Men’s basketball: Janning turns heads in NBA Summer League

By Anthony Gulizia, News Staff

Former Husky hoop star Matt Janning has put together an impressive two-week campaign in the NBA Summer League, and caught the attention of several professional organizations. The sharpshooter received training camp offers from the Boston Celtics, the Phoenix Suns and the Philadelphia 76ers.

“This was a great opportunity to get exposure for myself, especially because I was coming in under the radar from a mid-major school,” Janning said. “I got to play against a lot of guys who had good reputations, and I had the opportunity to show people what I got.”

Janning first traveled to Orlando to play with the Boston Celtics. In two games with the Celtics, he averaged 11.5 points, highlighted by a 20-point performance against the Charlotte Bobcats July 7.

Celtics summer league coach Austin Ainge, son of former Celtic great Danny Ainge, who is the current president of basketball operations for the Celtics, was impressed with Janning’s play and sneaky athleticism.

“Matt played unbelievable, he even blocked a shot,” Ainge said after the July 7 game.

Janning said his performance was gratifying considering his limited playing minutes during the team’s first few contests.

“The first couple games I didn’t play much, but on the third day Austin Ainge coached us and said I was going to play at the 1 or 2 [position],” Janning said. “I surprised him and others with the way I handled myself and ran the team.”

Despite the best efforts of the Celtics front office to convince him to stay with the team, Janning traveled to Las Vegas to play a five game stint with the Phoenix Suns in the Vegas Summer League. He continued his strong play by averaging 12.6 points and 5.8 rebounds, highlighted by a 22-point effort against the Cleveland Cavaliers July 14.

“Phoenix was great,” Janning said of his experience with the Western Conference team’s summer squad. “I averaged about 30 minutes a game, and they gave me a great opportunity to showcase myself.”

While it is easy to get wrapped up in the bright lights of Sin City, Janning said he handled the pressure just fine, and focused on what he was there for: Playing basketball.

“I got to see Vegas while playing ball, and the experience was great,” he said. “You’re really put on a pedestal and everybody knows you’re out there for the Summer League, so you have to keep to yourself, and stay focused.”

When playing in the league, the eyes of the entire basketball world are on you, Janning said.

“Scouts and coaches from all over the world come to watch,” he said. “Top-level coaches are usually watching, including members of ACB Spain, which is the second-best league to the NBA.”

At the professional level, the game speed increases immensely, and this can pose a threat for collegiate players trying to make the transition. The shot clock is shortened from 35 seconds to 24, and the game features different styles of play, including more post-play, isolations and a lot of pick and rolls. But Janning said Northeastern head coach Bill Coen’s style of offense helped him transition just fine.

“I didn’t really surprise myself, and I was comfortable with the ball in my hands,” Janning said. “That was something I didn’t have to do at NU because of [senior point guard] Chase [Allen], but Coach Coen likes having two point guards on the floor and we were always running the transition. My role wasn’t too different, but the game is much faster up here and I feel like the college game really prepares you for it.”

While Janning said he is taking the necessary steps toward a professional career, he said he also embraces the reality that he might not make it there, and has a backup plan in case basketball falls through.

“If basketball breaks down, I really want to get into coaching and stay around the game,” Janning said. “Coaching will be great, whether it’s at high school or the college level. I feel like I’ve learned so much over the years, and I’d like to be able to pass it down to the younger kids.”

However, the Watertown, Minn., native hopes to stay in the United States and play instead of playing overseas. He said he sees himself playing the point guard like role model Steve Nash, or maybe playing shooting guard.

“Steve Nash is always under-matched physically, but he has a great basketball IQ,” he said. “Some guys are blessed with great strength, or great shooting, but I was gifted with my basketball intelligence. In order to make it to the next level, you need to be a student of the game and watch the world’s best.”

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