Kings G League team opens inaugural season in Stockton with lively crowd

Stockton Kings

Kings G League team opens inaugural season in Stockton with lively crowd

STOCKTON -- With the Sacramento Kings cruising through their four-game road trip on the east coast, the team’s G League affiliate opened their inaugural season in Stockton, Calif., Friday evening. 

After spending the last decade as the Reno Bighorns, the Kings relocated their affiliate 40 minutes down the road over the summer and rebranded the team as the Stockton Kings.

All of the team’s brass were in attendance and sitting courtside, including owner Vivek Ranadivé, COO Matina Kolokotronis, president John Reinhart, general manager Vlade Divac and all three of his assistant GMs, Brandon Williams, Ken Catanella and Peja Stojakovic.

Before the game tipped off, Ranadivé joined Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs at center court to welcome in the new crowd. Tubbs, 28, is one of the youngest mayors of a major city in the United States.

Purple towels adorned the seats of the Stockton Arena, that also houses the Stockton Heat of the American Hockey League. More than 5,000 fans turned out to watch the Kings take on the Oklahoma City Blues on opening night.

The roster is a mixed bag of veterans, local kids and a few NBA hopefuls. Wenyen Gabriel, one of the team’s two, two-way players, started on the frontline. Troy Williams, the Kings’ second two-way player is currently traveling with the parent club as they prepare to take on the Milwaukee Sunday afternoon.

While the team will play games in Stockton, they are headquartered out of the Kings’ former practice facility on the Arco property in Natomas. The current roster was assembled by general manager, Anthony McClish, as well as Drake U’u, the team’s assistant GM.

The move to Stockton allows for the better synergy between the parent club and the affiliate with players being able to transfer back and forth between the two teams in minutes.

It was a lively evening, but the game didn’t go as planned in the opener. The home team fell by a final of 124-89, but the crowd seemed to enjoy having basketball in their city for the first time.

Kings' De'Aaron Fox, Harrison Barnes will go to Australia with Team USA


Kings' De'Aaron Fox, Harrison Barnes will go to Australia with Team USA

ANAHEIM -- In their first test against international competition, Team USA looked solid. Playing against Ricky Rubio, Marc Gasol and an experienced team from Spain, head coach Gregg Popovich’s squad led for most of the night and managed a 90-81 win to open their schedule of friendlies. 

Donovan Mitchell and Khris Middleton were the standouts for Team USA. Mitchell finished with 13 points and chipped in four rebounds, while Middleton added 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

Sacramento’s Harrison Barnes started at the power forward spot for Team USA and finished with two points and three rebounds in 14 minutes. Despite the modest numbers, Barnes played solid defense and made smart decisions when he got an opportunity.

De’Aaron Fox put together a strong camp, but he played just six minutes in the win for the US. He sat in the second half as Popovich gave Spurs guard Derrick White a long look. 

In his limited minutes, Fox scored two points dished out an assist. Of the 13 players that stepped on the court for the national team, Fox’s six minutes were the lowest total. 

While he certainly would have like to play more, the 21-year-old point guard wasn’t complaining following the game. He enjoyed the opportunity to throw on a Team USA jersey and compete.

“It was definitely great to play against a different country, it was my first time doing it and I definitely had a blast,” Fox told NBC Sports California. 

In the moments following then win, Fox confirmed that he had yet to find out whether he was on his way to Australia Saturday with the team or not. A few minutes later coach Popovich confirmed that all 14 of the remaining finalists are heading out on the trip.

“It seemed like the right thing to do,” Popovich said.

[RELATED: Fox, Barnes building bond with Team USA]

The next few weeks are going to be a whirlwind for the team. They’ll play two friendlies in Melbourne and then one in Sydney in preparation for their Sept. 1 opener against the Czech Republic in Shanghai, China. 

Somewhere between now and the start of the FIBA World Cup, they’ll have to pair down the roster to 12 that will suit up.

De'Aaron Fox making most of time with Gregg Popovich at Team USA camp

De'Aaron Fox making most of time with Gregg Popovich at Team USA camp

LOS ANGELES -- Team USA is a complicated jigsaw puzzle that head coach Gregg Popovich has to figure out on the fly. How do you fill a roster with players that complement each other, have them compete for a roster spot over two weeks and then unleash them against teams on a world stage?

Adding to the equation, Popovich doesn’t have a roster of perennial All-Stars that fit into some complex pecking order. His core group will consist of NBA role players and then a group of young guys who still are finding their way in the league.

In Sacramento, De’Aaron Fox is the ring leader of one of the fastest teams in the league. While he averaged 17.2 points per game in his second season, he also is the primary distributor for a squad that scored 114.2 points per game last season.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to project where Fox might end up as a player and his tour of duty with the national team under Popovich might help him reach his ceiling faster than if he spent the summer working on his game on his own.

The legendary Spurs coach is one of the most respected minds in the game. He ranks third all-time in wins, he’s led San Antonio to 22 consecutive playoff appearances and he has five championship rings. When he speaks, players listen.

“He doesn’t even like using the term aggressive, because, what does that mean?,” Fox told NBC Sports California about his conversations with Popovich. “But he’s definitely staying on me about continuing to attack.”

After a dismal day for Team USA on Wednesday that saw the group fall in back-to-back games to a collection of G-Leaguers brought in to scrimmage, the mood was different Thursday. While the scoreboards were left at 0-0, it was clear that Fox and the other 14 players vying for spots on the team that will represent the USA at the FIBA World Cup made strides.

“It’s really just continuing to put pressure on the rim,” Fox said. “It could be selfish, because when you go in to attack, that’s the first option, to try and score the ball. But when you have that mentality, guys are going to come in because you draw the defense and that’s when you’re able to make plays for others.”

It’s not that Dave Joerger didn’t ask Fox to attack last season in Sacramento or that Luke Walton hasn’t already handed his starting point guard a road map for the upcoming campaign. They both think highly of Fox’s talent and consider him one of the franchise’s cornerstones.

But Popovich is an outside observer of sorts. He is trying to push the right buttons and get the most out of his talent in a limited amount of time. He sees where Fox can dominate the game and he’s demanding something very specific from the explosive guard.

“He stays on me,” Fox said of Popovich. “With him, he wants guys to do one, two, maybe three things and continue to do it well, continue to do it great."

The 21-year-old guard was a member of the Select Team before last week. He quickly has become one of the standouts through camp and appears to be a lock for the World Cup roster. Not only is he the fastest player on the team and possibly the entire league, but he also has the ability to play defense at an elite level.

During last week’s scrimmage against the Select Team, he was a disruptive force, finishing with three steals and two blocks in just 15 minutes of action.

“For him, defense is his priority right now,” Fox said. “We know we have the talent to score the ball, but we know we’ll win games with defense.”

Team USA has a friendly against Spain on Friday evening which might give a glimpse into how Popovich and his staff intend to use Fox moving forward.

[RELATED: Kings' Fox, Barnes building strong bond at Team USA camp]

Even if his Team USA experience ends before the squad jumps on a plane for Australia and then China, it’s clear that Fox is taking to the coaching, absorbing as much as possible and trying to improve his game through this process.