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NBA Summer Leagues full of former Jayhawks trying to land roster spots

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Kansas guards Devon Dotson, left, and Marcus Garrett have a laugh on the bench next to Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) with little time remaining in the game on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guards Devon Dotson, left, and Marcus Garrett have a laugh on the bench next to Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) with little time remaining in the game on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

A handful of former Jayhawks still hoping to catch on in the NBA will get their chance to shine at the upcoming NBA summer leagues in Sacramento, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

While making an NBA roster through a strong showing in Summer League play is uncommon, it has happened in the past with a handful of players. And many others played their way into a two-way contract that led to good money and an even better opportunity.

Here’s a quick rundown of the Jayhawks we know are planning to suit up for their respective Summer League squads during the next couple of weeks, starting with Udoka Azubuike and Marcus Garrett on Tuesday.

Marcus Garrett – Miami Heat

The most recent former Jayhawk to jump to the pro level, Garrett signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Heat in the hours after last Thursday’s draft.

That guarantees him nothing more than an opportunity to show what he can do.

Garrett will be on a Heat Summer League roster that is packed with young guards, and while many of them likely will be looking to wow people with their scoring ability and offensive punch, you can be sure that Garrett will continue to lead with his best asset — defense.

He’ll have to show more than strong defensive skills to get a real shot to catch on, but Garrett knows that. He said in early July that he had been working hard on his jump shot and offensive game throughout the offseason.

Devon Dotson – Chicago Bulls

All signs out of Chicago have indicated that Dotson will be with the Bulls’ Summer League squad in Las Vegas next week.

If he’s there, it will mark the first time Dotson will be able to participate in the famed Vegas summer circuit. Last season, after signing with the Bulls as an undrafted free agent following the draft, there was no Summer League and Dotson was tossed right into training camp and a shortened exhibition season.

Just two days ago there appeared to be an opening for a third point guard on the Bulls’ NBA roster, and some who cover the team believed that Dotson, with a good showing this summer, could position himself as the leading candidate to snag that spot.

That was before Chicago landed Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso via free agency, and their presence, along with that of former lottery pick Coby White, could make it tougher.

Even if Dotson doesn’t stick with the Bulls, the opportunity to showcase his skills for another squad or solidify his two-way status could mean big things for the former All-American.

Dotson, like former Jayhawks Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, recently received a qualifying offer from the Bulls worth roughly $1.5 million, making him a restricted free agent.

Dotson appeared in just 11 games with the Bulls last season, spending most of his time during his rookie season with the team’s G League affiliate.

Udoka Azubuike – Utah Jazz

Azubuike is expected to play for the Jazz summer league teams in both Salt Lake and Vegas. And it could be a big summer for the former KU big man.

Utah just traded away back-up big Derrick Favors and they no doubt want to see what they have in Azubuike, whom they used a late first-round pick on in the 2020 draft.

A severe ankle injury early in his first season as a pro derailed Azubuike’s hopes of contributing right away. And a lot of his success this summer figures to be tied to just how well his rehab of the bum ankle went throughout the season.

Azubuike played in 15 games for the Jazz last season, including spot minutes in their final three regular season games and one appearance in the playoffs. He is slated to make roughly $2 million for the 2021-22 season per his rookie contract.

Dedric & KJ Lawson – Boston Celtics

Their list of teams they’ve played for together grows by one this summer, with the former Jayhawks and Memphis natives joining the Celtics’ Summer League squad.

Word from the Lawson camp is that Dedric has slimmed down a little and leaned up in an effort to become a little faster and more explosive.

His skills were never the issue, as he was a double-double machine throughout his college career, particularly at Kansas. Look for him to try to showcase his new physique and his outside shooting ability during his stint with the Celtics.

Always the overlooked of the two, KJ will try to show that he, too, has a versatile game that includes the ability to score, shoot, pass, rebound and defend.

He showed all of those traits in spurts at KU, and he’ll need to have all of them clicking to get a prolonged opportunity with any NBA franchise.

Malik Newman – Utah Jazz

Azubuike will see a familiar face sitting next to him on the Jazz bench — and perhaps out there with him on the floor, too — in KU’s 2018 postseason hero Malik Newman.

A two-year veteran of the NBA G League, with Canton, Ohio and Sioux Falls, S.D., Newman spent most of the 2020-21 season with Ironi Nahariva of the Israeli Premier League, where he averaged 14.5 points, 3.0 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 19 games.

Newman started the season with a team in Turkey, playing 14 games for Frutti Extra Bursaspor and averaging nearly identical numbers as what he put up in Israel.

Joining Newman on the Jazz Summer League roster will be former Baylor Bears and 2021 national champions Jared Butler and MaCio Teague. Both should push Newman and bring extreme competition to the roster.

Frank Mason III – Philadelphia 76ers

The former college player of the year was a late addition to the Sixers’ summer roster.

While landing a roster spot with Philly, therein rejoining former KU teammate Joel Embiid, would be the dream, this opportunity really opens the door for Mason to join a number of teams.

Past Summer League success stories are full of players who played for one team in the summer but got picked up by another after the session was over because the other team had open roster spots or greater need at a specific position.

So while Mason will be trying to catch on with the Sixers, he’ll also be essentially auditioning for the rest of the league, as well.

The 27-year-old former G League MVP has played for three different teams during his first four years in the league — two seasons with Sacramento and one each with Milwaukee and Orlando. His last two stops featured him on two-way contracts and he spent most of his time either injured or in the G League.

Tarik Black - Denver Nuggets

Another late add to a Summer League roster, Black, who played at KU for one season back in 2013-14, actually has more NBA experience than most of the players on this list.

His stints with the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets — including a front-row seat for Kobe Bryant's final game — gave him a good look at what it takes to succeed in the league. And his 6-foot-9, 250-pound frame, with good athleticism and toughness, make him an interesting option to consider for teams needing to fill out the end of their bench.

Beyond his size and experience, Black's best attribute is the way he carries himself. He's always been viewed as a first-class teammate and he's not the type of player who needs to get his to be happy. He'll be content helping the team however he can. That could make it hard for him to standout in a Summer League setting. But if he does, there might still be a little left in the old veteran.

Quentin Grimes – NY Knicks

Drafted 25th overall in last week’s draft, the one-time Jayhawk will get his first taste of pro ball with the Knicks’ Summer League squad.

After an up-and-down first season in college at Kansas, Grimes was a star at Houston. In addition to scoring at a high clip and racking up several individual honors during his two years at UH, Grimes also helped lead the Cougars to the 2021 Final Four.

That run and his performance at the pre-draft combine landed him in the first round of the draft, and he now gets the opportunity to show what he’s made of while making guaranteed money for the next three seasons.

Comments

Jesse Johnson 1 year, 1 month ago

There is a White Jazz team and a Blue Jazz team for the SLC summer league. Udoka is on white and Newman is on Blue, so they're not going to be on the same team. It was also reported that Jared Butler won't be participating in summer league.

Steve Zimmerman 1 year, 1 month ago

Thanks for the info, Matt. I thought Dedric played overseas. I wish him and others good luck. May Devonte's & Svi's journeys become inspiration to them.

Dan Philipps 1 year, 1 month ago

I love Garrett's line from his first game ... 6 steals! The Miami Heat are the PERFECT organization for him ... I could see Jimmy Butler taking him under his wing.

22 mins, 4-6 FG, 2-4 FT, 2 ORB, 1DRB, 2AST, 6STL, +7 +/-

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