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From Zion to Jimmer, Summer League has a bit of everything

June 30, 2019
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New Orleans Pelicans first-round NBA draft pick Zion Williamson smiles at his introductory news conference at the team's practice facility in Metairie, La., Friday, June 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Zion Williamson obviously knows where he’s playing next season.

Jimmer Fredette has no idea.

Such is the beauty of Summer League: There’s ballyhooed 18-year-olds like Williamson, journeyman 30-year-olds like Fredette and a whole lot of everything else set to be on display over 95 games through July 15. Most spots on summer rosters go to players looking for full-time NBA work, though most of the eyeballs will be on the top draft picks like Williamson.

Four-team leagues in Salt Lake City and Sacramento open Monday. From there, the big show starts Friday in Las Vegas with all 30 NBA teams represented along with the Chinese and Croatian national teams — and tickets for Day 1, when Williamson will make his debut for the New Orleans Pelicans, were sold out several days ago.

“I’m doing what I love to do and that’s play basketball,” said Williamson, the No. 1 overall draft pick this year. “And I don’t try to live up to anybody’s expectations. They can set them there, but I don’t feel like I have to live up to them. I’m just going to be me and be the best version of myself that I can be.”

Fredette has the same perspective.

The 2011 lottery pick — he’s played for five different NBA teams not counting a preseason stint with San Antonio that didn’t work out, spent time in the G League and averaged 37 points per game for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association over the last three years — has signed with the Golden State Warriors for the summer.

The Warriors open play Monday in Sacramento, which was Fredette’s first NBA stop.

“I’ve had a lot of great opportunities in my life to go to a lot of cool places and play basketball and be successful and make great money and be able to play the game that I love,” said Fredette, who had a 75-point game for Shanghai last season. “So it’s been a true blessing for me and I’m continuing on my journey right now, just trying to push forward and see what happens and make the best of the situation I have.”

Fredette, a native of Glens Falls, New York, was the AP college player of the year for BYU in 2011, and now makes his home in his wife’s hometown of Denver. They have two children, the oldest not yet 3. Fredette doesn’t want to be away from his wife and kids for months at a time anymore, so he’s looking for a spot to play in the U.S.

“He’s going to be great for our young guys,” Warriors summer league coach Aaron Miles said. “He has a level of understanding on how to play this game. ... And he’s still a bucket. I think it’s great for us to have him and I think he’s hopefully going to get an opportunity to show everybody that he deserves a spot in the league.”

Many of this year’s top draft picks are expected to appear in the summer games, their pseudo-debuts of sorts at the pro level. No. 2 overall selection Ja Morant will not play for the Memphis Grizzlies when they compete in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas while he recovers from minor knee surgery.

Some newly drafted players like Miami’s KZ Okpala and Detroit’s Joran Bone will not be able to play in any summer games right away while they remain in trade limbo. They’re unable to officially join their clubs until the deals that saw their rights get swapped on draft night become finalized when the league’s moratorium ends Saturday at noon Eastern.

The fact that Fredette is willing to play summer league for a third time — he also did it in 2012 and 2016, and would have played in 2011 as well had that summer’s games not been canceled because of the league’s lockout — speaks to how much he wants a shot. He’s hopeful of sticking around with the Warriors. If that doesn’t work, he knows 29 other NBA teams will be watching.

“I feel like I’m as good as I’ve ever been in my career,” Fredette said. “And I hope to show it.”

Here’s some of what to know going into the summer games:

SALT LAKE CITY SUMMER LEAGUE

Site: Salt Lake City

Schedule: Two games a day Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Teams: Utah, Memphis, San Antonio, Cleveland.

Format: Round robin, no playoff.

Notable: New Cleveland coach John Beilein will coach the Cavs’ summer team in Salt Lake City. ... Among San Antonio’s assistant coaches are Billy Donovan III (the son of Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan), and two women — Maine’s Edneisha Curry, the only female to hold a full-time men’s Division I assistant job last season, and Spain’s Lorena Infantes Nunez.

CALIFORNIA CLASSIC

Site: Sacramento, California

Schedule: Two games a day Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Teams: Sacramento, Miami, Golden State, Los Angeles Lakers.

Format: Round robin, no playoff.

Notable: Event now in its second year, and drew more than 50,000 fans last season. ... Marvin Bagley III will play for the Kings in the Sacramento games, and isn’t expected to play in Las Vegas. ... Trey Mourning, the son of Miami legend Alonzo Mourning, is on the Heat roster.

NBA SUMMER LEAGUE

Site: Las Vegas

Schedule: July 5-15

Teams: All 30 NBA clubs, plus national teams from China and Croatia.

Format: Every team is guaranteed five games, and eight teams will advance to a single-elimination playoff starting July 13.

Notable: Williamson and RJ Barrett — former Duke teammates — are set to square off on opening night Friday before a sold-out crowd, when New Orleans plays New York. ... Total attendance last year was a record 139,972, meaning ticket sales have doubled in the last four years alone. ... China also played summer league in 2007, and is using this year’s games as a tuneup for the FIBA World Cup that starts Aug. 31.

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