but not the best of my ability. I haven’t played very well and I understand that. Just get a feel for this team, this organization and how they play here. I’m just enjoying that.”

With Suns starting center Deandre Ayton out with an ankle sprain, Spalding could see his minutes rise in the final week of the season as he looks to show he can compete with the best at the NBA level. Spalding and the Suns tip-off against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Be sure to catch the action on Fox Sports Arizona.

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