Reggie Jackson: Mr. May

Last week our friends at SLAM wrote up Thunder PG Reggie Jackson, one of the league’s hardest-working young players…and now, one of the most important players on a title contender.

The article is perfect match of player and publication: no magazine cares more about basketball than SLAM, and Reggie’s love for the game is unquestioned: he’s been doing NBA-style drills since high school, and when his childhood friends come to visit him in OKC, he doesn’t show them a big night at the club.

“We played Jeopardy on Xbox all night,” says his friend, Zach Hawkins. “I didn’t even know that existed.” That’s how Jackson lives his life: all business, no distractions. With James Harden gone and Russell Westbrook coming off an injury, the Thunder need someone to take on more responsibility; Jackson sounds pretty responsible to us.

Summer League Success Story – Josh Akognon

Josh Akognon could always shoot it. Dropped 23.9 ppg his senior season at Cal State Fullerton, over 10 more than his closest teammate. Shot 37% from three even though opposing defenses did nothing but try to stop him, and made a ridiculous 4.25 triples per game. But Akognon stands just 5’11”, and questions about his size and strength kept him out of the Association.

The Nigerian-American went overseas to ply his trade in hopes of earning a shot at the show. First it was Estonia. Then China. Then the D-League. Then back to China, where he dropped 29 a game last season. That led to a 10-day deal with the Mavs late last season, and eventually a contract through the end of the year. Now, he’s killing it in Vegas: 17.4 ppg in 26 minutes a night, good for eighth in the league.

We profile guys like Akognon (and before, Dwight Buycks) because they’re living proof that hard work pays off. In Akognon’s case, dedication to the game took him around the world and back. And when he got his shot, he knew what to do with it.

White Chocolate – Throwback Thursday

Jason Williams had more street in his game than anyone to ever play in the NBA. His highlights look like an AND1 Mixtape all by themselves. He made moves like the elbow pass and the behind-the-back bullet look so easy, you wonder why everyone couldn’t do it.

But streetball artistry takes as much discipline and practice as shooting free throws. As a high schooler in Belle, West Virginia, White Chocolate would take the keys to the gym, go in at night, tape a square against the wall and whip trick passes into it in every way imaginable. He’d do it and do it and do it until he got them right. Then he started wearing work gloves during practice until he had the ball on a string.

That’s the dedication it takes. Keep it in mind next time you go out to the playground and put a no-looker off your teammate’s ear.

Buycking the Trend

One shot / One opportunity / To seize everything you ever wanted / One moment / You can capture it / Or just let it slip

You can bet there are one or two NBA hopefuls pumping “Lose Yourself” through their ear buds before a Summer League game. That’s why it’s one of our favorite times on the basketball calendar: Summer League is full of journeymen—has-beens and never-will-bes going all-out to show they belong in the Association.

And we’ve already got our first success story of the summer. When he enrolled at Indian Hills Community College in 2007, just making the Summer League must’ve seemed like a pipe dream to Dwight Buycks. But point guards are judged by their win totals, and after going 58-13 in two seasons with the Warriors, the heady floor general transferred to Marquette, where he started in his senior season.

Buycks has logged time in France and Belgium since a successful campaign in the D-League with the Tulsa 66ers. He turned up in Orlando with the Heat’s Summer League team, and Toronto snapped him up to be Kyle Lowry’s backup. It doesn’t matter where you are—just show up and show out. Remember Dwight Buycks next time someone tells you no.

D12 Lands in Houston

Dwight just wants to win. Kobe forced Dwight out. Dwight bailed on LA. Dwight couldn’t handle the spotlight. Dwight wants his own legacy. Dwight didn’t fit Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Dwight can do what he wants—it’s a free country.

You can tell the story any way you want, but the bottom line is this: the Rockets are gonna be scary.

About a year ago at this time, all the hype in Houston was around Jeremy Lin. Now, he’s the third option. The last time a team acquired two players like Howard and James Harden in less than a year, Miami won two titles in three years. The Rockets may not turn into Heat West, but if Howard’s back is healed up, they’re pretty close.

Can they knock off the Spurs? Will another contender rise in the West? Time will tell—and we’ll be there to see it—but for now, do yourself a favor. Don’t Mess with Texas.

BIGGER THAN THE GAME

For nearly 30 years, the courts at St. Francis de Sales School in the Belle Harbor section of Queens, NY, had seen some of the hottest summer basketball in the city. But this winter the courts hosted something far more serious than basketball: thousands of people seeking a hot meal and some fresh clothes in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

After lives began to return to normal and the recovery mission got underway, AND1 was the first to make a donation to rebuild the courts. Many more followed, and the school has raised over $120,000 to keep the game alive and well at one of the meccas of New York high school hoops. Now, after most had assumed the annual Summer Basketball Classic would surely be cancelled, the tournament is set to begin July 17, provided last-minute construction goes as planned. Check the Wall Street Journal article on St. Francis’ recovery here.

The game has a funny way of reassuring us that things have returned to normal; and at AND1, we’re proud to have played a small part in the journey.

WELCOME TO DC, GLEN RICE JR.

You already know we love guys with the NBA pedigree (see Friday’s Tim Hardaway, Jr. post), but Glen Rice, Jr. is next-level: not only did his father star for the Heat, Hornets and Lakers over a 15-year career, but unlike every other college player in the draft—and every American player since Brandon Jennings—Junior has already made his pro debut.

Rice was one of the top transfer candidates in the nation when he left Georgia Tech after his sophomore season, but he chose a different path, entering the NBA Development League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He bided his time, working hard for his burn, and in the second half he exploded, shooting 39% from the NBA 3-point line on his way to the D-League championship. Rice copped Finals MVP honors as well, scoring a ridiculous 58 points with 23 rebounds over a two-game sweep of the Santa Cruz Warriors.

Like his dad, Rice’s J is a deadly weapon, but he has an athleticism Senior never had. He attacks the rim, uses his strength to get to the line, and even participated in the D-League’s dunk contest. But, like Hardaway, Rice’s most important skill may be his experience; he’s battle-tested, he’s been on the road, and he’s ready for whatever the League throws his way.

Brooklyn. Boston. Blockbuster.

You wouldn’t make the deal when you’re running back a playground game, but the suits in Boston are looking to the future, sending future HOFers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to a Nets team that looks primed for a title run in 2014. The Nets now have All-Stars at every position—the starting five has a ridiculous 35 All-Star appearances between them—and with new coach Jason Kidd at the helm, they can play with anyone when healthy.

It’s a changing of the guard in Boston, though, as the youth movement takes over for an aging core. But all isn’t lost: the young’uns were raised by winners like Garnett and Pierce, so don’t call it a comeback when the Celtics are better than you think. They still have one of the most electric backcourts in the league, with Rajon Rondo running the show and crazy-athletic Avery Bradley in opposing point shirts 40 minutes a night. There are winning pieces with plenty of cap room here; if Rondo comes back 100%, and Bradley fulfills his unlimited potential, NBA royalty might once again wear the crown, and sooner than you think.