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September 22, 2018

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Happy’ with decision, Brandon McCoy makes pro debut at NBA summer league

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Steve Marcus

Former UNLV Rebel Brandon McCoy, now with the Milwaukee Bucks, waits to enter a game against the Detroit Pistons during the NBA summer league at Cox Pavilion Friday, July 6, 2018.

2018 NBA Summer League: Brandon McCoy

Former UNLV Rebel Brandon McCoy plays with the Milwaukee Bucks against the Detroit Pistons during the NBA Summer League tournament at the Cox Pavilion Friday, July 6, 2018. Launch slideshow »

Brandon McCoy is a professional basketball player, and that’s all he has ever really wanted to be.

The former UNLV star took the court as a pro for the first time on Friday at Cox Pavilion as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks’ summer league team, and while there is still a long way to go before he can call himself an NBA player, McCoy has no regrets about his much-criticized decision to make the jump after just one year at UNLV.

“I’m just happy to be in this position I’m in,” McCoy said.

McCoy realizes his road to an NBA career will be a hard one. The easy path disappeared on draft night, when 60 picks came and went without his name being called. Now the 7-footer will have to prove himself every step of the way if he wants to stick in the league.

He said he has already put his draft-night disappointment behind him and that he is now focused entirely on making it to the NBA.

"Everyone wants to hear their names get called, but God didn’t want it that way," he said. "So I said, 'Next thing,' and whatever happens, happens. Gratefully, the Bucks called me and said they wanted me to play on their team, and I took the opportunity and I ran with it.”

Nothing is going to be handed to him. McCoy came off the bench on Friday and checked in for the first time with 2:52 left in the first quarter. He didn’t get his first offensive touch until there were less than 40 seconds left, when he drew a foul under the hoop (he missed the two subsequent free throws). He got one more touch in the second quarter and traveled, at which point he was subbed out. He didn’t play again until the closing minutes of the Bucks’ blowout win.

At UNLV last year, Marvin Menzies would have thrown a fit if more than two minutes of game time elapsed without McCoy getting a look on offense. Jordan Johnson would have made a point to involve him in the pick-and-roll. Shakur Juiston would have found him with a high-low pass. McCoy was the focal point. But there are no such advocates for McCoy now. The pro game is ruthless, and there are 13 other players on the Bucks’ summer league roster clawing at the same goal as McCoy — entry into the elite private club that is the NBA. That means fewer minutes, fewer shot attempts and fewer chances to prove he belongs.

While McCoy didn’t make much of his first summer-league opportunity — zero points and one rebound in 13 minutes — he remains determined to show he belongs.

“[I’m] really just learning the game,” McCoy said. “It’s a faster pace. I feel like I got better out there. I didn’t get to score because I didn’t play a long time, but when I was out there I tried to make the biggest impact I could with the amount of time I was given.”

It’s impossible to say which way McCoy’s career will go at this point. Two players who share very similar origin stories — former UNLV big men Khem Birch and Chris Wood — provide contrasting examples. Birch left UNLV after his junior year and went undrafted in 2014, and after four years of toil overseas and in the G-League, he finally signed his first guaranteed NBA contract last week, agreeing to a one-year deal with the Orlando Magic that will pay him $1.38 million next year. Wood left UNLV after his sophomore year and famously went undrafted in 2016, and even after dominating the G-League to the tune of 23.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game last year, he’s still seeking a guaranteed NBA contract.

Birch is the success story, albeit a modest one. Wood is still looking to break through. Both can testify as to how hard McCoy will have to work and how long he may have to stick with it in order to reach the NBA.

Wood is playing with the Bucks in summer league and actually started at center in front of McCoy on Friday. He said he has offered advice and encouragement to McCoy.

“Me and him talked when he went undrafted,” Wood said. “We kind of had the similar situation in terms of him supposed to go first round and stuff like that, but he’s doing good. I think it will pan out for him if he stays the course and just keeps working.”

Milwaukee will next play on Sunday, and again on Monday. After Friday’s underwhelming debut performance, every minute will be critical for McCoy going forward. If he stops scrapping or stops competing for a single possession, it could be the difference between realizing his pro dreams one day or washing out in the minor leagues.

McCoy is prepared for the hard road ahead.

“All I know is I’m going to work as hard as I can, and whatever happens, happens,” he said. “I’m not worried about nothing else.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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