For Philly native Tahjere McCall, working out for Sixers 'a dream'

For Philly native Tahjere McCall, working out for Sixers 'a dream'

CAMDEN, N.J. — You couldn't wipe the smile off Tahjere McCall's face if you tried.

The former Tennessee State guard was one of six prospects at the Sixers' training facility Monday morning for a pre-draft workout as the team does its due diligence on a handful of players in advance of the NBA draft when it will have four chances to potentially find a second-round wonder. At just 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds, McCall was lightly recruited out of Philadelphia's Carver High School before landing at Niagara and then eventually transferring to Tennessee State.

And although McCall's name is unlikely to be called June 22, he had a chance to show off for the team he grew up watching as a kid in North Philadelphia.

"I absolutely grew up a Sixers fan. Allen Iverson was here at the time I was growing up and you couldn't not be a Sixers fan," McCall said. "I didn't always play basketball. I was OK. I didn't play AAU, I didn't play [for my high school] until my 11th-grade year, 12th-grade year. I only had one scholarship offer, so just to be in a position now, it wasn't guaranteed. And to be in Philadelphia on my first workout, I can't write it up."

After two seasons and two different coaches in upstate New York, McCall made the move to Tennessee State, the same school that produced Robert Covington. 

Playing for the Tigers, McCall flourished, earning Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors in each of his final two seasons while also earning first-team All-OVC honors last year. He also finished second on the team in points at 14.3 per game and racked up close to three steals a night, good for sixth among all individuals in Division I basketball.

So when McCall found out that he would have the chance to put on a Sixers uniform — even if it was just a practice jersey — he was ecstatic.

"You should've seen my face when I got the text," McCall said. "It's a dream ... being home, getting to see the nice facilities and meet the coaches is just awesome."

With guys like Colorado's Derrick White, Maryland's Melo Trimble and Kentucky's Isaiah Briscoe all in the gym with McCall on Monday, the defensive stud was certainly not the most well-known of the group. Only about half of Tennessee State's games were even televised last season and in his four years of collegiate ball, McCall never got the chance to play in an NCAA Tournament game.

Nor was he the most well-rounded. Despite an excellent defensive pedigree, McCall took just 37 three-pointers last season, shooting 24.9 percent from distance and he averaged worst than 65 percent from the charity stripe.

But maybe the Sixers — the only team thus far to bring in McCall for a workout — see something in the local prospect similar to Covington, a defensive specialist in his own right who ultimately wound up going undrafted back in 2013.

"He brings toughness to the basketball court," Sixers vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley said of McCall. "He plays in a stance, he's got great length, he brings a toughness to the court. ... I think he's got to work on his offense a little bit. He's got to develop his jump shot but again, I think he's a defender and that's his elite skill."

McCall says he models his game after Spurs All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard and Grizzlies guard Tony Allen, but also Hawks forward Kent Bazemore, whose collegiate stats at Old Dominion are quite similar to those of McCall. In four seasons, Bazemore shot better than 32.1 percent from beyond the arc just once, and it wasn't until his junior year that he averaged double-figure points per game.

Still, for a guy who isn't even ranked among DraftExpress' top 100 prospects in this year's draft class, making comparisons to a couple of NBA champions and some of the league's best defenders might be a stretch. In the meantime, however, McCall is just enjoying being back home with his family and his mom's cooking — most notably, her ribs and fried chicken.

If a chance to play pro basketball does come along in the next few months, though, expect McCall to jump at the chance to do just that.

"I've always had just one opportunity to make myself, so I'm used to having one opportunity and making the most out of it," McCall said. "I didn't expect this when I was playing high school. You just think, 'I'm playing for fun,' then it keeps getting gradually better and gradually better and now, I can hopefully help my parents and do something I love to do. It's just a dream."

Sixers put bench under construction, but is second unit now any better?

Sixers put bench under construction, but is second unit now any better?

After a relatively quiet offseason, the Sixers’ roster has suddenly turned into musical chairs over the past few days.

In are Mike Muscala and Jonah Bolden. Out are Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Richaun Holmes.

Not exactly earth-shattering moves, but moves nonetheless.

Of course, all of those changes were directed at the Sixers’ bench. That’s because the team already has one of the best starting rotations in the entire NBA. The Sixers’ five-man combination of Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid was plus-20.4 points per 100 possessions in 600:01 minutes of action together last season.

The reserves were a different story. The Sixers’ bench was among the league’s worst scoring-wise in 2017-18 before buyout veterans Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova pumped life into the group. With that duo on the squad, the Sixers posted a 20-3 record to close out the regular season and made quick work of the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.

Those results changed against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Sixers’ bench was exposed defensively and smothered on offense in the five-game series.

“I’ve said on record, and I’ll say it again, I believe that anything that kind of matters, you’re probably going to bump into the Celtics,” Brett Brown said during the Sixers’ exit interviews. “So they’re always going to be sort of on our mind in relation to how do you compete with them?”

Competing with the Celtics and beating them are two very different things.

Did the Sixers’ tinkering with their bench put them any closer to knocking off their longtime rival? That’s a tough one to answer right now.

Despite shipping away Anderson, Luwawu-Cabarrot and Holmes, you can argue that the Sixers’ second unit will still be more athletic next season. A fully healthy Markelle Fultz will likely start out as the sixth man, and we know he’s got some incredible bounce to his game. Zhaire Smith already gave a glimpse of what type of athlete he is during summer league. And while 31 years old, Wilson Chandler can still rise up to throw it down.

Defensively is where that athleticism should really shine for the latter two. The rookie Smith has continually said defense is his best skill as he was named to the Big 12 All-Defensive team during his lone season at Texas Tech. Chandler possesses the ability to defend both forward spots and takes pride on that end of the floor.

Meanwhile, Muscala and Bolden aren't anywhere near leapers of Holmes' caliber. However, they are still bigger bodies that have the ability to move their feet to keep up with their man. That’s in addition to known hustlers T.J. McConnell and Amir Johnson putting forth their maximum effort guarding opponents.

But is that enough when a healthy Celtics team gets its projected roster back and rolls out a reserve lineup of Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes?

If the Sixers are unable to contain Boston’s talented starters and deep reserve blend, they might really run into problems trying to keep pace with offense of their own now that they lack a serious three-point threat outside of Redick. Belinelli and Ilyasova, who both departed moments into free agency, gave the team a one-two punch off the bench that could drain shots from anywhere. Now the only serviceable shooter in a backup role is the 6-foot-11, 240-pound Muscala (a career 37.8 percent shooter from long range). Kyle Korver, anyone?

The bench reset was necessary if the Sixers planned on getting to the next level. Is it enough to put them on the same level as the Celtics or will they remain green with envy?

We’ll see.

More on the Sixers

Sixers trade Richaun Holmes to Suns; Jonah Bolden inks 4-year contract, source confirms

Sixers trade Richaun Holmes to Suns; Jonah Bolden inks 4-year contract, source confirms

The Sixers are not quite done making moves this offseason.

The team on Friday sent big man Richaun Holmes to the Suns for cash considerations. The Sixers also signed 2017 second-round pick Jonah Bolden to a four-year deal, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark.

Yahoo! Sports' Shams Charania first reported the trade and Bolden's signing.

With these moves, the Sixers’ roster remains at 15 players, but that could change if the team finds a way to rid themselves of Jerryd Bayless’ contract — say, in a trade with Cleveland (see story).

The writing has been on the wall for Holmes. Now entering his fourth year, the 2015 second-round pick struggled to find a role in Brett Brown’s rotation last season with a healthy Joel Embiid and veteran Amir Johnson in the fold. While he offered energy, athleticism and weakside rim protection off the bench, Holmes lacked discipline defensively, something Brown hasn’t tolerated during his tenure.

Bolden will essentially take Holmes’ spot on the roster as a developmental big. With quicker feet defensively, Bolden has more versatility to guard fours. While his summer league performance was underwhelming offensively, Bolden did impress defensively, especially against No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton. It’s important to note that the third and fourth years of Bolden’s deal are not guaranteed, according to Derek Bodner of The Athletic.

Drafted by the Sixers out of Bowling Green State, Holmes flashed at times but was only able to get into 48 games this season, averaging 15.5 minutes a contest. He averaged 7.4 points and 4.2 rebounds in 156 career games with the Sixers.

A native Australian, Bolden attended UCLA for one year before heading overseas to play for FMP Beograd of the Adriatic League. As a draft and stash this past season, Bolden played for Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv and tested his skills in the EuroLeague. He averaged 7.2 points and six rebounds in 20.8 minutes a game. He’s shown flashes of a jump shot but shot just 31 percent from three this season abroad and 24 percent in summer league action.

More on the Sixers