Photo by Les Stukenberg.
Originally Published: September 29, 2017 11:22 p.m.
After laboring the past three days at training camp in Flagstaff, the Phoenix Suns were anxious to play an intra-squad scrimmage Friday night at Prescott Valley Event Center for the first time.
There was only one problem – they didn’t anticipate their bus breaking down en route to Prescott Valley. Nevertheless, the Suns did arrive at the arena for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff – an hour later than anticipated.
At least one of the players, rookie forward Josh Jackson, didn’t mind the 87-mile drive from Flagstaff to the home of the Northern Arizona Suns, Phoenix’s NBA Gatorade League affiliate. Jackson netted a team-high 14 points in the scrimmage, fighting through fatigue.
Phoenix Suns Scrimmage 092917
“I slept the whole way,” Jackson said after his Black Team edged the White Team, 52-51, in front of 3,000 boisterous fans. “I woke up and we were here.”
The scrimmage officially ushered in the Suns’ 2017 preseason, which begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, at the Portland Trail Blazers.
Phoenix finished the 2016 preseason with a 4-2 record, but moved on to post a dismal 24-58 mark in the 2016-2017 regular season, missing the playoffs for the seventh straight year (2011-2017).
The Suns embark on their 50th NBA campaign since 1968 at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 versus those same Trail Blazers at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix.
“We’re expecting great things from ourselves, and hopefully we can come out and please them [Suns fans] this year,” Jackson said.
On Friday night, the Suns played four 8-minute quarters with a running clock so that they could hop back on the team bus to Phoenix, get some sleep and practice Saturday morning.
Suns coach Earl Watson said he was pleased with training camp.
“I think we grew every day,” he added. “The guys embraced everything we gave them. We haven’t had a day off yet. The guys continue to work hard. Our first day off isn’t until Sunday, so we’ll work again tomorrow [Saturday].”
DELAY NO BOTHER
Fans took the 1-1/2-hour delay in stride. Whether they were eating pizza courtside, mingling at the food-and-beverage tables next to the east end of the court, or shaking hands with the Phoenix Suns Gorilla and NAZ mascot Buckets, fun was had by all.
David Desjadon, 40, of Prescott Valley, an NAZ Suns season-ticket holder who works for Yavapai County, watched the scrimmage from his front-row seat on the arena’s south side. His wife, Jessica, and their four kids, Theresa, 16, Audrey, 15, Terrell, 14, and Devin, 13, will also attend NAZ’s home games this season.
Desjadon said it’s a privilege to see former NAZ players Derrick Jones Jr. and Eli Millsap pick up contracts with Phoenix over the past year. He also mentioned former NAZ center Johnny O’Bryant, who signed with the Charlotte Hornets.
“I was born and raised here, and I’ve been a Phoenix Suns fan for a very, very long time,” Desjadon added. “I don’t get to go to the games as much. But to have them come up here and do this and be a part of the NAZ Suns, it’s fantastic.”
Beverly Helland, who lives in Prescott Country Club near Dewey, has season tickets to the NAZ Suns for the second consecutive season. She wore her autographed white NAZ Suns T-shirt on Friday. Her courtside seat to the left of the basket on the east end gives her quite a spectacular view of the action.
“I live for basketball, and I love the team [NAZ],” Helland said.
Helland, who moved here in 2002 from Seattle, where she was a SuperSonics fan, didn’t waste any time switching allegiances to the Phoenix Suns. She named her dog, Nash, after former Suns star point guard Steve Nash.
“When I think of the Northern Arizona Suns, I think ‘family,’ ” said Helland, who works in the emergency room at Yavapai Regional Medical Center in Prescott. “Watching those guys play, and the camaraderie between them and the teammates working together is phenomenal.”
PREGAME DUNK FEST
During pregame warmups, Jackson and Jones Jr., two 20-year-old phenoms, treated the fans to a short dunk contest. Their prowess for the serious slam prompted audible ‘Oooooohs’ and ‘Ahhhhhhhs’ from the crowd for a good five minutes.
“We have a very athletic team, and we’re going to be able to do that almost every warmup game we have,” Jones Jr. said. “Now I’m not the only one that’s doin’ it. It’s fun to have our own little dunk contest.”
Jackson gave props to Jones Jr., who nearly won the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie last season while Jackson was still playing at Kansas University.
“Derrick definitely won [our mini-matchup],” said Jackson, who’s five days older than Jones Jr. “We competed in an actual dunk competition when we were in high school. He beat me. We both ended up being in the championship.”
So, has Jackson thought about entering the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in his rookie season?
“No, I do not think I should be in the dunk contest this year,” Jackson said emphatically. “[Even if I were invited] I would say, ‘No.’ I am a game dunker. I don’t really think I’ve got too many dunks up my sleeve. Not as many as guys nowadays have. I can’t compete.”
JONES JR. REFLECTS
Following the game at PV Event Center, Jones Jr. said he “loved every second I was here playing” in an NAZ uniform.
“It’s always going to be great coming back here to play in front of these fans because it’s something I hold dear to my heart,” he added. “I came down here and they embraced me with open arms.”
The 6-foot-7, 195-pound Jones Jr. of the Black Team competed against former NAZ teammate Millsap of the White Team on Friday. Jones Jr. started and scored five points.
“My game took a big leap from last year’s training camp to this year’s training camp,” Jones Jr. said. “My jump shot got better, me attacking the basket got a lot better, and just getting a feel for the game. The game is a lot slower to me now.”