It’s gotta be a special one the day you get drafted into the NBA, should a fellow be so lucky. But outside those lottery dudes and a few renowned sleepers, simply getting drafted doesn’t guarantee anything. Doesn’t mean the paths to All Star selections and championships are any clearer. Doesn’t even mean the path to regular playing minutes is all that much clearer, to be honest. By the same logic, going undrafted isn’t the end of the road either.
Tai Webster didn’t get picked up in the 2017 Draft. He wasn’t expected to. Despite a brilliant senior season at Nebraska where he averaged 17.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game – numbers not all that worse than what D’Angelo Russell managed in the same conference (19.3p/5.7r/5.0a/1.6s) before getting picked second overall in the 2015 draft – Webster was always a long shot to get picked up.
He’s a 22 year old graduate in a draft that saw record numbers of college freshmen taken. He’s a dude on the back of a fantastic season which doesn’t quite overshadow the two struggling campaigns he began with. Even with back to back seasons making seven point jumps in per-game scoring, a dizzyingly steep scale of improvement, he remained an unproven prospect.
No dramas. There’s more than one way to crack the NBA.
Take Webster’s brother Corey for example. He once paid his own way over to America to get at a trial with the New Orleans Pelicans which ended up with him being one of the last players cut from the squad that preseason. Two years later he was back in the US of A for an international invite session with the Dallas Mavericks.
So it was that a day after Tai Webster went undrafted, he then signed on with the Charlotte Hornets for NBA Summer League and that very same day it was also confirmed that Corey Webster would be participating in Summer League basketball with the Mavs. It might be a special day getting drafted but for the Webster family, Boxing Day was their Christmas Day.
Tai had already showcased for the Hornets. They were one of the six franchises he trained before in the wake of the NBA Draft (the six that have been reported, that is). Of those teams, it was the Hornets that liked him enough to flex a few workout clips on their twitter account.
The NBA’s Summer League comprises of a trio of tournaments - one in Orlando, one in Utah and one in Las Vegas – in which NBA teams begin the processes of their season with young and experimental rosters. The vets don’t play Summer League, they’ve already got contracts. Instead it’s used largely to test out their newly drafted rookies, players with limited experience and a few undrafted lads. Other than the recent draft picks – for whom it’s their first taste of the NBA – hardly any players are on proper contracts so it’s also used as a fairly fierce competition for limited roster spots.
Not every team takes place in the three events, there are eight teams in the Orlando event, four in the Utah one and then the big Las Vegas event features 24 teams. Both Charlotte and Dallas (as well as Oklahoma City, btw) are competing in Orlando, which tips off on July 1 in America, while Dallas also has a team registered for Las Vegas a week later. The brothers won’t quite meet up though, with Corey only playing in the Las Vegas selection for the Mavs – which will be the stronger of their two teams.
With the rosters to be confirmed in the next few days (we’ll get back to ya on that one), Dallas aren’t expected to send their guaranteed contract dudes to Orlando but they should be there in Vegas, meaning Webster will be competing alongside the likes of Dennis Smith Jr., Yogi Ferrell and Dorian Finney-Smith – plus golfer Jordan Speith’s brother Steven Speith, keeping that brother theme riding along. Undrafted centre Johnathan Motley should play some part in at least one of the Summer League sides while 26 year old Chinese international Ding Jinhui also booked to take some part. For a team that didn’t have a second round pick, they’re sure out there trying to make up for that.
Funny story, that minicamp which Corey took part in was absolutely stacked with Aussie/NBL talent. Probably no surprise given the connections of CW’s player agency. Rotnei Clarke, Majok Majok and Matt Hodgson were all there with him, as was his former Breakers teammate Charles Jackson (!).
Dallas hasn’t been shy of testing the waters with all sorts of players. A couple curious names here too.
Over in Charlotte it had already been confirmed by Magic GM Rich Cho that Briante Weber, Treveon Graham and Johnny O’Bryan would be playing Summer League. All three are under contract and aged 24 or younger, getting minutes on the court last season. Nothing substantial but that’s why they’re still Summer League dudes. Add to them the two draft day acquisitions of Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon and that’s five fellas already locked for that roster.
Tai Webster was one of four blokes that they then signed up to join them pretty promptly after things at the draft concluded. Przemek Karnowski, Mangok Mathiang and Anthony Gill were the other three. No surprises, three of them worked out specifically for the Hornets over the last month while Gill, who had been playing professionally in Turkey, is a native of North Carolina. Since then Quinton Stephens has also joined them on the prospective roster. If you’re wondering, Mangok was born in Melbourne, Australia, adding a little more Down Under flavouring in there. He and Tai both competed at the Portsmouth Invitational back in April.
Tai Webster was always likely to get a Summer League invite given the stage of his career that he’s at. Getting drafted was a long shot given he’s a coachable, dependant player with a great attitude but nothing special in terms of skills. There are heaps of those players to go around, it’s hard to stand out above the crowd there. But come Summer League time that kind of player suddenly becomes pretty handy.
Corey Webster’s Summer League invite is much more exciting because at his age and after coming close and not quite making it once before, you could have been forgiven for thinking his minicamp invite was as far as things would go. That he’s still around going into Vegas is hugely promising. We’ll be able to assess his chances further when the full rosters are confirmed but yeah, this is quite cool. Corey didn’t play Summer League with the Pelicans, he came in later for the preseason. Former Breakers buddies Rob Loe and Tom Abercrombie have played Summer League over the last few years – Steven Adams too of course. One or two others as well. It seems like the distance is beginning to shrink, doesn’t it?
The other note at this early stage – because things are only getting harder for the Websters from here – is that the Summer League is absolutely crammed full with scouts. NBA scouts, international scouts… all sorts. The team you play for in Summer League may not offer a contract but that might mean bugger all with all the other eyes peeking out.
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