The drama of free agency dominates NBA headlines this time of year, overshadowing the collection of young players try to prove themselves in the NBA summer league.
A handful of former Big Sky Conference standouts, including the league’s all-time leading scorer, are battling for recognition this month in Las Vegas. From last season’s crop of Big Sky stars, Eastern Washington forward Bogdan Bliznyuk, Northern Colorado sharpshooter Andre Spight, Idaho slasher Vic Sanders and former Vandals’ power forward Brayon “B.J.” Blake are participating in the NBA Summer League.
Other former Big Sky players who are participating in the NBA summer league includes former league MVP Jake Wiley of Eastern Washington.
Bliznyuk, the league’s MVP at EWU last season after passing Orlando Lightfoot for the Big Sky record for points in a career and leading the Eagles to the Big Sky Tournament championship game, is with the Los Angeles Clippers summer league team. Bliznyuk averaged 21.2 points per game his senior year, pushing his career point total to 2,169, breaking Orlando Lightfoot’s 24-year-old record.
After becoming the fourth Eagle to earn Big Sky MVP and All-American honors, Bliznyuk scored 11 points in the Reese’s College All-Star Game on March 30. He was one of just 20 players in the nation invited to play in the prestigious game at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas – site of the NCAA Division I “Final Four.” The 6-foot-6, 215-pounder also played at the Portsmouth Invitational tournament, averaging 15.3 points and shooting 50 percent from the field.
Spight, the league’s Newcomer of the Year and a first-team All-Big Sky selection in his lone season at Northern Colorado after transferring from Arizona State, is trying to earn his shot with the Denver Nuggets. Last season, the 6-foot-3 combo guard scored more than 20 points on 25 different occasions, scoring more than 25 points 14 times, more than 30 seven times and surpassing 40 three times.
The Bears rebounded after a devastating overtime loss to Montana in the Big Sky Tournament to win four straight games and claim the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Spight broke the single-season Big Sky scoring record, finishing the campaign with 855 points as UNC became the first Big Sky team to claim a postseason title.
Sanders, a three-time All-Big Sky selection who earned a first-team nod two years ago, finished his career at Idaho as the Vandals’ second all-time leading scorer. Now the 6-foot-5 combo guard is chasing his professional dreams alongside Spight with the Nuggets. As a junior, Sanders averaged 20.9 points per game. Last season, he led the Vandals with 19 points per game. Idaho won 22 games, including 14 in league play to finish second but lost to 10th-seeded Southern Utah in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Tournament, the first and only postseason game of the spring for the Vandals.
Blake, a 6-foot-7 former junior college transfer, was the best power forward in the Big Sky last season. He averaged 18.3 points per game in league play and led the league in rebounding average at 9.6 per game. He also shot 44.8 percent from beyond the 3-point arch, the seventh-highest average in Idaho history. He is with the Cleveland Cavaliers summer league team.
Wiley dominated the league in his lone season at EWU. After starting his career at Montana, Wiley was an All-Frontier Conference selection at LC State before joining the Eagles for his last season. The 6-foot-7 jumping jack averaged 20.4 points on 64.3 percent shooting and grabbed 9.1 rebounds per game to earn Big Sky MVP honors. He is now on the Dallas Mavericks summer league roster.
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.