When the Sixers begin training camp in late September, Jaden Springer will only have been 19 years old for a few days.
Though he’ll be the youngest player on the team, Springer plans to show he already has on-court value.
“Off rip, I feel I’ll be able to bring some toughness and physicality on both ends of the court,” he said Saturday morning in an introductory press conference via Zoom. “I also feel like I can be a secondary playmaker — whatever you need me to do. I can shoot the ball. Whatever the team will need, I feel I can make that step.”
If none of those qualities manifest on the court in Springer’s rookie year, the Sixers won’t mind. President of basketball operations Daryl Morey is a fan of Springer’s potential but not expecting him to immediately knock out more experienced players from the Sixers’ rotation.
One way for young players to earn NBA minutes is through undeniably excellent defense à la Matisse Thybulle. Sterling enters the league with a reputation as a strong, committed on-ball defender. He posted a 2.7 steal percentage in his one year at Tennessee, too, good for 12th in the SEC.
“It’s just something I’ve always done since I was a little kid,” he said. “I’ve always been able to play defense. I feel like it really comes naturally.”
Training camp won’t be Springer’s first interaction with Tobias Harris, a one-and-done player for the Vols 10 years ago.
“He reached out to me after I got drafted,” Springer said, “just congratulating me and telling me he just can’t wait to get us together and lock in, really. He hit me up a couple of times during the season, motivating me, telling me, ‘You got it, bro, just keep working’ and stuff like that.”
Harris also sent a congratulatory text message to Charles Bassey, the Western Kentucky big man said.
Even before Saturday’s press conference, Bassey had been in Philadelphia to work with his trainer, Drew Hanlen. Joel Embiid is another one of Hanlen’s clients. Bassey recalled a 5-on-5 scrimmage organized by Hanlen in which he played against Embiid as an 18-year-old, noting he “learned a lot from him.”
Filip Petrušev, the other frontcourt prospect the Sixers drafted in Round 2, will likely spend next season overseas, according to Morey. Bassey, meanwhile, is eager to test himself against Embiid and keep expanding his game. The Conference USA Player of the Year his junior season, Bassey averaged 17.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.1 blocks, and he converted 18 of 59 three-pointers (30.5 percent). Bassey thinks he’s made rapid progress as a shooter since then.
“When I came here to work out with (the Sixers), when they saw me making shots — when they saw me making threes — they were surprised,” he said. “They were just surprised how quickly I improved on my shooting. … They were shocked; they were just excited. My threes were just going in. Even though I missed (some), you’re going to make and miss threes, but they didn’t see any frustration and I was just going with it. They were excited, and I can’t wait to start working with them. I can’t wait.”
Bassey, who’s from Lagos, Nigeria, has followed an incredible path to the NBA. A local basketball coach ran into him selling chicken on the side of the road and, impressed by his height, got the 12-year-old to switch from soccer to basketball. He moved to the United States at 14, became a top high school recruit and considered entering the draft after his freshman season at Western Kentucky. He stayed in school and suffered a tibial plateau fracture in December of 2019.
“It’s a tough injury,” he said. “It was great, just coming back from an injury and doing what I did. I never doubted myself and I never doubted my work ethic. I knew I was going to come back better than ever. I never doubted myself.”
Neither Bassey nor Springer should have to wait long for their initial crack at professional basketball. The Sixers’ first summer league game is scheduled for Aug. 9 in Las Vegas.