Kelly scouts NBA prospects
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 8, 2019 - 12:00am

FOSHAN – Dallas Mavericks scout Jim Kelly, a former coaching consultant with the defunct PBA club Great Taste, is in town to look over players who might make the grade in the NBA.

“Of course, I flew in to check on our guy Boban Marjanovic whom we just signed,” said Kelly, referring to the 7-3 giant who plays center for Serbia. “And I’m also checking out this young kid from Poland, Olek Balcerowski.  He’s the kind of guy we’re looking for – 18 years old, 7-1.”

Balcerowski is the youngest player on the Polish team whose average age is 28.9. He plays for Gran Canaria in the Spanish league and could develop into a taller Nemanja Bjelica. Balcerowski is a finesse player with range but needs to pack more muscle to develop an inside presence. In Poland’s 79-74 win over Russia last Friday, Balcerowski was scoreless and had two rebounds in 11:02 minutes. He was hardly noticed on the court but Kelly kept an eye on his moves.

Kelly was in the stands when Marjanovic played against Italy in a battle of unbeaten Group D teams last Wednesday. Marjanovic, 31, scored six points in 5:39 minutes in Serbia’s 92-77 win. He was never drafted in the NBA but was recruited to play for the San Antonio Spurs in 2015-16 on a $1.2 million contract. Marjanovic then moved to Detroit, Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia before signing a deal with Dallas this year. Last season, he played 35 games with the Clippers and 32 with the Sixers. In two FIBA Europe World Cup Qualifier contests, Marjanovic averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. It’s his first World Cup with Serbia.

Kelly was also in the venue when the Philippines lost to Angola, 84-81 in overtime. He met up with Japeth Aguilar’s father Peter before the game started. When he lived in Manila, Kelly also worked as a TV analyst in covering PBA games. He was a Toronto Raptors scout from 1996-97 to 2012-13 then moved to Dallas the next season.   Kelly, who’s married to a Filipina, is Bobby Ray Parks’ baptismal godfather.

When Kelly coached in Germany many years ago, there was a Fil-Am from Portland playing in the local league. Kelly invited him to play in the PBA but it didn’t work out. That player was Erik Spoelstra who went on to become the Miami Heat head coach.

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Polish naturalized player A. J. Slaughter is making waves in his first appearance at the FIBA World Cup. Not too many know that the 6-3 guard was Japeth Aguilar’s teammate for three seasons with the Western Kentucky varsity.

Slaughter, 32, still keeps in touch with Aguilar. “I was just on the phone with him the other day,” he said.  “It’s too bad we didn’t get to meet up at the World Cup because we’re in different brackets. I remember Japeth when he was at Western Kentucky. He was really quiet at first then he loosened up. He’s a great guy and fun to be with.”

Aguilar redshirted during Slaughter’s rookie season in school. Then they were teammates in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Aguilar averaged 2.7 points in three games in 2007-08 while Slaughter averaged 7.6 points in 36 contests. The next season, Aguilar averaged 1.5 points in 14 outings while Slaughter averaged 16 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 32. Slaughter went on to average 17.5 points in 34 games in 2009-10 but by then, Aguilar had gone back to Manila and started playing in the PBA.

Slaughter became a Polish naturalized citizen in 2015 and has since been a fixture on the national team. Curiously, he’s never played in the Polish league, opting to see action as an import in Italy, Belgium, France, Greece and Turkey. Slaughter just signed a deal to play for Seville in the Spanish league this season.

“Maybe, I’ll end up playing in the Polish league,” said Slaughter. “I can play as a local. It’s a great situation for me to play as a naturalized citizen for Poland. I like our team. Our coach gives me a lot of confidence and trust.” The Polish national coach Mike Taylor is an American like Slaughter. Taylor used to be an assistant in the Czech Republic coaching staff and his father Dick was once Bobby Knight’s assistant with the Army team and an assistant with the New York Knicks.

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Gilas point guard Kiefer Ravena said the player in Group D he was most impressed with was Serbian sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic. “He stood out in our group,” noted Ravena.

When Serbia played the Philippines last Monday, Bogdanovic hit 17 points, including 4-of-5 triples, in 18:02 minutes. Ravena had five points in 10:24 minutes as Gilas went down, 126-67. Bogdanovic, who has been nicknamed Mr. Automatic here, erupted for 31 points in Serbia’s 92-77 demolition of Italy. The 6-6 off-guard also compiled four rebounds, five assists and five steals in 35:41 minutes.

Bogdanovic, 27, was drafted by Phoenix on the first round of the 2014 NBA draft but never played for the Suns. He made his NBA debut with the Sacramento Kings in 2017-18, averaging 11.8 points in 78 games. Last season, he hit at a 14.1 clip in 70 contests. Bogdanovic earned $18.5 million in his first two years with the Kings. This coming campaign, he’ll bankroll $8.5 million. Despite his NBA commitments, Bogdanovic finds time to make himself available for the Serbian national team. At the FIBA Europe World Cup Qualifiers, he averaged 11 points in two games. Bogdanovic suited up for Serbia at the 2014 World Cup in Spain and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. In both the World Cup and the Olympics, Serbia took the silver medal.

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