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NBA PM: McCall’s First Workout Comes in Familiar Territory

Tahjere McCall has made a habit of turning nothing into something and hopes to do the same before the Draft.

Dennis Chambers

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Getting the opportunity to play professional basketball is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, whether you’re a blue-chip prospect or someone who didn’t play serious minutes until your senior year of high school.

For Tahjere McCall, his road less traveled may be one of the most barren routes taken to get an opportunity at a career in basketball. A North Philadelphia native, McCall attended Carver High School of Engineering and Science where he didn’t start playing hoops until he was an upperclassman. As a senior, McCall averaged 15.4 points per game, a solid number, but not a figure that would be grabbing the eyes of college coaches across the nation.

The jump from playing just two years of high school basketball to being in the gym of his hometown Philadelphia 76ers on June 5 to audition for a job playing that same sport is almost storybook for McCall.

“I didn’t always play basketball like I was ok,” McCall said. “I didn’t really play until my 11th-grade year, 12th-grade year, I only had one scholarship. Just to be in the position like I am now, it wasn’t guaranteed. To be in Philadelphia for my first workout, I can’t make that up.”

Since McCall picked up the game so late, his only option for college ball looked to be in Division-II, where he was committed to play at Holy Family. But at the eleventh hour, McCall’s lone Division-I scholarship came by way of Niagara University.

After playing his first two seasons at Niagara, under two separate head coaches, McCall felt that to continue furthering his career in basketball, he neeeded to move on to another school. While McCall turned in respectable numbers, averaging 7.5 points a game and leading his team in steals nine times during his sophomore season, there weren’t a plethora of schools clamoring for his services — just like when he left high school.

But once again, the Philadelphia native took his one opportunity and ran with it.

“I transferred, once again didn’t have no offers,” McCall said referring to his situation coming out of high school. “Tennessee State, I played with Anthony Mason’s son, Antoine Mason at Niagara. So he called Tennessee State and they gave me a shot. And then the rest was history. I kept getting better. I always had one opportunity to make myself so I’m used to having one opportunity and making the most out of it.”

After his jump to the Ohio Valley Conference, McCall began to carve out his place as a potential pro basketball player. With defense as his calling card — in 2015-16 McCall became the first Tennessee State player to win OVC Defensive Player of the Year — he began to shape the offensive portion of his game. Throughout his two seasons at Tennessee State, McCall averaged 14.5 points per game and eventually eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his Division-I career on Jan. 7 against UT Martin.

McCall’s senior season, however, was the year that helped him get onto the NBA radar. As the second-leading scorer on the team at 14.3 points per game, McCall also was able to average 5.1 assists and five rebounds per game as well. By securing his second consecutive conference Defensive Player of the Year Award, and becoming just the third player in conference history to win the award multiple times, McCall earned First-Team All-Ohio Valley Conference honors.

After hearing from his agent just a few days before Monday’s workout that he was going to be trying out for the team that consumed his childhood fandom, McCall reached out to a current Sixer to get some advice on how to take control of his latest opportunity.

“Rob Covington went to my high school, so he’s a close friend,” McCall said. “[Covington said] just play your game. You go into something trying to impress people, you do something sometimes that you’re not comfortable doing or that’s not your strong suit. He just said be yourself and play your game and everything will take care of itself.”

During Monday’s workout, McCall did exactly as Covington suggested — he played his game. And some important people took notice.

“You talk about a kid who’s tough,” Vice President of Player Personnel Marc Eversley said. “He brings toughness to the basketball court. I think he plays in a stance. He’s got great length. He brings a toughness to the court – two-time OVC Defensive Player of the Year. He brings a toughness to the court. I think he’s got to work on his offense a little bit, he’s got to develop a jump shot, but again, I think he’s a defender and I think that’s his elite skill: toughness.”

Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo agreed that McCall had a good workout.

“[He] was impressive defensively today,” said Colangelo.

After completing his workout for the Sixers, McCall will wait for his to determine where he will head to next. In the meantime, he’ll stay positioned at his mom’s house in the familiar world of North Philly. As McCall said, her homemade ribs, fried chicken and collard greens are hard to leave behind.

“You can’t beat that food man. Ya gotta stay with your mom, she feeds me,” McCall said. “I can’t leave. I’ll either bring her with me or I’m coming back here. I will never leave.”

While he’s waiting and working to secure his dream, McCall is simply happy to be in the position he is in.

“It’s all I could ask for,” McCall said about his opportunity to play professional basketball. “Because I didn’t expect this when I was playing in high school. I would just think I’m playing for fun. Then it would just keep gradually getting better and gradually getting better and now hopefully I can help my parents and mom, doing something I love to do. It’s just a dream.”

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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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience

It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.

Spencer Davies

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Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.

He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.

To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.

“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.

“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”

Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.

“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”

So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.

“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”

It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.

Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.

“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.

“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”

After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.

Whether the next chapter in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”

And it’s about time people are taking notice.

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NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop

Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.

Joel Brigham

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When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.

He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.

Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.

The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.

“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.

“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”

And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.

“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”

This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.

Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.

It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.

“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”

Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.

“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”

Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.

After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.

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