While the Miami Heat were celebrating their victory, and the San Antonio Spurs were catching their breath after the gloriously grueling drama of the NBA Finals, there was no break in the workout regimens of Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally.
The two former UCSB stars were shooting baskets in the Thunderdome last Friday. Both are looking to improve their games — Johnson to solidify his place in the rotation of the Indiana Pacers, who drafted him in the second round a year ago; Nunnally to make his bid for the NBA after playing for the Bakersfield Jam.
Johnson offered some thoughts about his first NBA experience, which included another epic postseason series, as the Pacers took the Heat to seven games:
• “I really enjoy Indiana, love being around my team. The culture of basketball in Indiana is special.”
• “It was a great feeling to be in that Game 7 atmosphere. Seeing how hard they were playing, you wish you could get out and play.” (He had mop-up duties in the postseason.)
• “Miami had guys who stepped up and made big shots and were ready to play when their name was called. We’ve got to be the same way.”
• “We’ve got to get everybody healthy. … The bench has to be more consistent. … I have to be more consistent.”
• “B-Shaw definitely deserves to be a head coach in this league.” (Pacers assistant coach Brian Shaw, another former Gaucho, was hired Tuesday as head coach of the Denver Nuggets.)
• “They see how hard I work and trust my words when I speak.” (On why he commanded a leadership role at Indiana despite being a rookie. One of his teammates, rising star Paul George, credited Johnson’s encouragement for putting him in a positive frame of mind.)
• “[George] is a great player … his potential is just unlimited. Paul can do so many things on offense and defense.” (Johnson first encountered George in 2010 when UCSB played at Fresno State. The Gauchos won, and Johnson scored 23 points; George, 13.)
Nunnally disclosed he is aiming for the top in the NBA:
• “I’m playing in the Summer League with the Miami Heat. That’s the goal. I want it to be serious. I think the Heat might be a good place for me.”
• “I’m just a basketball fan, a fanatic … I love the game, watching it, playing it, everything.”
• “[In the NBA Finals] that man LeBron [James] made the difference. Once he steps it up, the whole team steps it up. They get more confident when he’s confident in them. They make plays. It all starts with LeBron.”
• “I’d defend [James], no problem … I won’t back down from anybody.” (Whether he’d be successful is another story; James beat the Pacers by taking the ball inside, and he buried an array of jumpers and three-pointers against the Spurs.)
• “I love it. It makes the gym way better.” (On the 40-foot banner hanging outside the Thunderdome that bears Nunnally’s image with the words “Dare to Compete.”)
Johnson and Nunnally will be playing in the weeklong NBA Summer Leagues next month in Orlando, Florida, and Las Vegas. Then they will team up with Denver Nuggets guard Julyan Stone, a Dos Pueblos High grad, to conduct the Shooting Star Basketball Camp at the Bishop Diego High gym (July 22-25).
“NOT SIX, NOT SEVEN”: LeBron James is a long way from living up to his prediction that the Miami Heat would win more than seven NBA championships. How about 10? Bill Bertka of Santa Barbara accumulated that many rings while working in various capacities for the Los Angeles Lakers. “I’ve been in the Finals 20 times,” said Bertka. “I’m just batting .500.” He started as a Lakers scout in the 1960s when they couldn’t get past the Boston Celtics. He is currently a special consultant to general manager Mitch Kupchak and has been busy evaluating potential draft picks and free agents. “I got a big kick when LeBron said, ‘I’m just a guy from Akron, Ohio,’” Bertka said. “That’s my hometown, too.” He came to Santa Barbara as a city recreation director.
NATIONAL CHAMPION: Stamatia Scarvelis, Dos Pueblos High’s two-time state shot put champion, continues to come up with her biggest throws in the biggest meets. The 17-year-old uncorked a personal best of 52’1 ¾” at the USA Track & Field Junior Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, last week. She will represent the United States at the Pan American Junior Championships in Medellin, Colombia, on August 23-25.
CYCLING AND RECYCLING: The Firestone Walker 805 Criterium Weekend will bring spectator-friendly bicycle racing to the area. Hundreds of riders will be doing repeated laps on short courses in the streets of Buellton (Sat., June 29) and Lompoc (Sun., June 30).
For more sports, including a weekly highlight schedule, see independent.com/sports.