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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

From lottery picks to undrafted gems, 13 WCC alums make most of NBA Summer League stage

July 21, 2022 Updated Thu., July 21, 2022 at 8:53 p.m.

LAS VEGAS – Jamaree Bouyea is cooling off in an adjoining concourse between Cox Pavilion and the Thomas & Mack Center. In the summer league ecosystem, where undrafted players typically have to work smarter and harder than their drafted counterparts, the dynamic San Francisco guard is already off to a sizzling start.

In Miami’s 88-78 victory over Boston, Bouyea’s 22 minutes aren’t wasted. Two minutes into the fourth quarter, Bouyea jumps into the passing lane, intercepts the ball, moves into the open court and finishes a two-handed dunk, swinging on the rim before coming down. Minutes later, a switch has him matched up against 6-foot-10 center Mfiondu Kabengele. Bouyea dribbles twice, accelerates past Kabengele and finishes with a pretty finger roll.

The summer league setting isn’t conducive to the 20- and 30-point outbursts that became a regularity for Bouyea at USF, but he still manages to finish 4-of-9 shooting for nine points while adding five assists, four rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.

“I was just trying to play hard and prove I can play offense and defense at a high level,” Bouyea said. “Just trying to basically prove I can belong here. I’ve got to get a little more comfortable out there and make some better decisions, but I think I played pretty well.”

After sending three teams to the 2022 NCAA Tournament – and nearly getting a fourth – the West Coast Conference extended a historic year with its representation at summer league. Six WCC teams had at least one player in Vegas and five had two or more.

Gonzaga’s contingent included second overall draft pick Chet Holmgren (Oklahoma City) along with Andrew Nembhard (Indiana), Filip Petrusev (Philadelphia) and Joel Ayayi (Atlanta). USF’s Bouyea (Miami) was joined by ex-Dons point guard Frankie Ferrari (Sacramento). BYU’s Alex Barcello (Toronto) was there with Yoeli Childs (Utah). The two-man Saint Mary’s contingent included Tommy Kuhse (Orlando) and Malik Fitts (Boston). Pepperdine products Colbey Ross (Portland) and Kessler Edwards (Brooklyn) both took on the summer league stage while lottery-pick guard Jalen Williams (Oklahoma City) represented Santa Clara .

“I think it’s big time,” said Williams, who became Santa Clara’s highest draft pick in more than 70 years when he was selected 12th overall by Oklahoma City. “Our conference is kind of slept on, just because I think a lot of it, the time we play on East Coast doesn’t really see us play. It’s nice to see everyone knows we’re kind of loaded with talent and it’s been that way since my freshman year. It’s really cool to see everyone in that league succeed.”

Within a matter of minutes at the draft last month, Williams and Holmgren went from WCC rivals to NBA teammates who’ll expected to be key pieces of Oklahoma City’s rebuild. Both had their moments at summer league, where Holmgren averaged 12.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks and Williams averaged 10.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 2.8 apg.

Williams said it’s been a relief to see Holmgren inside his own huddle, rather than the opposing team’s.

“It’s a lot easier, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “Scouting for him at Santa Clara is always really difficult because of what he brings to the table. He’s a unicorn, so you never really know what to expect and how to game plan for him, so it’s cool to kind of be on the back end of that. I threw him an awful lob yesterday and he ended up dunking, so it was really cool.”

Kuhse arrived at one of Orlando’s initial summer league practices wearing a Saint Mary’s T-shirt. That hit a nerve for second-year Magic guard and former Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs, who was held out of summer league games with an injury but was able to do limited work in practice.

“We spent a lot of time together cracking jokes and talking junk since we figured out he’d be on the team,” Suggs said. “It’s really good to see just the WCC and the whole representing here at summer league.”

Suggs maintained a spotless record against Kuhse in his only college season, but the Saint Mary’s point guard got the best of the top-ranked Bulldogs on one occasion this year, spoiling Gonzaga’s perfect conference record in the regular-season finale.

“The Gonzaga guys are obviously top-tier players at the college level and then you see them in the NBA,” Kuhse said. “So, any time you can get a shot at those guys it’s pretty cool.”

Kuhse, a former walk-on who went undrafted, was productive on both ends of the floor in Vegas, tallying 17.3 points, 3.3 assists and 3.0 steals. On July 11 against Holmgren, Williams and Oklahoma City, Kuhse instantly became a fan favorite when he scored seven points over a 4-minute stretch in the fourth quarter. When Orlando’s coaching staff pulled Kuhse from the game inside the final 3 minutes, the crowd responded with a chorus of boos.

“It’s been fun. It’s kind of a different game so learning the new rules, the spacing’s a lot different and just the size and athleticism is definitely a step up,” Kuhse said. “It takes a little adjusting to, but at the end of the day it’s just basketball, so it’s fun to get out and compete.”

Ross, the owner of Pepperdine career records for points (2,236), assists (854), assists per game (6.8), field goals attempted (1,582), free throws made (651), free-throw percentage (84.7%), games started (125) and minutes played (4,424), wasn’t drafted after his fourth and final season in Malibu, California, in 2021 and went overseas to play for ERA Nymburk of the Czech National Basketball League.

An undersized guard by NBA standards, the 6-foot-1 Ross found his way back to Vegas after playing for Golden State last year and logged 15.7 minutes off the bench while helping Portland win the summer league championship. Ross knocked down two 3-pointers and dished out four assists in the title game against the New York Knicks.

“I definitely think you have to have that chip on your shoulder because it’s super cutthroat,” Ross said. “The NBA, summer league, everything is cutthroat once you get past college. So I think having a chip on our shoulder in every game, whatever we do we’re just out to prove to people that we belong.”

NBA teams spent draft picks on Holmgren, Nembhard, Petrusev, Edwards and Williams, but the other eight WCC alums participating in this year’s summer showcase watched 30 organizations pass them up – in many cases two, three or four times.

“You’ve got to find something to get you motivated to step out on that floor and kill whoever the opponent is you’re going against,” said Barcello, the BYU star who made 42% of his 3-pointers last season. “Everybody’s talented, can run, jump and shoot at this level, so how can you affect the game in other ways? Can you do those intangibles where you’re picking up full court, bringing the energy, turning guys over, seeing how many times you can turn them in the backcourt?”

Barcello, an Arizona transfer who sought out a new home after spending his freshman and sophomore seasons at BYU, said the growth of the WCC has been evident since he stepped on campus at BYU. Impacted by injuries, Barcello’s Cougars stumbled midway through the WCC schedule, otherwise the conference may have sent a fourth team to the tournament.

“People look at it as a midmajor conference,” Barcello said. “I think it’s getting more toward the competition of a high major, so it’s fun.”

Even if most of them aren’t close friends, an unspoken bond exists between NBA hopefuls from the WCC, along with a mutual understanding of what it takes to reach the highest level of pro basketball from one of the country’s most undervalued conferences.

“Of course, when we compete and go against each other, it’s competition, but at the end of the day we’re still rooting for each other and we just want to see everyone do well,” Ross said.

With a few exceptions from Gonzaga, the WCC’s top players are generally three-star recruits who lacked the exposure or physical traits to garner attention from major-conference schools.

Kuhse came to Saint Mary’s as a nonscholarship player and left as the WCC’s Sixth Man of the Year.

Williams only had offers from Santa Clara, Nevada and Hofstra, but he was drafted before 30 high-major players.

Bouyea never had a profile on either of the nation’s most prominent recruiting websites, 247Sports.com and Scout.com, but earned All-WCC first-team honors twice before scoring 36 points in USF’s first NCAA Tournament game since 1998.

“I think this last year was a really good eye-opener,” Williams said, “then you go into the draft and you see how many of us are actually in here.”

“You come in as guys who are maybe semi highly recruited but not the top of the top, so you’ve got to keep working to get where you’re at,” Kuhse said. “So I definitely think all those guys have the same characteristics where they’re working really hard to get where they’re at.”

Entering summer league, some postulated Bouyea would become Miami’s next undrafted gem. Apparently, the Heat saw enough from the high-scoring guard through six games to sign him, placing the USF product one step closer to a 15-man roster spot. Until then, Bouyea’s work remains unfinished.

“My whole upcoming I’ve had a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I wasn’t highly recruited in high school or college and I think now, going undrafted, I have even more of a chip on my shoulder to be great and to prove I belong here.”

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