With the last bits of celebratory confetti still lurking about, the Miami Heat wrapped up practice Saturday afternoon as they made final preparations for the Orlando Summer League tournament that starts the following day with a game against the Utah Jazz.
A largely unfamiliar group of players supplanted the usual cast of characters at the practice court housed within the AmericanAirlines Arena. Jarvis Varnado went from being a member of the championship squad to joining this year's Summer League team in a matter of two weeks, seeking improvement in his still-raw game. Last year's draft pick Justin Hamilton looked good on the floor, knocking down jump shots with regularity as he worked with a pair of Heat assistant coaches. Though a hamstring injury is keeping him out of Summer League, he will be monitored throughout the offseason with an invitation to training camp a possibility. Draft day acquisition James Ennis was also present and getting work done in the hopes he can secure a spot at camp as well.
But perhaps the most intriguing player at practice was Myck Kabongo. The quick point guard out of Texas certainly has a lot to prove in his quest to join the NBA. Even though he went undrafted, he's now learning from one of the most respected coaching staffs in the NBA and he feels blessed for having the opportunity to impress them.
"I just feel like everyone's journey is different," he said. "I don't see it as a roadblock or anything, as some people would see it. I think it's a blessing in disguise. For me to be here today and be a part of the Heat Summer League, I think it's great for me. Things happen and I'm here today, you can never judge what God has planned for me. So I'm just blessed to be in this position."
Kabongo views Draft Day last week as a "minor setback" and one likely brought upon by his up-and-down play at Texas and a forgettable sophomore season that was largely lost due to an NCAA suspension after he accepted airfare from current Cavs player Tristan Thompson for a private workout in Cleveland that was arranged by his future agent Rich Paul. The Canadian point guard expressed some disappointment about going undrafted but isn't complaining about where his path to the NBA has taken him right now.
"I had no idea really because I only played 11 games (in Texas after the suspension). I just went into the workouts working hard, I thought I did well in my workouts but unfortunately that's what happened. For me to be here in this great organization...they do everything here first-class. I'm just happy to be around something like that.
"I know I'm not a polished player, that's for sure," he continued. "I know I work hard and I'm going to get there one day. It's just that everyone's journey is a little different. I'm going to show that I compete at every possession, I can affect the game at both ends of the court and I'm a leader. So that's all I'm going to show."
"Big upside and a lot of potential" is how Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra described Kabongo after practice, which assistant coach Dan Craig was in charge of.
"Our organization has a history of uncovering guys that just needed the right fit, the right timing, the right place," Spoelstra observed. "We feel with the practices that we have and training camp...we'll have ample time to at least take a look and see."
So what will the coaching staff see?
"I feel like I have a good basketball IQ," Kabongo noted when asked what he could bring to the table. "I know the game, I've been playing and watching it for a long time. I know I can play hard. That's a skill. A lot of people can't play hard all the time. I pass the ball pretty well, so that's what I do."
As for not getting drafted, he prefers to let his game do the talking to prove why he belongs in the NBA.
"Time will tell. It all depends on me and what I do. I'm not wrapped up in all of that. I'm just going to play basketball and enjoy the game."