CRAWFORD | NBA dream fulfilled, Spalding shares with campers
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Former University of Louisville standout Ray Spalding is having a lot of what he calls “pinch myself moments” these days.
There was being drafted in the second round by the Dallas Mavericks, with his family in attendance at the NBA Draft.
There was playing for the Mavericks in the Las Vegas Summer League, where he averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds in 17 minutes per game.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Spalding said Thursday. “Of course it was Vegas, so it was beautiful. Didn't do any gambling. But Mark Cuban had us staying in a very nice hotel, shout out to Mark Cuban for that. A beautiful hotel, really nice. My brother, my mom and my dad came down and stayed with me for a couple of days and enjoyed the hotel. So it was nice.”
And there was signing a four-year deal worth an NBA-minimum $5.72 million dollars.
Back in the KFC Yum! Center, he had another one of those moments. Coming back to a camp he regularly attended, run by former Cardinal Robbie Valentine, Spalding talked to kids about what is possible for them, standing in front of them as one who sat where they sat, grew up where they grew up, and dreamed what some of them are dreaming.
“I just wanted them to understand that me, being a guy from Louisville, a guy who played in this little camp they have going on, went to King Elementary, Trinity High School, University of Louisville, I stayed home, I didn't go anywhere,” Spalding said. “I stayed in my back yard. I just wanted to tell them anything's possible. Any dream you have, you can do.”
Valentine has been telling campers about Spalding all week. It’s not usual for players with U of L or Louisville connections to drop by the camp. But Spalding, he said, is special. He’s from the city. He went to the camp. And he’s a guy that Valentine can hold up to kids not just because of is basketball talent, but because of who he is.
Valentine introduced Spalding to campers, then circled back around the group to listen.
“I just want to stand back, because this is his show,” Valentine said. “This is his day. He’s been back for a little bit, but because people haven’t seen him, because he’s not out or at the clubs or doing all that. . . . I’ve just been talking to kids about him being a high character individual. I told the kids today, Ray Spalding is a millionaire. That's cool to have that, for a kid who came here. And he's not going to go buy a $300,000 car. He's going to take care of his money, he's going to take care of his family, and he's going to live a comfortable life. Explaining this to my grandkids, to these kids here, it's pretty sweet.”
Spalding said he’s been back in Louisville for a couple of weeks, spending time with his family. He’ll head to Dallas next month to look for a place and begin work with the Mavericks. He surprised a few people during summer league play, and gave himself the confidence that he belongs on that stage.
“I had a pretty good summer league,” he said. “I was comfortable playing in that environment with those guys. It's nice to know you belong. To have the ability to stay out there and stand out a little bit. I wasn't too nervous. I thought I would be pretty nervous, but no.”
After making a decision to skip his senior season at Louisville, Spalding went to Miami to begin two-a-day workouts. He didn’t test as well as he’d hoped at the combine, but drew the Mavs’ interest during a workout.
While in Miami, Spalding spent some time with former Louisville coach Rick Pitino, and has talked to him regularly, the last time, he said, a couple of days ago.
“When I was in Miami, we actually caught a game together,” Spalding said. “Caught lunch and dinner. He took me to a really nice Italian restaurant. We're going to go back and I'll probably pay for him and my mom somehow, but it was really good. I enjoyed it. We connected a lot. And he'll be helping me a lot during this process. He just let me know, coach has always had a liking for my game and my ability and potential, he just said you're here now, show the world how special you are and the different things you're able to do that the team needs you to do.”
That’s his plan. He doesn’t know many folks’ on the Dallas team, but has struck up a friendship with Dennis Smith, a rookie in the NBA last season after leaving North Carolina State.
“That's my guy,” Spalding said. “I played against him in college, because he went to N.C. State, an ACC school. But I always had a little connection with Dennis. I loved playing against him, but now playing with him is cool. When we found out we were going to be playing together in Dallas, we talked for a little bit. We have a good relationship going and I like him. He's a good guy.”
So, too, is Spalding. He talks in terms of hoping to make his hometown proud, and doing the things his team wants him to do.
“I've got to pinch myself every day,” Spalding said. “Every day I get a text message from Christy, she works for the Mavericks, saying, 'You've got to go this place, you've got to go that place.' It's just kind of surreal. Certain guys follow you on social media. It's great. . . . I’m just going to do what the Mavericks ask me to do. I'm looking forward to meeting my teammates and doing whatever they need me to do.”
Spalding said he hasn’t settled on a roster number. Maybe 56, because he was taken with the 56th pick. Or 26, because he was the 26th pick of the second round. Or even No. 2, because he went in the second round. He said he won’t be picky.
“Whatever number they want me to wear, I’ll be fine with,” Spalding said after speaking to the campers.
“It's another pinch me moment, to have those kids looking up to me,” Spalding said. “I had that at Louisville. But now to be introduced as an NBA player and call yourself that in front of little ones, it’s special.
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