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July 9, 2013
Wyatt: I think I belong in the NBA
Khalif Wyatt knows the drill by now. He's aware of the perceived rub of his game and the questions that come with it.
Can he defend in the NBA? Will he be able to get the same shots in the league that he got in college? Will that 'old man's' game of his work in a league defined more by athleticism and upside?
Monday was a step in the right direction for the former Temple star in getting some of those questions answered in his second game as an undrafted Sixers rookie free agent in the Orlando Pro Summer League. In Philadelphia's 96-75 loss to the Indiana Pacers, Wyatt dropped a game-high 25 points on 11 of 18 shooting, including 2 of 4 from three-point range, to go with three steals, three rebounds, a blocked shot and five turnovers.
It was an encouraging sign and marked improvement from his first game, which saw him go just 4 of 15 from the floor.
"I felt good in the first game, but I just didn't knock shots down," Wyatt said in an interview with OwlScoop.com Tuesday night. "But I definitely felt more comfortable in the second game and knew I was getting into a rhythm. So I stayed aggressive and had fun."
The 6-foot-4 Wyatt was originally set to play just two Orlando summer league games with the Sixers before playing with the Dallas Mavericks' Las Vegas Summer League team from July 12-22, but the Sixers, it seems, thought enough of Wyatt to ask him to stick around until Friday, when the Orlando Pro Summer League wraps up.
"It definitely made me feel good (to be asked to stay with the team through Friday)," Wyatt said. "My agent (Stephen Piña) just felt like I would get an opportunity here to show what I can do, and he felt it would be best for me to stay here. I just have to go out and control what I can control, go out there and play hard and try to win. And you still have to take things one day at a time."
The Sixers are the only team left in the NBA without a coach, and there's somewhat of a notion out there that assistant Michael Curry is getting his audition now as the coach of the team's summer-league squad.
"He likes my game and he pushes me every day," Wyatt said when asked what kind of feedback he gets from Curry. "He's really hard on me and he wants me to be good. He's helped me a lot - him and (Sixers assistant coach and former Temple star) Aaron McKie. They're trying to get the most out of me during my time here."
After Temple's season concluded a step short of the Sweet Sixteen with a loss to top-seeded Indiana in which he scored a game-high 31 points, Wyatt decided to train at Impact Academy in Las Vegas, where he shed close to 15 pounds from his senior-season playing weight and is now down between 205 and 210 pounds, he said.
As a result, Wyatt said he feels lighter, more energetic.
"And I look better and feel better all around," Wyatt said. "And I trust my game."
At this point, that's all Wyatt can really do. He had no plans to watch the draft, didn't watch the draft and didn't necessarily expect to get drafted. When he talks about controlling what he can control, it's no more than an extension of the mantra that made him one of the better college basketball players in the country this past season.
If you want to compare Wyatt to some of his peers, he'll show you that he played his best when it mattered most. In an 83-79 win back on Dec. 22 over a then-No. 3 Syracuse team that included future Sixers' first-round draft pick and current summer league teammate Michael Carter-Williams, Wyatt scored a game-high 33 points and went a perfect 15-for-15 from the free-throw line. And in Temple's two NCAA Tournament games, against N.C. State and Indiana, Wyatt scored a combined 62 points and shot 16 of 18 from the free-throw line.
But Wyatt went undrafted and will have to prove that he is athletic enough, that he can defend well enough and can get those same shots in the NBA that were a trademark of his prolific college career.
Monday was a small step in pushing the meter closer to yes, and Wyatt is more than willing to keep proving himself - something he knew he'd have to do all along.
"For me, it's just a matter of confidence," Wyatt said. "I don't feel like an undrafted guy. I go out there feeling like I'm the best player on the court. I've got confidence in myself. I think I'm good enough. I think I belong. So it's just a matter of going out there and playing my game and just showing people.
"I feel like it's always going to be something different. First, it was I wasn't athletic enough. Then it was, I couldn't get my shot off in the NBA. Will I be able to score like I did in college? Then I go out and have a good game (Monday) and then it becomes, 'Well, he shoots too much,' or 'He had bad shot selection,' and stuff like that, so it's always going to be something. I know how to play basketball and know how to get better and know how to put in the work, so it's just a matter of going out there and having fun and playing my game."
Playing on the Sixers' Orlando Pro Summer League team has given Wyatt the opportunity to play alongside former Temple teammate Micheal Eric, who got an invite to Orlando following a rookie season in the NBA Developmental League that saw the 6-11, 240-pound center/power forward average 8.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game for the Canton Charge. Eric also averaged 17 points in three D-League playoff games.
"It's been a lot of fun," Wyatt said. "He's gotten a lot better since his Temple days. He's always been a good friend of mine. I never stopped talking to him and never fell out of contact. So when I found out that he was going to be playing with me, I was excited."
Eric had eight points on 2 of 3 shooting and six rebounds in the opener against the Houston Rockets.
"His knowledge of the game is just a lot further along than where it was," Wyatt said. "When he was at Temple, he was pretty much just a big and blocked shots and played around the rim. Now I think he's really come along and really matured as a basketball player."
And Eric is treating his friend to an occasional meal off the court.
"He's going to take me out to eat with some of that D-League money," Wyatt deadpanned.
OwlScoop.com editor John Di Carlo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @OwlScoop_com or @jdicarlo.