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.