Just over two weeks ago, Dwight Buycks started his summer league by scoring 12 points and dishing 13 assists. When Oklahoma City played its final game that Friday, he didn't suit up. On the strength of his four games -- and his MVP season last year in the French Pro A League -- the Toronto Raptors offered him a one-year, fully-guaranteed contract. He accepted.
"It happened pretty fast," Buycks says, admitting the timing of it actually caught him off guard. "I at least would have gave it until the end of the week."
Buycks is sitting in a cramped locker room at the Thomas & Mack Center, having just played his final summer league game for the Raptors. Against the Phoenix Suns on Saturday, he erupted for 28 points on 11-for-20 shooting, adding four rebounds and four assists. As Buycks, Vegas summer league's leader in points (23.0) and assists (7.0) per game, tells a group of reporters about his journey, his teammates compliment him at the other side of the room. After this he'll go home to Milwaukee and spend his time working out at Marquette, his alma mater, then it'll be time for training camp and his first NBA season.
In a matter of months it'll still say "TORONTO" on his jersey but he'll be in an entirely different environment.
"Once I see my name in the locker room, I think that's when I'll feel like yeah, that's it right there," Buycks says. "It'll be an NBA dream come true."
Summer league is about opportunity. It's a chance to break out in front of executives, coaches and scouts. It's a time to prove your worth and change your reputation. Buycks went undrafted in 2011, accepted an invite to Phoenix Suns training camp and didn't make the roster -- the perception was that he could score but not distribute. Before starring in France, he went to the D-League and Belgium. He played in Orlando and Vegas last year with the Thunder and the Spurs, but it wasn't anything like this.
Most years, there's a player or two like Buycks, someone who makes an impact after having his dreams dashed and persisting. Someone who fell out of the draft or out of the league, someone who knows what it means to sacrifice. Someone who won't take an NBA contract for granted. Many players who competed in summer league will earn training camp invites, but so far only Buycks and Phil Pressey, an undrafted rookie point guard out of Missouri who latched onto the Boston Celtics, have inked guaranteed contracts. For the 24-year-old Buycks, the key to making it after a setback is what you do afterward.
"Are you gonna stop?" Buycks says. "By not getting drafted, are you gonna stop and just say, ‘Well, that's what I wanted to do, it didn't happen so now I'm just going to wait,' or are you just gonna say, ‘Okay, I didn't get drafted, now let's get to work for the next day and see what we can do and see if something else can happen?'"
Buycks says he didn't think about Plan B this summer. He didn't consider whether he'd try his luck in the D-League or go back overseas if there was no NBA interest. He stayed in the moment, focusing on each practice, each workout session.
"[He] earned everything, and I respect his battle and his grind," Raptors power forward Quincy Acy says after heaping praise upon Buycks for his basketball IQ, competitiveness and unselfishness. "Can't say enough about him."
It took only three games with Toronto -- he missed the first two because he had to have a physical and officially sign his contract -- but Buycks feels like he's found a home. The young Raptors from summer league are excited to play with him during the season. The vets who watched have introduced themselves.
"It felt like we was family from the start," he says.
While in France, Buycks couldn't watch much NBA basketball. He'd try, but the six-hour time difference made it tough. He'd get up at 9 a.m. for practice and watch highlights on NBA.com, hoping all the while that this year would be the year.
"You think about it a lot, you try to think about your next move," Buycks says.
He did a lot of that in the past two years. Now he knows where he's going and he's extremely excited about the destination.
As the Raptors roster stands, it looks like Buycks will battle with the recently signed D.J. Augustin for minutes behind starter Kyle Lowry. With Augustin's five years of NBA experience and top-10 pick pedigree, Buycks might be considered the underdog. If Buycks' last couple of weeks tell us anything, though, it's that these things can change quickly.