The first audition is over for three players picked by the London Lightning in the National Basketball League of Canada (NBL-C) draft Monday (Aug. 19), but the second tryout is even harder to make the cut onto the defending champs.
The Lightning selected point guard Raheem Singleton in the first round with the 10th overall pick, 6-foot-6 power forward Willie Whitfield in the second round with the 13th overall selection and guard Colin Nickerson in the second round with the 20th choice. London didn’t have a pick in the third and final round.
“We were really emphasizing on trying to a find a guy that has strength, toughness and can play defence and we think we got three guys that probably those are the best attributes in all three guys,” said Lightning general manager Taylor Brown. “We told these guys, and they’re all young guys, that we’re going to give them a legitimate shot and in these leagues you really got to try and find a diamond in the rough and we may have that in one of these three guys.”
Both Brown and London head coach Michael Ray Richardson said there are two things they’re looking to add to the team this year.
One, is a scoring guard who is strong on defence. Two, is a big man not worried to get dirty in the paint to share some of the load with Elvin Mims and Marvin Phillips.
That’s a specific criteria, but with spots on the team looking limited it might be necessary to have a clear focus.
If the 2013 Lightning drafted trio can make the cut onto the two-time defending champs’ roster they might be completing what is looking like the impossible.
Not including this recent draft, London has picked five players in the selection process.
Three of those choices were cut in training camp. Tyrone Levett, the team’s third overall pick in 2011, played five games for London before being traded for Rodney Buford — the 2012-13 sixth man of the year. Nick Lother, the Lightning’s third-round selection in 2011, has suited up in the black-and-yellow more than any other London draft pick. He last nine games.
The London staff does know how to find “diamonds in the rough.”
In his draft year Levett was a named a second team all-star, a first team all-defence player and onto the second-team all playoff squad — but all for the Halifax Rainmen.
Isaac Kuon, a second-round London draft pick in 2011, was an NBL-C all-star in his selection year, but as a member of the Saint John Mill Rats.
Adrian Moss was originally picked by the Laval Kebs in 2012, but the Lightning traded for the point guard on draft day. In his rookie year he led London in assists.
“Is it going to be difficult for (our new draft picks to make the team)? Yes, but they have a chance,” Richardson said. “We’re not drafting them just to draft them. We want to give these kids a chance to make our basketball team.”
This might be the hardest year for any outsider to come into the London fold.
GM and coach said they’re expecting every player from last year to return to training camp, which starts Oct. 7. That is, as long as a player doesn’t get a contract from overseas that is worth while — (cough, cough) Gabe Freeman.
As of right now, Brown said, only two or three spots, if that, are available on the team.
“It’s tough when you come back to championship team that may try and concentrate on bringing guys back from that championship team as possible,” Brown added. “I don’t think any of the guys we drafted are going to be huge stars in this league, but they can be role players for sure.”
There’s not a lot of room on the Lightning roster, but there is some space. Richardson doesn’t look to be searching for a player as flashy as his shoes or as loud as his sideline banter at referees, but he is looking for something and on his team it’s always survival of the fittest.
“There’s no jobs guaranteed,” Richardson said. “If the (draft picks) come out and beat one of our guards out then so be it.”
74- players picked in three years of NBL-C draft
29- Canadians picked all-time in the draft
9- Canadians picked in the 2013 draft
2- Canadians ever picked in the draft by the London Lightning
1- Best overall pick in the draft by a Canadian when Toronto’s Alex Johnson was selected by the Ottawa Skyhawks with the first choice on Monday.