Until NBA commissioner David Stern decides otherwise, only two NBA basketball acts have so far been seen in Las Vegas: a single showing off the NBA All Star game, and the reoccurring NBA Vegas Summer League tournament.
The latter one is an annual event for a good reason: just like many famous productions on the Las Vegas strip down the road, Summer League basketball can be both a solo act and a magic act.
guard Roko Ukic sums it up the best:
"When you give the ball out, you might not see it any more."
Growing up with a famous father -- a drummer for a popular local band -- in the coastal European country of Croatia, Ukic's ease with interviews likely started developing years before he began doing his own basketball media rounds. Here at the Vegas Summer League, Ukic sounds more comfortable than a bench player about to enter his sophomore year.
"I think I played well here, but I can play even better. It's a little different for me to play, it's a different style of play. It's hard sometimes to see where exactly my opportunities are. I just try to get everybody involved. I respect the new guys that never played in the league and try to help them as much as I can."
There have been peaks in Roko's rookie year -- 22 points against the San Antonio Spurs, ten assists against the Oklahoma City Thunder -- that fit well with Toronto Raptors' tradition of finding quality international players that don't let overseas success impede their NBA improvement. Roko played in all but nine games last season, finishing his rookie campaign April 15th with four assists in 12 minutes against the Charlotte Bobcats.
"Every NBA game is on the highest possible level, so you improve a little in some way after every game. That is very important for a point guard. I worked a lot on my shot this summer. I think I am more about leading the team. I want to see myself as a steady backup that the team can count on. I always want to bring extra energy when I step on the court, and help my team in any way I can."
With back-to-back games every day, all day, the tight schedule in Summer League basketball does not allow for much coaching between games. Rather than giving Ukic specific instructions on what to work on, the coaching staff simply wants to help bring out the true point guard in him, to get everybody involved and to help the whole team play well. That same coaching staff helped in that regard just last week, bringing Hedo Turkoglu -- a fellow international from Turkey -- to the Toronto Raptors.
"He knows what he's doing," commented Ukic on acquiring Turkoglu. "I like what I see right now. He is a go-to guy, and he is an NBA finalist. I am sure he will bring us something we didn't have last year. We will be better with him."
The Toronto Raptors
are absolutely banking on it.