Tru Coleman has simply been happy for the past few days. A rising junior at Democracy Preparatory Academy at the Agassi Campus, Coleman knows what has put him in such a good mood.
For the past few days, he’s helped out as the Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder have used the Democracy Prep gym to host practices and workouts while they stay in Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League.
“This is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, for real,” Coleman said. “Pros don’t just walk up in your gym every day. That just doesn’t happen.”
The 11-day Las Vegas Summer League has lots of moving parts as 30 teams descend on the Thomas & Mack Center to play 75 games. The event requires lots of cooperation. But one of the most important resources it requires is space to practice and equipment for players to use during workouts. Local high schools have both.
“We want to be a conduit to them being comfortable, whatever that looks like,” Democracy Prep coach Cory Duke said.
Democracy Prep isn’t the only school which hosts teams during Summer League. Scroll through any NBA team’s social media feed with a working knowledge of local, high school gyms, and it’s not too hard to identify where they are practicing.
For example, a video posted by the Brooklyn Nets of an impromptu dunk contest between former UNLV wing Donovan Williams and Taze Moore features Clark’s black bleachers in the background.
The relationship between teams and schools can go back several years. Durango has hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers for the past few Summer Leagues. Coach Chad Beeten said the team made it clear to him almost a year ago that they were looking forward to returning this year.
“They just want to come back where people know them, know how they work,” Beeten said. “We want it to be a seamless process because they’ve obviously got a lot going on during the time that they’re here.”
Beeten said the teams are fairly low maintenance, simply looking for space to get some work in, clean locker rooms and good equipment, but that doesn’t stop schools from doing whatever they can to make their temporary tenants comfortable.
Democracy Prep Athletic Director Jason Gipson makes sure to get the court refurbished before every Summer League to provide a good experience.
The whole system only works because all the schools help each other. Beeten said his gym originally attracted NBA Summer League teams after a referral from another coach.
When a volleyball camp meant Durango couldn’t give the Cavaliers one of the dates they asked for this year, he sent them to Palo Verde, where one of his former assistants had become the coach.
Gipson, Duke and Beeten stress these are two-way relationships, too. The teams pay to use the space, but also give away tickets to Summer League and free gear. All three believe the real value, however, comes from being able to watch how NBA teams work.
They try to encourage their players to come observe practices. Sometimes, the high school athletes get a chance to step in and rebound, seeing just how much hard work and dedication it takes to pursue professional sports.
Coleman, for example, had the chance to talk to former Arkansas guard JD Notae, now with the Golden State Warriors, after Notae came in for a late workout. It’s a rare opportunity to watch NBA-level basketball, especially since Las Vegas doesn’t have a team.
“We want to engulf them with these types of experiences,” Gipson said.