No defensive three seconds, a more physical style and different rules could have been a roadblock for Semaj Christon. Instead, he used his time playing in Italy’s Serie A professional league as a way to springboard his game to the next level.
After being selected by the Thunder in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft, Christon spent the following season playing for the Oklahoma City Blue, where he averaged 18.6 points on 43.4 percent shooting to go with 5.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard started 40 of 44 games and played 35.4 minutes per game, showing a knack for being able to get downhill and attack the rim.
Watch: Summer Sit Down With Semaj Christon
In 2015-16, Christon opted for a new experience, playing for Consultinvest Pesaro, a club in the top league in Italy. Located along the Adriatic Sea, the town of Pesaro provided Christon with a completely different lifestyle, language and culture, and the basketball in Serie A proved to be quite different as well. More mid-range jumpers, creative finishes around the rim and accurate passes through traffic to open teammates became necessary for Christon as he grew accustomed to the change.
“It was a great experience,” Christon said. “It was very different coming from Oklahoma or just being in the states. Every day was something new. I was learning. After a while you get adjusted to it.”
“I’ll always have the knowledge of being over there, coming back here and understanding the game on both sides,” he continued.
Adapting to the style of play, Christon thrived. He scored 14.3 points per game on 46.9 percent shooting, while adding 3.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 33.2 minutes per game in Italy. The numbers looked great, but more important to the point guard’s development was the leadership qualities he picked up along the way.
As a point guard, there’s always pressure to get the other four men on the court involved, to run crisp offense, to create plays late in the shot clock, to guard countless pick-and-rolls and to make decisions quickly in both the fast break and half court. With brand new teammates, some of whom didn’t speak English, Christon’s leadership seminar was a trial by fire, but rewarding all the while.
“You have your days,” Christon admitted with a smile. “It taught me how to talk to other players. You have to slow down a little bit and get what you need to get across.”
This July, Christon was back in the United States and played for the Thunder’s Summer League team in Orlando. Getting his athleticism into the game, Christon’s attacking nature benefitted his team on offense and his physicality impacted the game defensively. Focusing on both the leadership and mid-range skills he learned overseas, Christon wanted to use the week to keep taking strides forward.
“Being vocal is the key for me,” Christon said. “Just talking, playing defense and when I’m open, knocking down shots.”
He finished fourth in the Orlando Summer League in scoring at 16.8 points per game, on 47.1 percent shooting, while also dishing out 4.3 assists and grabbing 3.5 rebounds per game. On the other end of the floor, the number that stands out is Christon’s 2.5 steals per game, sixth-best in Orlando.
It remains to be seen what the Thunder organization has planned for him this upcoming season, but Christon has shown he can produce with the Blue and in Italy, and is looking for a chance to again make an impact, wherever in the world he lands.