By Randy Renner
The newest members of the Oklahoma City Thunder were very impressive on their first day in town. If they can hoop it up as well as they can manage an opening news conference the Thunder might just have something.
No question Mitch McGary and Josh Huestis won the news conference. Beginning next weekend at the Orlando Summer League we’ll start to find out how well they can play basketball at the next step.
The next level starts to arrive full force when Thunder training camp begins in October and veteran NBA’ers are added to the mix.
Right now though, I’m liking these guys more and more.
At Friday’s news conference inside the majestic rotunda of the Oklahoma History Center both players said everything you want to hear.
McGary said he’s learned from his mistake in judgment which led to a positive marijuana test during last season’s NCAA Tournament. At the time McGary wasn’t playing after having season ending back surgery and he’s still not 100 percent.
“I’m recovering, rehabbing every day,” he said after I asked him about his back. “It feels great. I’ve been back on the court. I’d like to play in summer league and I plan to.”
Whether that actually happens will be up to the Thunder medical staff. As for the wild weed, McGary said he’s learned his lesson. He talked about taking accountability and owning up to his mistake and he gave a big thank you to the Thunder.
“For a team to take a chance on me after all the adversities I went through and the way I ended my collegiate career, it really shows a lot about them and shows they saw past the adversities and know that I can overcome them.”
McGary’s problems in his sophomore season at Michigan overshadowed what had been a tremendous freshman season that saw McGary jump toward the top of many team’s draft boards. Most believed he would have been a top 10 pick had he come out the year before.
The Thunder believe they managed to draft a guy late in the first round who has the talent to have gone much, much earlier and a guy who may very well end up replacing a charter member of the Thunder. Nick Collison is much beloved by fans and coaches for his grit, determination and basketball smarts. McGary seems to be the same kind of player.
Sitting to his right during the news conference was a guy the Thunder are likely projecting to be the next Thabo Sefolosha. A guy who can be a lock down defender and knock down a corner three once in a while.
Josh Huestis wasn’t anyone most folks figured to be on the Thunder’s radar unless as an undrafted free agent. Huestis was ranked as the 90th best overall prospect in ESPN’s Top 100. Only 60 players get drafted.
That’s why you might have noticed ESPN’s Jay Bilas scrambling around through his draft night notes trying to find something on the player whose name was announced with the 29th pick in the draft.
“Going into it some people saw me in a certain slot. I tried not to think about it, where I was going or when I was going” he said Friday. “It was out of my control. Whatever happens, happens.”
It so happens Huestis is an impressive person and in college he turned into a pretty impressive player too. He grew up with adoptive parents in Montana and for his college education (not so much basketball but his choice for EDUCATION) came down to choosing between scholarship offers from Harvard and Stanford.
And he showed off his smarts in Palo Alto because he knew the best way to get the attention of coaches and to have a chance at an NBA dream he would need to play defense and not just play it but to be dominating.
Huestis is tremendously athletic, one of the more freakishly athletic guys to ever walk through the doors at the Thunder practice facility according to Thunder GM Sam Presti. At 6-7 and with a 7-1 wingspan Huestis used his athleticism to guard multiple positions in college, like almost all of them. Huestis thinks he can guard anyone from a point guard to a power forward.
And when he matched up against Kansas All-American Andrew Wiggins last season, who of course heard his name called first in Thursday night’s draft, Huestis shut Wiggins down.
Shut. Him. Down.
Wiggins managed just four points that night on 1-for-6 shooting.
Huestis is probably destined for a lot of playing time in Tulsa this coming season but he could change some minds on that just like he changed minds on draft night.
So, after not knowing much about either player on draft night, now we know Mitch McGary and Josh Huestis can win a news conference in the court of public opinion. Next up we’ll start to find out how much they can win on a basketball court.