August 12, 2022

TUALATIN — Portland Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups picking assistant coach Steve Hetzel to lead the summer league team involved a complicated process.

“To be honest, I asked Chauncey if I could coach him and he said, ‘Yes,'” Hetzel said after the team’s first practice on Saturday.

OK, maybe it wasn’t that complicated. Looks like Hetzel just got to Billups office first?

“I beat everyone,” Hetzel joked. “I was there at 5:30”

Hetzel, with his eight years of experience as an NBA assistant coach, is more than qualified to lead the team during the summer session, which runs Thursday through July 17. But he said the team’s training will be a collective effort, with him simply sitting in the lead chair.

“Everyone is super involved,” Hetzel said. “It’s an opportunity for all of us to take that next seat.”

Leading such an interesting list is not a bad place for Hetzel.

The Blazers will feature their two draft picks, Shaedon Sharpe and Jabari Walker, along with four players who saw heavy action late last season when the Blazers went into full tank mode. This group consists of Keon Johnson, Brandon Williams, Trendon Watford and Greg Brown III.

Their level of experience won’t be typical of a summer league team, usually filled with rookies and young players who haven’t seen many significant minutes during the regular season.

“We have a good core group of players who are going to play with us,” Hetzel said. “So they have a lot of inside knowledge and are getting on the rails. What we say and what we have installed, they already know, so the level of execution is high.

Such experience should support the team’s goal of developing young talent while winning games.

“It’s a very important thing for us,” Hetzel said. “Not just going out there and trying to have an individual goal. We want to learn how to win games and execute both offensively and defensively. We want to see growth within the team, especially with the guys you saw in many minutes of play at the end of our season last year.

Walker, who said he had to adapt to speed, spacing and defensive patterns in his first practice, noted how experienced players were on top.

“The sets we went through, they knew right away,” Walker said. “Where to be ready to attack. You could just tell. Their physique was on point.

That level of experience, Hetzel said, should rub off on younger players.

“Any time you understand what the wait is, how to execute it, it helps tremendously.” said Hetzel. “It helps anyone who hasn’t played. Rookies work much better.

All eyes should be on Sharpe, taken with the Blazers’ seventh pick in the NBA Draft last month.

He’s about as mysterious as a rookie could be considering he spent his freshman season at Kentucky while wearing a red shirt with the intention of playing next season for the Wildcats. When his name exploded in the draft rankings, he chose to participate in the draft.

The summer league action will be the first time Sharpe has played live 5-on-5 basketball in about a year. He said he couldn’t wait to get started.

Maybe dipping someone again would be nice?

“Oh yeah, and at least in competition,” said 6-foot-6 Sharpe. “For real.”

Blazers rookie Jabari Walker after Summer League practice. July 2, 2022

Because the 5-on-5 drills he participated in during practice at Kentucky were controlled and situational, Saturday’s more intense practice marked the first time Sharpe had also been in such a setting in a year. He said he was delighted to see such action again and felt like he was just a little rusty.

“Once I started going, it was pretty cool,” he said.

Sometimes rookies can be caught trying too hard to prove themselves during the summer league. Could Sharpe?

“I’m not really worried about it,” he said. “I feel like some people hype things up. But my whole job is to go play basketball and win.

Walker said Sharpe impressed him during practice.

“He’s going to be a problem,” Walker said, noting Sharpe’s impressive three-step back. “You don’t see that too often. He is ready.

Hetzel said he would consider Sharpe’s minutes.

“I think the idea is to play it and manage it as the game goes on,” Hetzel said.

He added that Sharpe is fully fit and ready to go.

Regarding the position, Hetzel said Sharpe is a winger who will play as a full-back and small forward.

Hetzel said he has yet to decide on the starting lineup. A rough estimate would be Williams at point guard, Johnson and Sharpe at the wings, Brown up front and Watford at centre.

One power forward likely to see a ton of action is Colorado’s Walker, who came out of practice feeling like he had a lot to learn, especially on defense.

“I think it was a learning process for me,” he said. “I needed this day to prepare myself and take steps forward.”

2022 Blazers Summer League

Blazers 2022 summer league roster.

— Aaron Fentress | [email protected] | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).

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