Over the weekend, several former Texas Tech basketball players hit the court for their respective teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Summer League.
As the NBA Summer League kicked off, Zhaire Smith was the first former Red Raider to take the court after making the Philadelphia 76ers’ starting lineup, a welcome change after the 2018 first-round draft pick faced a life-threatening injury.
Smith’s rookie season did not start the way he hoped as he fractured his left foot during a developmental camp, according to ESPN. About a month later, Smith collapsed and rushed to the hospital after an allergic reaction to a substance containing nuts put a hole in his esophagus. Smith spent four months in the hospital on a feeding tube before being discharged. He lost 40 pounds and tried to work out with his trainer but the sessions had to stop because of leakage in his chest.
“Most definitely. I was in the hospital, lost 40 pounds and just when I got back, my athleticism wasn’t there,” Smith said, in an ESPN walk-off interviewwhen asked if he thought that he would not play basketball again when he was hospitalized. “I just had to start all over. I thought it was going to take a long time but eventually, I came through, kept working hard and I’m here now.”
The former Red Raider overcame his obstacles as he finished with 10 points, three rebounds and five assists against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, according to ESPN. Smith put on a show for the fans as he put the first points of the game on the scoreboard after catching an alley-oop pass for the slam. Smith converted two more alley-oops with one of them being a reverse dunk to grow the 76ers’ lead.
“I appreciate it a lot more,” Smith said, in an ESPN walk-off interview regarding playing basketball after overcoming the obstacles he faced last season. “I don’t take nothing for granted. I come out, have fun and just play and show myself. I just let it all out because you never know what’ll happen the next day.”
After helping his team earn the win, Smith stayed in the starting lineup as the 76ers took on the Boston Celtics on Saturday, according to ESPN. Smith finished with 14 points, four rebounds and an assist while shooting four-for-nine from the field and two-for-five from behind the arc. Although his team came up short, Smith had the highest +/-, finishing with +10.
Former Red Raider guard Matt Mooney also earned playing time in the NBA Summer League as he made the Atlanta Hawks’ starting lineup, according to ESPN. Mooney made his debut against the Bucks on Saturday, but the Hawks fell short, 89-83.
Mooney finished with nine points, four rebounds and four assists while he showed off his range against the Bucks, making two three-pointers and shooting 50 percent from behind the arc, according to ESPN. The former Tech guard showed off his endurance as he was one of two players to play 34 minutes, the most on the team. Mooney’s four assists were also the most dished out by any player on the Hawks’ roster.
Following the loss to the Bucks, the Hawks played the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday, according to ESPN. Mooney did not make the starting lineup but he played 27 minutes, the second-most on the team.
Coming off of the bench, Mooney had something to prove as he scored seven points while grabbing two rebounds and dishing out three assists, according to ESPN. Bringing his defensive skills from Tech to the NBA, Mooney blocked one shot and led the Hawks with five steals. Mooney’s five steals were the second-most of any player in the NBA Summer League.
The final Red Raider to touch the court over the weekend was guard Keenan Evans as he made the Memphis Grizzlies’ Summer League roster, according to ESPN. Evans came off of the bench and outscored all but one starter, earning 16 points in his 18 minutes of play. His 16 points came from consistent shooting as the former Red Raider shot six-for-nine from the field, two-for-three from behind the arc and a perfect two-for-two at the free-throw line. Evans also assisted on three baskets while grabbing a single rebound.
After helping the Grizzlies defeat the Indiana Pacers, Evans continued to come off of the bench in Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, but earned more minutes, according to ESPN. Evans earned 22 minutes of playing time, finishing with six points, four rebounds and two assists as the Grizzlies defeated the Clippers, 87-75.
The highly anticipated No. 6 overall pick Jarrett Culver did not play in any games with the Timberwolves over the weekend. Culver was not officially a part of the Timberwolves until Saturday as the draft-night trade with the Phoenix Suns was officially finalized, according to the Timberwolves.
Culver could have played in Minnesota’s game on Sunday but the organization decided to let the rookie rest before rushing him into his first game, according to the Timberwolves. On Monday afternoon, the organization announced that Culver will not play for the entirety of the Summer League schedule, and will instead focus on the upcoming NBA season.
“(Culver) will be a day-by-day decision based on what he can do,” Saunders said in the in-game interview on ESPN. “You know, having not played five-on-five games for a while here, we want to make sure we are smart with things and see how he reacts, his body reacts to, you know, tough workouts and then contact and physical competition.”
After discussing when he would start playing with the Timberwolves’ Summer League team, Saunders continued to talk about why he was excited to have Culver of Minnesota’s roster.
“There are a number of things that we really feel he can fit in well with our group, things that he does,” Saunders said in the in-game interview on ESPN. “We like his ability to defend and defend multiple positions. That’s going to be a big emphasis on us, we know we have to get better on the defensive end. Also, offensively we like how we can put pressure on defenses, we feel he’ll continue to improve as a shooter and just the way he can play multiple positions as well.
Culver had an impressive sophomore season with Tech as he averaged 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game with the Red Raiders while shooting 46 percent from the field, according to ESPN. The 2019 Big 12 Player of the Year also led the Red Raiders to the National Championship game.
“Our focus is high-end players,” Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas said, according to Clutch Points. “(Culver) has the potential to be a high-end two-way wing who can play make, finish, score, defend. High IQ.”
Smith, Mooney and Evans will continue to play for their teams as the NBA Summer League season will end on July 11, according to ESPN. The playoffs will start on July 12 as the quarterfinals will be played on July 13, the semifinals will be played on July 14 and the championship game will be played on July 15.
Four former Texas Tech basketball players made NBA Summer League rosters as Zhaire Smith, Matt Mooney and Keenan Evans showed off their talent over the weekend. Jarret Culver is still a day-by-day decision after officially becoming a Timberwolf on Saturday.