Monday, July 13, 2009

"Christmas" comes late for the rookie free agent

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA (Phanatic Magazine) - Sitting back, surveying things and cherry-
picking an outcome isn't exactly the worst thing that could happen in life.

I think we would all like the opportunity to do exactly that once or twice,
but that mentality is a tough sell to a projected NBA player that was passed
over in the draft.

For aspiring professional players, the draft is like "Christmas" morning.
Sure, being picked 57th by one of the league's doormats guarantees absolutely
nothing, save a great story to tell your grandchildren but, to a man, every
player would rather be selected, even if it plays against their chances of
reaching the big time.

An agent for a borderline NBA player will tell you that once a certain number
passes, not getting drafted is a better option since you can pick and choose
where you go.

If you are a monster on the glass, look for a team that needs rebounding. If
you can shoot the ball, explore teams that need help from the perimeter. If
your calling card is defense, give Gregg Popovich a call.

Most thought former Temple star Dionte Christmas would be snared some time in
the second round of last month's draft, but as each pick came and went, the
former All-Atlantic 10 shooting guard went through the ignominy of hearing all
60 players selected without getting his congratulatory phone call.

"It was probably the worst night of my life," Christmas told a local
Philadelphia newspaper. "My mom doesn't show much emotion, but my dad and
girlfriend were real upset."

While Christmas was understandably dejected over his snub, it also likely
improved his chances of playing in the NBA next season. Instead of being
forced into a team's training camp, the 6-foot-5, 200-pound Philadelphia
native could seek out a team that needs what he brings to the table.

When asked what part of his game needs the most work, Christmas was honest on
a recent conference call. "Ball-handling and being able to create and get in
the lane more," the guard said. He was just as adamant on what part of his
game is the most NBA-ready, "My jump shot," Christmas confidently said.

So, the sharp-shooter chose a couple of teams to toil with this summer, the
hometown 76ers, a team in desperate need of perimeter defense and three-point
shooters, and the Los Angeles Clippers, a club in desperate need of...well,

Dionte averaged about 20 minutes a game for a woeful 0-5 Philadelphia/New
Jersey hybrid team in the recently completed Orlando Summer League. He
struggled early but broke out for 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 4-
of-6 from beyond the arc in last Wednesday's game against the Magic. Christmas
followed that up with a 10-point performance against Oklahoma City before
jetting to Nevada to play for the Clippers in the Las Vegas Summer League,

"I think I got a great chance," Christmas said of possibly landing with the
Sixers. "They're looking for shooters and hardworking players, and I fit that
mold. I'd love to spend my professional career in Philadelphia. I think I have
a great opportunity in front of me."

And don't underestimate the possible marketing opportunities for what is a
floundering club in Philly. The Sixers drafted UCLA's Jrue Holiday in the
first round of the draft and could be sporting an all-winter wonderland
backcourt of Holiday and Christmas for a few minutes a night come December.

Aaron McKie, another former Temple star who is currently an assistant with the
Sixers, has already taken a keen interest in Christmas.

"I don't make the decisions upstairs," McKie said. "If those guys call and it
was left up to me, absolutely (I would like to have him in Philadelphia).
Either way I'm going to continue to tell him to work hard and help him as much
as I can."

"The past couple days I've been glued to (McKie)," Christmas added while in
Orlando. "I've been talking to him about things, mistakes I've been making,
some of the things I've been doing good, things I need to improve, stuff like
that. He gives great advice."

Christmas may have gotten a stocking full of coal on June 25, but I have a
feeling Saint Nick will be making up for things come November when Dionte
finds himself on an NBA roster.

"Coming in, I talked to a lot of guys, like (ex-Temple players) Mardy
(Collins) and Lynn Greer," Christmas said. "Everything has been what I
expected. Guys are quicker, stronger, everybody is paying attention to every
detail out here because if you don't you'll get burnt. Guys are very skilled
out here; everybody's good."

Everybody is good in the NBA and sometimes "Christmas" just comes a little
late for the rookie free agent.

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