LAS VEGAS – Unlike his former boss Mark Few, Arizona men’s basketball coach Tommy Lloyd was nowhere to be found in UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center for the opening weekend of the NBA Summer League.
His impact, however, was felt.
Few college basketball teams from last year were as well-represented in summer league starting lineups as last season’s University of Arizona squad, which blew past expectations in Lloyd’s first year at the helm and entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 2 overall seed before an upset loss to Houston in the Sweet 16.
The trio of former Wildcats turned 2022 NBA Draft picks – guards Bennedict Mathurin and Dalen Terry and center Christian Koloko – all helped power their new teams to victory in their respective summer league debuts and have built on that success in Vegas.
Terry, who went to the Chicago Bulls as the No. 18 overall pick in last month’s draft, spent his Vegas debut in the Thomas & Mack center Friday showing off his versatility with nine points, five rebounds, and six assists in a 100-99 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
“That’s what my identity is,” Terry said. “Facilitating, passing the ball, trying to show that I’m a little stronger than I was in college.”
Terry displayed another element of his game later in the week, scoring a combined 30 points over the Bulls’ subsequent two contests.
Koloko, an early second-round pick at No. 33 overall by the Toronto Raptors, showed off his skill as a rim protector and alley-oop threat Saturday with 12 points, seven rebounds, three steals, and three blocks in a 97-77 blowout of the Philadelphia 76ers. He added three more blocks despite a poor team-wide offensive performance in a loss to the Bulls Tuesday.
“My defense has always been what makes me go,” Koloko said after his debut Saturday. “Something I can always control is my defense. So I feel like going to the NBA, that’s gonna be something I’m gonna really be relying on – just my defensive presence, bringing the energy and communicating.”
But Mathurin, the No. 6 overall pick by the Indiana Pacers, has shined brightest not only among his former Tucson teammates but all rookies in Summer League. The Canada native burst on the scene with a 23-point performance against the Charlotte Hornets Friday, then scored 15 against the Sacramento Kings Sunday.
“I’m just getting used to the space,” Mathurin said. “I feel like there’s way more spacing (in the NBA) than in college, obviously. There’s more opportunities, so it’s fun.”
Mathurin needed less than five minutes of summer league action to make a major impact. On the Pacers’ first offensive possession of their opener against the Charlotte Hornets, Mathurin caught a cross-court pass from teammate Andrew Nembhard, took a step to his right, and promptly drilled a three-pointer – his first shot attempt at the NBA level. A few minutes later, Mathurin finished an alley-oop from second-year guard Chris Duarte. He then hit another three-pointer on Indiana’s ensuing possession, giving himself eight of the Pacers’ first 12 points.
In the second half, Mathurin capped off his sterling introduction to the NBA with a thunderous dunk off a backboard lob from Duarte.
“The things that we saw here today, we saw that from him in college and we’ve seen that from him in practice all week,” Pacers summer league coach Ronald Nored said. “The ability to make shots, get shots off, make the right reads, get downhill from time to time, those are things that we’ve all seen for a good bit of time, and I’m glad he was able to put it in practice today.”
Four days after his debut, Mathurin carved up the Detroit Pistons’ defense with a variety of stepbacks and jab steps for a 20-point performance in the Pacers’ win. Mathurin’s 19.3 points per game are the most among all rookies who have played at least three games through Wednesday in the summer league.
“He’s an NBA scorer right now,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said during the ESPN broadcast of the game. “He has tremendous upside.”
Terry and Koloko got the opportunity to share the court once again Tuesday in a matchup that the Bulls prevailed, 93-83, on Terry’s 20th birthday.
“It was cool, but it was a little weird (playing against him),” Terry said. “When I saw him get those first couple of blocks, I said (to my teammates), ‘I told you guys, that’s what he does.’ Then at the free-throw line, somebody else was shooting. I was standing next to (Koloko), and I was like, ‘Man, this is crazy. We’re on an NBA court now.’”
Still, all three players have gone through some growing pains in the summer league. Mathurin was outdueled by No. 4 overall pick Keegan Murray, who had a game-high 23 points, as the Kings rallied Sunday to beat the Pacers, 103-96. Terry registered a -21 plus-minus in 27 minutes during the Bulls’ 101-69 loss to the Knicks that same day. Koloko scored only five points in the loss to Chicago.
However, all three have also heaped praise on Lloyd and their time at Arizona for preparing them for the NBA. Terry said after his first game that he believed the NBA’s pace was not a major adjustment, and he still felt like he was playing in Tucson. Mathurin believes his year under Lloyd helped him grow as a ball-handler. Koloko also offered glowing praise of how his time at the University of Arizona set him up for success at the next level.
“I feel like it helped me a lot,” Koloko said. “Just the way we played at Arizona, the pace we used to play and me being a big man always having the ball on the perimeter making reads, I think that’s something that is really gonna help me in the NBA. I can’t be more thankful for those guys at Arizona. They got me ready for this moment.”