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Joel Bolomboy is Dreaming of Another Shot in the NBA

Joel Bolomboy was raised on dreaming, and he’s worked those dreams into an NBA reality.

Dennis Chambers

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Joel Bolomboy was raised on dreaming.

When he was four years old, his parents picked up and moved halfway across the world from Ukraine to the United States. At the time, he was an only child. His parents wanted to start a life full of opportunities for their growing family, which would soon accompany Bolomboy with three younger sisters. The best way to do so was to chase the American Dream.

Throughout his life, both personal and on the basketball court, Bolomboy continues to carry that dreamer’s mentality to further himself with the opportunities his parents provided him nearly 20 years ago. To understand the success he’s been able to find on his journey, you first need to understand the route he chose to get there.

For Bolomboy, his path to professional basketball didn’t start with a plastic Fisher-Price hoop and a cliche story of him making his first basket before he could even walk. Playing basketball wasn’t even the first sport he gave his full attention to when growing up.

After moving from Ukraine to Texas, Bolomboy spent his time in adolescence doing a lot of the same stuff every kid in America does. He watched TV a lot, he got acquainted with a skateboard, he tried every sport under the sun. Tennis, track, football, anything to keep him occupied as he became integrated into the American culture. As the 6-foot-10 sweet-shooting big man says himself, “I can play any sport you can think about.”

When the Texas heat became a bit too unbearable for the outdoor sports, though, Bolomboy shifted his focus to basketball. Towering over most middle schoolers at the time, standing at 6-foot-2 in eighth grade, Bolomboy was nudged in the direction of the hardwood by his best friend’s father, Gerald Sledge.

Sledge was the coach at Central High School in Keller, Texas. With his free time, he would come down to Bolomboy’s middle school to try to find players for his team, while simultaneously offering advice and workouts to the students. That’s where it all began for Bolomboy.

“(Sledge) would come in a few times a week,” Bolomboy said. “And like, nobody would go over there except for his son, and his name was Lawrence. So, I was like, maybe I should go over there. You know, I was playing football and I wasn’t really into it just because there were so many guys. It was an outdoor sport and growing up in Texas, it was really hot, always hot. I just felt like it wasn’t for me. So, I just kept going to basketball working on my game. And I just got better and better at and just kind of went from there.”

Go from there, he did. Bolomboy used his size advantage coupled with the natural athleticism he displayed growing up to play his way onto the radar of college basketball coaches around the country. His future in the sport looked bright. Colleges like Florida State and Clemson expressed their interest in signing Bolomboy, but those offers from high-major programs didn’t connect with the high schooler at the time.

Instead, it was mid-major Weber State and Phil Beckner who won the services of Bolomboy, not knowing at the time they were signing a player who would go on to be one of the most decorated in program history.

“Those schools like Florida State,” Bolomboy said. “I remember them telling me that if I go there, they wanted me to be a redshirt my first year. It just didn’t seem right. You know, kind of bigger schools, they felt like they were just kind of hearing about me and came into the picture and they really know, who I was, about my game.

“I think the main reason why I picked Weber State just because the coaching staff they had in place and all the guys that were there, I kind of like them a lot,” Bolomboy said. “And just like, the main reason is because they believed in me and they had a plan for me. They also showed me a long-term plan because they had a guy named Phil Beckner and he’s the one who recruited me and he was really good at developing players. But, Dame, he always says like Coach Phil, the coach who recruited me, he’s the biggest reason why he’s in the NBA. So, I took that into consideration.”

Getting to the NBA is no easy task for any player. Every year thousands of college basketball players line up for a chance to be drafted in one of the 60 slots, and the rest scramble to fill in summer league invites and training camp opportunities. When a player has the pedigree of a Kentucky or Duke, sometimes life is a bit easier in landing that chance.

Coming from Weber State? Well, the work was cut out for Bolomboy.

All he did during his time in college was dominate, though. In 2016, Bolomboy was named Big Sky Player of the Year. He left Weber State as the program’s all-time leading rebounder, too.

The mid-major to NBA road is one less traveled, for sure, but Bolomboy was never worried about that standing in the way of his chances.

“I knew that getting into the NBA would all come eventually,” Bolomboy said. “The main thing for me was to continue to get better and just being stronger. And if you could play, you’re an NBA caliber player, those guys, that’s what they get paid for. Those scouts, they find you out there.”

When Bolomboy made his way to the NBA Draft Combine ahead of the 2016 draft, he found himself around all of those same players from the high-major schools that passed him over. It was his opportunity to prove to himself something he knew all along: that he belonged in the same gym with all of those guys.

“What really put me over the top was when I did all of my athletic testing,” Bolomboy said. “And I felt like I was much better and more explosive than those guys. When we started playing, I was playing good and I was playing better than a lot of those guys. I was finishing at the rim, hitting my three’s, rebounding and doing what I normally do.”

The impressive combine performance led to another dream few ever realize: being drafted into the NBA. In the second round, with the Utah Jazz picking 52nd overall, Bolomboy saw his name pop up on the screen while surrounded by friends and family.

“It was such a good night just to hear my name called,” Bolomboy said. “I teared up and stuff like that just knowing all of my hard work and everything I did, just to hear my name called, it all paid off. It was just the start of everything.”

Once life in the NBA begins, nothing is guaranteed. Unless you’re a first-round pick, the money usually isn’t, either. Getting to the league is a battle in its own right, but the real fight begins once you’re there. For Bolomboy, his journey since seeing his name flash across that screen has been a prime example of that grind.

After spending his rookie season with the Jazz among the likes of Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Trey Lyles, opportunities for court time came few and far between. It was in that first season that Bolomboy experienced the back and forth of being on both an NBA squad and a G-League squad; he appeared in 24 games for the Salt Lake City Stars. Spending time down in the G-League helped keep Bolomboy sharp throughout the season.

This season for Bolomboy has been spent primarily in the G-League, with the Wisconsin Herd. Taking the learning experience he gained last year while around the Jazz, the forward has turned in one of the most impressive seasons the developmental league has seen. Averaging 17 points, 10.5 rebounds, and shooting 59 percent from the floor, Bolomboy has once again found himself squarely on the radar of NBA clubs.

With the way the game of basketball is evolving, more big men are asked to step out to the three-point line. After attempting just one three-pointer in his first two years of college, Bolomboy has developed into a legitimate shot-maker from beyond the arc. Last season in the G-League, he made 21 of his 46 attempts.

“Coaches always told me if I’m open to shoot it and don’t even hesitate,” Bolomboy said of his G-League experience last season. “It will make defenses respect you more because for me when I am on the perimeter and for a guy to sag off me two to three feet, that’s disrespectful.”

From Ukraine to America, Bolomboy has developed more than a jump shot. He’s developed the opportunity to succeed, not just on the basketball court, but in life as well. His parents dreamed of a better life when they moved to the United States, and Bolomboy grew up dreaming of a shot at the NBA. Both things have come true, for the most part.

While Bolomboy waits for his next opportunity on the big stage, don’t expect him to just sit around and dream about it, though. He’ll be working harder than ever to make that dream a reality.

“Whoever is going to give me that chance, I won’t let them down,” Bolomboy said. “That’s for sure.”

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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G-League

Report: Jarrett Jack to Miss Rest of Season with Left Knee Injury

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Jarrett Jack, who signed recently with the Heat’s G League team, will miss the remainder of the season after tearing the ACL and lateral meniscus as well spraining the MCL in his left knee. Surgery is April 1. He was injured in his lone appearance with the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

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Sources: Rockets, Terrence Jones Agree to 10-Day Deal

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The Rockets are signing power forward Terrence Jones to a 10-day deal, sources told ESPN. Jones, 27, a former Rockets first-round pick, has been out of the NBA since 2016-17. He’s been dominant in the G League this season, averaging 23.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists.

Source: Tim MacMahon on Twitter

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G-League

NBA Daily: Power Ranking The Two-Way Standouts, Part II

With trade season in the rearview mirror, Ben Nadeau takes stock of the NBA’s impressive collection of two-way standouts.

Ben Nadeau

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Last week, the NBA’s trade deadline finally came and went — along with plenty of worthwhile fireworks of their own — and buyout season is officially in full swing. But as franchises continue bolstering their roster ahead of the postseason (or lottery-bound future efforts), another deadline occurred recently without much fanfare. In January, the cutoff to sign players to two-way contracts passed — so where does that leave affairs headed into the midseason break?

Check out SBG Global Sportsbook for the latest odds.

Previously, Basketball Insiders took a swing at ranking the 30-best two-way players but, quickly, it became clear that there would need to be a Part II. Since then, the Pacers signed Edmond Sumner to a contract that extends through the remainder of the season, plus a team option in 2019-20. Our No. 12 selection has a home in Indiana and — with All-Star Victor Oladipo sidelined with a serious injury — Sumner has proven his worth in the postseason-ready rotation. And, funny enough, Chris Boucher — who was spotlighted in the introductory paragraphs in Part I as a would-be ineligible roster member for Toronto — earned his own multi-year contract as well.

If you’re in need of some honorable mentions and Nos. 30-11, the Part I rankings can be found right here.

But as a rapid-fire recap: Since 2017, two-way contracts have granted a team to carry two more roster spots that won’t count against the salary cap. These players, who must have less than four years of NBA experience, can be swapped between the professional level and the G League for up to 45 days in a season. While these two-way standouts will be ineligible to compete in the playoffs, franchises are able to convert these contracts to regular deals if they have the roster spot to do so. With that out of the way, here’s the best of the bunch — beginning with a very special (and retconned) honorable mention.

Honorable Mention: Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors

So, the top ten list is officially a top nine with Boucher moving to the Raptors full-time, excellent news for the deep conference frontrunners. Previously, the former Oregon Duck would’ve been ranked at No. 2 and, well, it was a deserved spot. Boucher averaged a whopping 27.6 points, 11 rebounds and 4.2 blocks over 23 games with the 905. For what it’s worth, these numbers slotted Boucher second, fourth and first, respectively, league-wide. In college, Boucher was a highly-touted prospect before a torn ACL sent him tumbling down and, eventually, out of draft boards. After one season as a two-way player for Golden State, Boucher ended up in Toronto — now, he’s a member of the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference squad.

His NBA-level statistics certainly aren’t as eye-popping, not even close — but now Boucher can receive minutes on Finals-worthy contender. Being behind Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka will cap any short term potential, but the shot-blocking scorer can learn from some of the very best at his position. In 17 games, Boucher has averaged 3.8 points and 0.9 blocks, still, the sky may just be the limit for this talented 26-year-old. Undeniably, Boucher has earned his new multi-year contract with partial guarantees — now can he keep rising?

9. Amile Jefferson, Orlando Magic

Jefferson has been a G League standout since he went undrafted out of Duke in 2017 — now the 6-foot-9 forward has been a rebounding force for two different teams in two consecutive seasons. In 2017-18, Jefferson was named to the All-NBA G League Second Team and the All-Defensive Team after he posted 17.7 points and 12.8 rebounds over 46 games for the Iowa Wolves. This season, now with the Eastern Conference-leading Lakeland Magic, not much has changed.

With nearly identical numbers, Jefferson remains one of the G League’s most consistent forces to date. As the third-ranked rebounder, Jefferson gobbles boards and scores at an effective rate too, with his 58.2 percent mark from the field coming in at 13th-best during the calendar year as well. Notably, the Magic’s frontcourt depth is absolutely loaded, so unless injuries strike the postseason hopefuls, Jefferson will remain behind Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Khem Birch and the recently-shelved Mohamed Bamba.

8. Danuel House Jr., Houston Rockets

Earlier this season, two-way standout Danuel House Jr. ran out of eligible days with Houston — but when the Rockets offered a guaranteed three-year deal, the sharpshooter declined it. That decision meant that House would stay with the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Barring a change in heart from either side, House, 25, will become a restricted free agent this offseason. Over 25 games with Houston, House averaged 9.1 points and 3.6 rebounds, even starting 12 contests throughout his rapid ascent in the playoff-destined organization.

House has another full year of prior NBA experience too and tallied 6.6 points and 3.3 rebounds over 23 games for the Phoenix Suns in 2017-18. The Vipers are currently two games behind Santa Cruz for the G League’s best record and House, as of late, has been instrumental in that chase. Last Friday, House helped Rio Grande down the South Bay Lakers with 24 points, seven assists and the game-clinching free throws with just seconds remaining. Although House cannot play another game for the Rockets on his current two-way deal, his successes this campaign still enters him fairly high on our list.

7. Theo Pinson, Brooklyn Nets

As far as new revelations come, the Nets’ Theo Pinson may just take the cake. After four successful seasons at North Carolina, including an NCAA Championship in 2017, Pinson went undrafted. During that senior campaign at UNC, Pinson tallied 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists over 29 minutes per game — solid, if not spectacular. More importantly, Pinson was a poor three-point shooter, hitting on just 25.7 percent of his attempts at the Division-I powerhouse. Scooped up after the draft by Brooklyn, Pinson has been a nice surprise for the talented prospect-developing franchise in the Northeast.

Over 25 games on Long Island, Pinson has averaged 20.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists — thanks to those efforts, the point guard landed on the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference squad too. In one of the more positive storylines of the season, Pinson has even become an above average shooter from deep and now makes three three-pointers per game at a very respectable 37.3 percent clip. Perhaps best of all, Pinson recently provided a burst of energy for Brooklyn too. In a close battle against the Knicks, Pinson exploded for 19 points and eight rebounds on 3-for-5 from three-point range over 26 minutes.

Either way, in the last year or so, Pinson has improved massively on his biggest weakness, dominated the G League and made an impact at the NBA level — not a bad way to start your once-undrafted professional career by any means.

6. Jordan Loyd, Toronto Raptors

First and foremost, Loyd, too, was named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference team, in a theme that will continue sharply from here on out. Still, distilling Loyd’s massive 2018-19 to a single honor would be a disservice to the rookie. Loyd has done a little bit of everything for the Raptors 905, although he was passed over by Toronto to sign Malcolm Miller instead. The 6-foot-4 guard has averaged 21.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.9 steals over 34.9 minutes per game. His fine tandem with the aforementioned Boucher seems to be dead for now, but the pair continuously tore up the G League alongside each other for most of the stat-stuffed campaign.

On Jan. 28, Loyd even pulled down a triple-double against Windy City by tallying 24 points, 17 rebounds and 11 assists. Back in 2017-18, Loyd was one of Israeli Premier League’s biggest stars, earned an All-Star Game berth and finished the season as the third-highest scorer (17.4 PPG), Again, the Raptors’ loaded backcourt — Kyle Lowry, Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, Norman Powell, and, by the postseason, Fred VanVleet — has hindered Loyd’s potential impact in the NBA. Honestly, that’s fine: Just stand aside and watch with wonder as Loyd pushes the reigning champions back into the G League postseason all by himself now.

5. P.J. Dozier, Boston Celtics

The Maine Red Claws may be a disappointing subplot to the latest G League narrative but newcomer P.J. Dozier has been an absolute dream. Through 33 games in Portland, Dozier has averaged 21.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game over a 35-minute clip. Not to be a broken record, but, of course, Dozier was another easy selection for the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference roster too. Dozier has featured in four games for Boston, a total double that of his appearances with Oklahoma City as a rookie last season — but his G League numbers have seen a major rise since then as well.

The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging about 8.5 more points per game, but his greatest rise has been the boost in assists, nearly tripling from his 2017-18 campaign. Progress, particularly from within the Celtics’ organization, is nothing to ignore. Like teammate R.J. Hunter, Boston’s other two-way player, his potential for the season, if not longer, is capped. Of course, that could change this summer depending on where the Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier chips end up falling in free agency, but Dozier has become an absolute force since joining Boston.

Dozier has averaged just 1.8 points over a paltry 2.5 minutes per game for Boston — regardless, he’s officially a prospect worth keeping tabs on.

4. Alan Williams, Brooklyn Nets

You guessed it: Alan Williams is yet another Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference roster honoree. And, after his tumultuous journey, it’s a well-earned award for the 6-foot-8 big man. Through many world-traveling tribulations — outlined here — Williams signed a multi-year contract with Phoenix in July of 2017. Unfortunately, that feel-good story was short-lived as Williams underwent surgery to repair his meniscus in September, rehabbed until March, played five meaningless games and then was waived at season’s end.

Thankfully, the Suns’ loss became the Nets’ gain and Williams has dominated in the G League for Long Island. The affectionately nicknamed ‘Big Sauce’ has averaged 20.6 points and 13.2 rebounds over 28 games, numbers that place him as a top ten scorer and the second-best board-snatcher league-wide. During Williams’ only major appearance for Brooklyn this season thus far, he grabbed eight points and eight rebounds in eight minutes — a line he’s proven capable of repeating over and over with the proper court burn.

It feels like a matter of time before Williams gets his next chance at the NBA level — but who will scoop up the elite rebounder?

3. Yante Maten, Miami HEAT

At this rate, Yante Maten will be a household name before too long in NBA circles — if he isn’t already. Maten was a four-year standout — 19.3 points per game as a senior — at Georgia before he went undrafted and landed one of Miami’s two-way deals this summer. In return, all Maten has done is tallied 26.4 points (second) 10 rebounds (fifth) and 1.2 blocks per game for the Sioux Falls Skyforce this season. Maten, a 6-foot-8 forward, has been sidelined with an ankle injury since Jan. 2 but he and teammate Duncan Robinson — ranked at No. 18 in Part I — were both named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Western Conference roster last week as well.

Maten has not featured for the HEAT in 2018-19 but his scoring prowess is quickly making himself a name. During an early December win against the Stockton Kings, Maten dropped a blistering 42 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks on 15-for-21 shooting. Miami only averages 105.1 points per game, the 27th-worst mark in the entire league — bested by three free-falling franchises: Chicago, Cleveland and Memphis — so injecting Maten’s scoring punch could provide a much-needed lift.

For now, we’ll have to settle for a healthy return from the inactive list — sadly, it’s been far too long since Maten torched the G League. If things break right for him, it won’t be much longer before he gets his NBA call-up either.

2. Angel Delgado, Los Angeles Clippers

Your current rebounding leader is, handily, the Clippers’ Angel Delgado. At 17.3 points and 14.6 rebounds on 58.8 percent shooting, Delgado’s looming presence has been well-known all season for Agua Caliente. In more recent news, Delgado made his NBA debut for Los Angeles on Feb. 8 and chipped in three points and four rebounds over 14 minutes against the Indiana Pacers. Following their trade that sent Tobias Harris across the country to Philadelphia, the Clippers have some intriguing paths to end this season — many scenarios of which include Delgado’s growth.

As of publishing, Los Angeles holds the conference’s eighth and final postseason berth, winning two of their last three games post-Harris’ departure. Delgado, 24, is coming off back-to-back stellar seasons with Seton Hall, where the frontcourt menace tallied 13.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game for the Pirates. In January, Delgado pulled down an otherworldly 31 rebounds against the OKC Blue — no, that’s not a type. For now, at least, Delgado is behind Montrezl Harrell, one of 2018-19’s breakout stars, newcomer Ivica Zubac and G League teammate Johnathan Motley, the latter of which has played in 15 games for Los Angeles this season.

Of note, both Delgado and Motley were both named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Western Conference roster.

1. Jordan McRae, Washington Wizards

And, in a reveal that shouldn’t surprise anybody: Jordan McRae is basketball’s best two-way player — at this point, the resume is too much to ignore. Yes, McRae is a Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference awardee, but he’s also an NBA Champion. So far, McRae has seen it all: Finals experience, another previous D-League All-Star selection, a trip (albeit a short one) overseas to play with a prestigious club, Baskonia, and remains the current scoring leader in today’s G League. McRae, 27, has averaged a dominant 30 points per game — which that would rank him behind just Antonio Blakeney (32.0) for the highest single-season PPG tally in G League history — along with 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.8 steals.

With 78 NBA games and counting under his belt, McRae is both seasoned and untapped. In an inspired drubbing of the Red Claws last month, McRae poured in 54 points and nine rebounds on 18-for-31 shooting — and there are plenty of other MVP-worthy efforts to choose from as well. The Wizards, struggling to stay afloat without All-Star John Wall, could certainly use McRae’s talented efforts. Ultimately, a combination of developmental and financial cap reasons may keep him from getting his contract converted by season’s end, as Candace Buckner of The Washington Post wrote in January. Through 19 games, McRae has averaged 4.3 points and 1.1 rebounds — but make no mistake, he’s one of the best scorers the G League has ever offered up.

There they are! From top to bottom — and split over two articles — there’s a definitive list of the NBA’s best two-way players. While some are still feeling out basketball at the post-collegiate level, there are plenty of hardened, consistent contributors already. There are high-ranking scorers and rebounders, but other newcomers arrive with overseas experiences, national championships and difficult injury histories. The G League has always given athletes an intriguing — if not unlikely road to the league — but thanks to the two-way deals, those narratives have often become downright compelling.

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