76ers

The unlikely reunion for Robert Covington and Jacob Pullen

The unlikely reunion for Robert Covington and Jacob Pullen

Robert Covington and Jacob Pullen already have been on road trips around the league this season. Monday's game in Chicago is different. The longtime friends are in their hometown, together, as NBA teammates.

The relationship between Covington and Pullen goes far beyond being teammates on the Sixers this season. They met when Pullen was in ninth grade, Covington in seventh. The two could have been teammates at Proviso West High School, but Pullen transferred to Proviso East, the school where players including Doc Rivers and Michael Finley competed.

They watched each other's basketball careers develop, technically as rivals but more so in appreciation of one another's game.

Covington summed up the fiery point guard with just two words. 

"Walking bucket," he said in a co-interview with Pullen.

Pullen noted the skills that have earned Covington a place in the league and recently a lucrative contract extension.

"With his size in high school, he could play defense like he plays defense now," Pullen said. "But you didn't see too many guys that were 6-5, 6-6 in high school that shot the ball like that. He was playing different positions on the court. By the time he got to his junior and senior year and I was in college, even though he didn't go to a high major school, you could still see him standing out at the high school level as being better than most of the players in our area for sure."

They took different routes after high school. Pullen went on to Kansas State, where he became the leading scorer in school history and won the 2011 Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award for the nation's top senior 6-feet tall or under. Pullen went undrafted and compiled an accolade-filled resume overseas. This season, he decided to turn down international offers and give the NBA a shot, signing a two-way contract with the Sixers. 

Covington played college ball at Tennessee State. He wasn't sure if basketball would lead to a long-term career, so he focused in on an exercise science degree as a backup plan. Covington fought his way through the then-D-League, earning 2014 Rookie of the Year honors. His career has been marked by the transformation from underdog to starting small forward.  

"A lot of people don't make it out of our neighborhood, especially as far as basketball," Pullen said. "It's good to see somebody that I've known and see him go through what he's gone through to get where he's at now." 

Covington welcomed Pullen to Philadelphia when he joined the team this fall. He showed Pullen the ropes of the city and gave him a place to spend time outside of his temporary hotel room. Having a tour guide is helpful, but their relationship is even more beneficial on the court. 

The two often can be seen working on shooting drills together late after practice and shootaround. Because Pullen gets most of his playing time in the G League, he's there to offer Covington words of encouragement from the bench when Covington comes off the court. 

"We already have that bond being from Chicago, both being from an area where there's so much negativity going on," Covington said. "For us to prosper, make it through, one thing that always stands out, we've always got to make sure we keep each other up because there's so much negative stuff that's coming around."

For all the varying roads they went down to get to this point, Covington and Pullen are heading into the United Center playing for the same NBA team.

"It's amazing," Pullen said. 

Watch the video above of Covington and Pullen to hear more about the heated games between their high schools.

Brett Brown states Sixers' goal for new season: 'We want to play in the NBA Finals'

Brett Brown states Sixers' goal for new season: 'We want to play in the NBA Finals'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown gave the Sixers a chance to digest their first team meal Friday and get a good night of sleep before announcing his hopes for the 2018-19 season.

“We want to play in the NBA Finals,” Brown said of what he shared with the players right before Saturday’s practice to open training camp. “We could have played in the NBA Finals. I understand the magnitude of that statement, but I stand by it and I own it. 

“It’s our goal to go play in an NBA Final. It’s a respect of championship habits. It’s a respect of each other. There are a lot of pieces that clearly have to be involved for us to achieve such a high goal but that’s our goal.”

Sure, the bar for every head coach entering a new season should be playing for a championship. But Brown truly believes it and knows his roster is one of precious few around the league with the weapons to potentially pull it off.

So does that mean the Sixers will now get ahead of themselves and start thinking about the postseason long before that deserves to be a thought in their minds? Not exactly, although the joy of getting back to that point a season ago and the pain of their exit are emotions they want to carry forward.

Brown laid out what needs to happen for the Sixers to make him look like a prophet, namely good health, attention to detail and a bit of luck to help navigate through the top dogs in the Eastern Conference of Boston and Toronto.

Still, more than anything else, the head coach made it clear that the guys must maintain a day-by-day approach.

Dare we say the Sixers still have to trust the process?

“I feel like the lessons we all learned from the playoffs last year will put us in better shape,” Brown said. “As you’ve heard me say, trying to start where we ended. You recognize the things that you need work on. You recognize the things, just the atmosphere that the playoffs bring. And you better deal with that from October, September to incrementally set the table for trying to achieve the goal that I just shared with you all.”

With 11 players back from last season’s team and hungry to take the next step in the overall progression, Brown didn’t have to do much convincing in the locker room.

“I think we have two of the best players in the NBA, a group of guys around them whose skills complement them,” JJ Redick said. “Hopefully we’ll find out next spring what we learned about the playoffs last year. I think if you just have the expectation that young players can make leaps playing in their second year, in their fourth year, that we should be one of a handful of teams in the East that have a chance of playing in the Finals.”

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Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz together? Expect to see it a lot more

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Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz together? Expect to see it a lot more

CAMDEN, N.J. — In their limited time together last season, playing Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz together didn’t seem like the best idea. Both players were dangerous in transition and attacking the paint, but both had suspect jumpers. Brett Brown only played the pair together for 51 minutes.

Expect to see a lot more of the former No. 1 picks sharing the court this season.

“We were on the same team most of the time,” Simmons said Saturday after Day 1 of Sixers training camp. “There were a couple plays where you get the ball up the floor to get it started. The first play he’s going to drive down and come off the curl, curl offense, and get to the rim. That’s exactly what I did, got to the rim and scored. Playing with him is easy. He plays the game the right way.”

If the work Simmons and Fultz each did in the offseason to improve their shots paid off, playing the two together isn't such a crazy idea. Fultz’s work with trainer Drew Hanlen is well documented, and he seems confident in his game. Simmons worked on his shot with his brother Liam. Saturday, he went into more detail on the mechanical changes he’s made.

“Just getting the ball to my left side; I was bringing it over to my right a lot,” Simmons said. “And getting underneath it and getting my thumb off the ball.” 

When he shot free throws after practice, Simmons’ focus on keeping his elbow locked in and on the left side of his body was evident.

Brown acknowledged Simmons’ shot is still a work in progress, but he’s been encouraged by what he’s seen. 

“Eighteen-footers, look at the rim,” Brown said. “Look at the rim. If you’re open, shoot it. The notion that he was going to come back after the summer, like, ‘wow, he’s really shooting a lot of threes …’ The reality of the summer was going to be looking at the rim and if people backed off you, to find a way to feel confident and comfortable punishing that. I think that he’s getting there. I think that his confidence and just body language, eye contact, looking at the target, has improved.”

One creative solution Brown mentioned that could allow Simmons and Fultz to play together more would be occasionally putting Simmons at the power forward spot. That could allow Fultz to run the offense, with Simmons serving as a point forward of sorts out of the post. 

The 6-foot-10 Simmons wasn’t very efficient in the post last season, recording 0.69 points per possession, 17th percentile in the NBA. But he was working on his game in the mid and low-post after practice in a spirited one-on-one session with Robert Covington. 

With that kind of athleticism and explosiveness, Simmons is clearly capable of being a better post player than he showed his rookie season. 

Ultimately, if the progress Simmons and Fultz appear to have made with their jumpers translates to the regular season, it may not take a ton of innovation for Brown to play the two together.

Just put two dynamic offensive players with improved jumpers on the floor and let them do their thing.

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