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Former Zag hopes third time is charm in NBA Summer League

Micah Downs is giving the NBA Summer Leagues his third try since leaving Gonzaga. (FILE)
Micah Downs is giving the NBA Summer Leagues his third try since leaving Gonzaga. (FILE)
By Steve Hunt Special to The Spokesman-Review

DALLAS – Playing in the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League is nothing new for Micah Downs. In fact, this summer marks his third straight run there as the former Gonzaga star looks to find a home in the league.

This time around, the Kirkland, Wash., native is playing for Dallas after suiting up for Phoenix in 2010 and Milwaukee in 2011, and he realizes it will be a much different experience this time. Dallas begins a five-game schedule today against Denver and the Mavs play their final game Saturday against San Antonio.

“My first two summer leagues, I was younger,” Downs said. “I wasn’t as experienced. I’m an older guy now. So I know a lot of what they’re looking for and what kind of stuff they want out of me. Hopefully, this year I’ll be able to show those things better and get a much better shot.”

There will be one other major difference for him this time around as this will be his first time in summer league as a father. Micah and his wife, who reside in Seattle, became parents for the first time in late May with the birth of their son, who is now 7 weeks old.

“It’s just an amazing feeling,” Downs said. “Just being a dad, it’s like you just automatically take this next step in your life. You mature so fast. You have to. You have no other choice. You’re taking care of a life. I love it. I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

Now 25, the 6-foot-8 shooting guard has been playing abroad since his final season with the Zags in 2008-09. His first stop was Croatia, where he spent the 2009-10 campaign before heading to Belgium for a short time. He then ventured over to Spain in 2010 where he has played since.

Last season, his first with Assignia Manresa of Liga ACB, Spain’s top division, was his best. Downs averaged 13.4 points and four rebounds a game to earn the ACB Rising Star Award, an honor given to up-and-coming players in the league. Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves won the award in 2007.

“It’s been pretty good, playing in Europe,” Downs said.” It’s tough, definitely a life-changing experience, good I think for guys like me to do that. You learn a lot about the game. You learn a lot about yourself, other people and things like that,” he said. “This last year was probably my best year so far. Playing in the ACB, had a really successful year. Hopefully, that’ll prepare me and project me into bigger things.”

For many players who head abroad for the first time, getting acclimated to the different nuances of the European game can be quite an adjustment. However, that wasn’t the case for Downs, whose transition was as seamless as it could be for any American player heading to Europe. “I didn’t really think it was that much of an adjustment,” he said. “I feel like I’m a pretty smart, intelligent basketball player and I can pick up the game easy.”

Something else he’s picked up pretty easily is Spanish, which has also helped ease his transition to living and working in Spain the last few years.

“I don’t speak it very good but I can understand a lot of it,” he said. “And when the coaches are talking and stuff, I really don’t need much of a translator anymore. It’s not bad.”

Though Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle only saw Downs for the first time earlier this week, he’s come away impressed with him after just a handful of practices.

“I like him. I know he’s been a successful player in Europe,” Carlisle said. “I like his size, length, skill. This is an opportunity for him to show what he can do, not only for us but for 29 other teams once he gets to Vegas.”

Downs is one of six ex-Bulldogs participating in the summer leagues in either Orlando (which has concluded) or Las Vegas, and being part of the Gonzaga contingent is a huge honor.

“Gonzaga’s a great program. We produce a lot of good players,” Downs said. “We all work hard and we’re trying to do what we can to play the game that we love.”

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