Clippers focused, raring to start Summer League play

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PLAYA VISTA — Player development coach Beau Levesque sauntered over to rebound for Trey McGowens early Tuesday afternoon, getting to know the rookie guard from Nebraska, chatting with him about their live sports experiences.

In less than a week, McGowens – like the six other rookies on the Clippers’ Summer League roster – will experience live professional basketball for the first time in Las Vegas. The Clippers take the court for the first of five games on Saturday night (6:30 p.m.) at Cox Pavilion against Memphis (NBA TV).

An eighth rookie – Jason Preston – is a Summer League veteran but an NBA Year 1, having suffered a foot injury just before training camp last season, ligament damage that delayed his NBA dreams.

After averaging 9 points, 4.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds during 2021 Summer League play, Preston spent the rest of the 2021-22 slate watching and learning – and bulking up, putting on 15 pounds (to 196) since his Las Vegas debut last year. “I knew it, they knew it, it was something I had to do,” he said.

Now, with a second shot at his first season right around the corner, the 22-year-old from Ohio University smiled broadly as he took a seat before reporters Tuesday at Honey Training Center.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve done something like this,” Preston beamed, noting, with a laugh, that it felt “pretty good.”

Jason Preston reflects on having to sit out last season. pic.twitter.com/Xos5vm3MxI

— Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) July 5, 2022

Weighing in at 198 pounds, 10 heavier himself, Brandon Boston Jr., had sauntered over moments before, in midseason form with the media: “Hellooo. How y’all doin’?”

And how was he – just 20 years old and with 51 NBA games under his belt, by far the most on the Clippers’ summer roster – doin’? “Great, can’t complain.”

Boston and Preston – as well as Moussa Diabate, who arrived in L.A. shortly after the Clippers selected the Michigan forward with the 43rd overall pick in last month’s NBA draft – have been among the regulars at the team’s training facility this offseason.

“All those young guys have been in the gym,” Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations, said on NBA draft night. “We’ve had anywhere from nine to 11 guys every day in the gym and it’s an unbelievable atmosphere … they come in and they work. Our performance staff is doing a great job with our players and it’s a great balance between veteran players, young players. You just see an urgency and a drive.”

As serious as those offseason sessions have been, it was officially back to business on Tuesday, when the Clippers welcomed back Boston, Preston and Reggie Perry, a guard who the Clippers drafted 57th overall out of Mississippi State in 2020.

They also welcomed in McGowens, as well as a cast that includes Utah State’s Justin Bean and Georgia Tech’s Michael Devoe.

Shaun Fein, the Clippers’ lead player development mind, will be the Clippers’ head coach in Las Vegas, where he intends to have his group of mostly newcomers playing a recognizable brand of Clippers basketball: “We want to play fast but under control, if that makes sense? Again, a big emphasis on getting into the paint, creating closeout situations, putting the defense on their heels. And then just playing together … getting everybody involved, getting everybody touches, get paint touches.”

He said he also expects Boston and Preston to showcase what they’ve been working on behind the scenes, especially defensively.

“They put in the work of our schemes and how we’re gonna play and the physicality of it,” Fein said. “So for them to get on the court next season, that’s gonna be the focus for them. We know they’re talented on the offensive end, but can they do it on the defensive end?”

Preston was starting to get the hang of that by the close of Summer League last season. He’ll try to pick up where he left off.

“I did it before, so I know a little bit more going into it,” he said. “So I’m really excited for this second go-round.”

Boston is excited to see Preston back on the court too, he said.

“Great player, smart player, he knows where everybody is at on the floor,” Boston said, saluting his teammate’s work ethic. “He is in here, the first one in here, almost the last one to leave. That is all I can ask from a player, somebody who is disciplined and willing to work.”

G LEAGUE NAME CHANGE

Going forward, the Clippers’ G League contingent will be known as the Ontario Clippers. They’ll continue to play home games at Toyota Arena through the 2023-24 season.

Since the developmental team’s first season in 2017, it had been known as the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario; the band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs that runs the Agua Caliente Casino Resorts was the team’s presenting sponsor.

Last season, they finished with a 22-11 (.667) record and went to the G League postseason for the first time, reaching the Western Conference finals.

Jason Preston and Moussa Diabaté get going ahead of Summer League. pic.twitter.com/Axr8ZEqPhC

— Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) July 5, 2022

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