Shake Milton is an unlikely source of advice on playing in the NBA.
Yet, as the 22-year-old rookie headed to the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday afternoon for his second game of the day, he found himself offering a few words of wisdom to another 22-year-old rookie.
He was riding with Haywood Highsmith, who’d just signed a two-way contract at the Sixers’ facility in Camden, New Jersey (see story). A few hours earlier, Highsmith (seven points, eight rebounds) and Milton (33 points, eight assists) had played in the Delaware Blue Coats’ 119-108 win over Raptors 905.
“Just told him to be ready,” Milton said. “At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. It’s not that hard once you get on the floor and get those jitters out. So I just told him to stay ready, and he was.”
Milton and Highsmith became the 25th and 26th players to ever play in a G-League game and an NBA game on the same day, as both saw action in the Sixers’ 132-115 win over the Wizards (see observations).
Even after talking with Milton, Highsmith, a product of Division II Wheeling Jesuit, was still processing the fact that he was in the NBA.
A crowd of approximately a dozen reporters hovered around his locker before the game, and he shook the hand of every one. Then he tried his best to answer their questions.
“This is crazy,” he said. “I don’t even think it’s hit me yet. I don’t know what to feel or think. The feeling is excitement, but it’s just a lot of feeling and a lot of thoughts.”
When head coach Brett Brown talked before the game, it sounded as if Highsmith would get to soak in the game from the bench, while Milton would see significant minutes with JJ Redick sidelined by lower-back tightness.
Yet, with the game in hand, Highsmith saw the floor.
On Nov. 30, Milton had nailed his first NBA shot, a three-pointer from the right wing in a blowout win over Washington.
Tuesday, Highsmith curled around a pin-down screen from Jonah Bolden, received a pass from Milton on the left wing and let it fly on his first NBA touch. He drained a three-pointer.
“It was the reaction you dream about your whole life, that you think about as a kid,” Highsmith said. “It’s something I’ll always definitely remember.”
It was the culmination of an improbable rise to the highest level.
Before the game, Highsmith explained that he’d had Division I interest from a few schools out of Archbishop Curley in Baltimore, Maryland, including Long Island and Richmond, but they wanted him to spend a year at prep school to develop.
He decided to go to Wheeling Jesuit in West Virginia, where he played for four years. The Sixers invited him to summer league minicamp, then cut him before departing for Las Vegas.
Highsmith eventually made the Blue Coats, and he’s impressed in 21 G-League games, averaging 13.8 points on 39.4 percent three-point shooting, 6.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
He thinks he has what it takes to stick in the NBA.
“My game has always been translatable to the NBA game, I think I just had to develop more in a few areas,” he said. “Just develop more, just keep working. I’m versatile, 6-7, can switch onto people, shoot the three — that’s a pretty good game for an NBA player. I knew it was there, just needed to take a couple more steps.”
As for Milton, he played a career-high 20 minutes vs. the Wizards, with four points, four rebounds and three assists.
While he did commit his first NBA turnover, he’s only coughed the ball up once in 75 NBA minutes.
In stoic fashion, he downplayed the physical toll of playing 58 minutes in a day.
“I feel good,” he said. “Just between seeing the massage therapist and doing the cold tub, my body feels good.”
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