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JEREMY LAMB FINALLY GOT HIS NBA SHOT

In SB Nation on February 9, 2016 at 10:58 am
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Photo courtesy of Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

As practice wound down in early January, many of Jeremy Lamb’s teammates rested on the sideline with ice bags on their calves, thighs or feet. Others stretched. Some engaged in media interviews. But the fourth-year Hornets guard wanted to keep shooting until the team’s bus arrived, as Charlotte was in Westwood, Calif., preparing for a game against the Clippers the next day.

Catch. Shoot. Catch. Dribble. Shoot. Crossover pull-ups, long threes, deep twos, between the legs mid-range elbows, free throws — with each shot Lamb extended his arm, flicked his wrist and curled his fingertips over as if pulling a cookie out of a jar. The ball continued to glide through the net and Lamb didn’t seem to want to stop.

“From the moment he stepped foot in Charlotte, even back in the summer time, I felt like he came to Charlotte with a worker’s-like attitude,” Hornets forward Marvin Williams said. “He was in the gym every single day, he was in the weight room every single day.”

Lamb, who dropped 18 points and 13 boards off the bench against the Clippers on Jan. 9, knows how precious each shot is. Spending the last three years in Oklahoma City and in the D-League, Lamb questioned if his young NBA career was nearing its end. That’s why the 23-year-old is shooting jumper after jumper, determined to make a mark with his new team. The reserve is averaging a career-high 10.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 21 minutes.

“He’s a guy that can really go in and get hot and really change the game in our second unit,” Hornets center Frank Kaminsky said.

A spark that drains a three, intercepts a pass or rips down a rebound, Lamb is helping the Hornets (26-26) fight for a playoff spot.

“When I was in OKC, I wasn’t playing and everybody was telling me, ‘It’s going to pay off. It’s going to pay off. Just keep working,’” Lamb said, finally taking a seat to cool down. “I really just tried to earn my keep and just keep working hard … At times it seemed like it wasn’t paying off and hard work was not doing anything. But hard work always pays off.” (READ MORE).

FIRST DESTINY LITTLETON DONNED A MASK, AND THEN SHE TOOK OFF

In espnW on January 21, 2016 at 8:36 am
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Courtesy of USA basketball

Destiny Littleton couldn’t breathe. Wearing an elevation mask that restricted her oxygen intake, the 5-foot-9 shooting guard sprinted up and down a steep hill behind The Bishop’s School on Prospect Street near the beach in La Jolla, California.

Up. Down. Up. Down. Littleton put one foot in front of the other and continued to accelerate, even though she would have given anything to rip off the mask. Cars whizzed by. The sea breeze was hardly consolation in the 85-degree heat.

“That mask right there?” Littleton said, shaking her head, pointing to the black and gray elevation mask with a white skull design. “That is probably my enemy.”

Bishop’s coach Marlon Wells — Littleton’s mentor — came up with the idea last April to prepare Littleton for the altitude at the USA Basketball U16 national team trials in Colorado Springs that summer.

The first few days, Littleton could hardly keep on the mask for 10 minutes before gasping for air. But she kept coming back, three to four times a week, around two in the afternoon. Her lungs worked harder. Her mental toughness increased. And once she learned to endure, she increased the altitude on her mask to challenge herself more.

“She took it to another level,” Wells said. “She just started going harder and pushing herself.”

Littleton, who helped U.S. team to a bronze medal at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Puebla, Mexico, now shoots thousands of jumpers wearing the mask, preparing to outlast the double and triple teams, and box-and-one defenses that hound her.

Defenses haven’t been able to keep up, and the junior is averaging 36.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.4 steals a night for Bishop’s (17-4). She’s the 13th-ranked prospect in the class of 2017 by HoopGurlz.

“I want to become one of the greats,” Littleton said. “I try to be the best. I think that’s what pushes me the most.”

***

Marlon Wells remembers the first time he spotted Littleton. The Bishop’s coach had heard about a seventh-grade girl who was schooling the boys at the local rec center. She could shoot, she could dribble, she could rebound.

She could also have a temper.

“Terrible,” Wells said, laughing. Littleton was fighting for position in the post when a boy fouled her. She pushed him back and received a technical foul. She’d slam the ball and argue with referees so often they came to call her “Miss Attitude.”

“She was just tough,” Wells said. “Anything would set her off.” (READ MORE).

A CAREER BACKUP FOUND HIS PURPOSE WITH THE LEAGUE-BEST WARRIORS

In SB Nation on April 15, 2015 at 11:24 am
Photo courtesy of Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Photo courtesy of Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Marreese “Mo” Speights wasn’t a star. He wasn’t a starter. He wasn’t mentioned for more than a couple sentences in opponents’ scouting reports, either. For the first month and a half of his freshman season at Florida, Speights served as a punching bag for a bunch of upperclassmen bangers named Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Chris Richard.

The two eventual NBA lottery picks and second-round selection dunked on Speights daily, posting him up and out-hustling him during practice. But Speights didn’t sulk. He sought the trio out for advice and challenged them during drills. “Mo didn’t care who he guarded,” Richard said. “He took on everybody.”

Embracing his backup role for the national-champion Gators, Speights seized the moment no matter how fleeting. He ripped down six boards in five minutes against Arkansas in the title game of the SEC Tournament and poured in 16 points in 10 minutes against Jackson State in the NCAA first round.

“He was always ready,” said Rockets guard Corey Brewer, a former Florida teammate. “He came off the bench and he gave us a spark. He worked his butt off, that was the main thing. He got better and better each day.”

After Horford, Noah and Richard departed for the NBA, Speights was thrust into the spotlight for the Gators the following season. His coaches relished his offensive gifts—the way his soft touch and size could stretch a defense—but they wanted more defensive intensity and competitive drive. Coach Billy Donovan demanded more out of Speights toward the end of the season.

“I think (Donovan) just felt this guy really needs to be pushed to his limit and beyond, more than he even thinks he can give,” said former Florida assistant Larry Shyatt, who is now the head coach at Wyoming. “You’d leave practice and Mo would be laying on the floor exhausted.”

“Mo’s attitude was phenomenal,” Shyatt added. “He kept fighting through it.”

Echoes Donnie Jones, another former assistant, who is the head coach at the University of Central Florida, “He knew everything was about learning. I think that’s the theme of why he’s been able to grow as a player. He’s always about, ‘How can I get better?'” (READ MORE.)

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