News » Jeter nearing NBA dreams with Blazers

Jeter nearing NBA dreams with Blazers

Jeter nearing NBA dreams with Blazers
SUMMARY: The University of Portland graduate impresses Blazers coaches with his skill and desire

Jeter nearing

NBA dreams

with Blazers Mills' injury

opens door

for Jeter


TUALATIN --During the first day of the Trail Blazers' summer league practice, an antsy Pooh Jeter sat on a bench in the middle of four practice courts and watched as 14 NBA hopefuls participated in a series of scrimmages, drills and workouts.

The University of Portland graduate was supposed to be with them, running at point guard, but a paperwork issue with an international Basketball clearinghouse delayed his summer league availability for a day.

It was a maddening scenario for Jeter, but also a fitting scene. Jeter, who has flashed a standout game in the NBA Development League and in Europe, seems this close to fulfilling his NBA dreams but remains that far away.

"That was tough, man," Jeter said. "But you know what? I just had to make the most of it, so I was over there coaching, cheering everyone on. I was watching, talking to coach (Nate) McMillan and the other coaches, and trying to learn the system. Even though I couldn't play, I tried to make the best out of it."

One day later, crushing news for one Blazers prospect opened a door of opportunity for Jeter. Rookie point guard Patrick Mills, who was selected by the Blazers in the second round of last month's NBA draft, suffered a fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. The injury ended Mills' summer league but created a chance for Jeter to take on a more prominent role as a backup to point guard Jerryd Bayless.

In the four practices since Mills went down --and since Jeter's paperwork issue was resolved --Jeter has impressed coaches with skill and desire.

"Hunger," Blazers summer league coach Joe Prunty said, when asked what Jeter has shown in practice so far. "He's a guy that was frustrated that he couldn't get out there on the court and play that first day. What I've seen is a guy who's not afraid. Not only is he hungry to get out there and show his stuff, he's not afraid to get out there and compete. He's trying to push Jerryd. He's trying to run the team. I've seen a lot of positives."

Since leaving UP as the school's second-leading career scorer, Jeter has enjoyed a laundry list of positives, even if they haven't come in the NBA . After the Sacramento Kings cut him from training camp three years ago, Jeter landed with the Colorado 14ers in the D-League. Playing alongside former Blazer Von Wafer in the backcourt, Jeter developed into an All-Star and helped the 14ers reach the championship game.

Jeter's play caught the eye of Michael Born, the Blazers' director of NBA scouting who tried to lure him to the Blazers' summer league team. But with a surplus of point guards on the roster in recent years --last season the Blazers featured two first-round draft picks in Bayless and Petteri Koponen --Jeter's agent steered him to other teams. He has twice played summer league with the Kings and once with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Jeter has been invited to NBA training camps each of the past two seasons, but passed on the opportunity because organizations refused to offer guaranteed contracts. He instead headed for Europe, which provided two positives he said he couldn't pass up --a high six-figure salary and a chance to play against high-level competition.

After leaving the 14ers, Jeter played in Ukraine for BC Kyiv and was voted the league's top point guard for the 2007-08 season, when he averaged 14.4 points and 7.1 assists per game. A season later --after competing in a mini-camp with the Toronto Raptors --Jeter landed in the Spanish ACB League, widely regarded as the second-best professional league behind the NBA .

Playing against point guards such as Ricky Rubio, Jeter excelled for ViveMenorca, averaging 16.3 points and 3.1 assists.

"It just seems like every time I saw him play, I came away thinking he played really well," Born said. "He plays really unselfish, just has a great vibe about him. He's always coming out and looking to get his team going first, and I just felt like he had a really good idea of when he should try to score and when he should try to set up his teammates."

The knock on Jeter is size. He's generously listed at 5-foot-11 in the summer league media guide. Jeter pointed out that smaller point guards are in vogue right now, however, noting that Aaron Brooks (Houston), Nate Robinson (New York), Jose Barea (Dallas), and Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin (Bobcats) have excelled in recent seasons.

But those players either impressed for prominent college programs or internationally before arriving in the NBA . The University of Portland isn't a program that churns out NBA stars.

In many ways, Jeter represents the plight of hundreds of players around the world --he's right on the cusp of playing in the NBA but not quite talented enough or ready, according to league talent evaluators.

"I definitely think I belong in the league, it's just about finding the right situation and getting the right opportunity," Jeter said.

Jeter leans on the career path of Jefferson High School graduate and former Blazer Ime Udoka as inspiration. When Jeter was at UP, he regularly played with Udoka in offseason pickup games around Portland. He watched Udoka get cut from multiple NBA teams and bounce from the D-League to Europe before sticking with the Blazers and later signing a two-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs.

What are Jeter's chances with the Blazers? A lot could be riding on the next week. Born said a training camp invitation is "pretty attainable" if Jeter decides to pass on the allure of another six-figure European contract. The Blazers remain active in the free agent and trade market, so there is doubt as to what their roster will look like come October.

Either way, Jeter, a happy-go-lucky, glass-half-full kind of guy, continues to focus on the positives. Basketball has given him a chance to provide for his family and see the world. He raved about the competition of the ACB League and how that experience made him a better professional. He gushed about playing in the Ukraine, bragging that one year removed from college his team provided him with a driver, a chef, a maid and a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Kyiv.

So why would Jeter leave such a cushy gig?

"This is my dream, man," he said, smiling as he looked out onto the Blazers' practice courts. "I know I can make it in the NBA and I'm going to keep working to make my dream happen."

Joe Freeman: 503-294-5183;

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: July 13, 2009


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