The Long Island Nets tip off the G League season on Wednesday under first-year head coach Bret Brielmaier with a group that includes four players on the team’s 10-man roster that have NBA experience.
“We definitely looked at this G League bubble as an opportunity to take a look at some guys that we haven’t had in our system before,” said Long Island General Manager Matt Riccardi. “We have an incredible coaching staff, and obviously we wanted to make sure that we had players that had a chance to develop, that would be looked at as call-up targets for the NBA, that could put our program as competitive as possible. So you’ll see the make-up of that. I think our oldest player is 28, but we do have a younger group. Some veterans mixed in there with a few G League experience, some NBA experience as well.”
In addition to its 10-man roster, Long Island will begin the season with three two-way players available — Brooklyn’s Reggie Perry and Dallas’ Tyler Bey and Nate Hinton. Here, we’ll take a look at the 10 players on the G League roster.
Bowden is one of three rookies on the roster, playing their first season of American pro ball (Paul Eboua played professionally in Europe). The 24-year-old guard played four seasons at Tennessee. As a senior last year, he started all 31 games and averaged 13.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.7 assists.
“Good athlete. Good, quick first step,” said Brielmaier. “Really efficient in the mid-range, so helping him understand how to become more efficient and be comfortable at that 3-point line, and turn those mid-range shots into either rim attacks or three-balls. Lot of upside for that kid, and you can tell he’s been really, really well-coached.”
Eboua is an international prospect who had plenty of mentions in mock drafts, typically toward the back half of the second round, but ultimately went undrafted. The 20-year-old — he’ll turn 21 on Feb. 15 — is from Cameroon and moved to Rome in his teens to pursue his basketball career, playing in the Jordan Brand Classic International Game at Barclays Center in 2016. Last season, Eboua played for VL Pesaro in Italy’s top-level Serie A league.
“An incredible young prospect that our international scouts, Simone Casali, Jeff Peterson, BJ Johnson, have done an incredible job of identifying in the past,” said Riccardi. “Someone we followed closely, and someone our coaching staff targeted as being really excited to work with.”
The 24-year-old out of Xavier played in Summer League with the Bulls in 2018 and spent the 2018-19 season with their G League affiliate, the Windy City Bulls. Last year he started all 36 games he played for the Maine Red Claws, averaging 12.2 points.
“Guy can really just stretch the floor,” said Brielmaier. “He can really shoot the basketball. Knows how to play the game. Surprising how much better his defensive ability to switch is. He’s got a great feel. Even though he’s not the most athletic guy on the court, he just has a way of taking angles and knowing what a guy is going to do before he does it.”
Johnson played two years of college ball at Syracuse and then two at LaSalle before playing Summer League with the Hornets in 2018. During the 2018-19 season he played for the Lakeland Magic in the G League before getting a 10-day contract with Atlanta and then eventually signing with Sacramento at the end of the season.
Last year he was back with the Orlando organization on a two-way deal, playing 10 NBA games and averaging 22.8 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 41.4 percent from 3-point range in 28 games for Lakeland.
“We’ve seen BJ play a ton in the past,” said Riccardi. “We played against him in the playoffs two years ago when he was playing with Lakeland. We’ve seen him in the NBA. We think he’s a really good player, high-quality player that has a chance to continue to develop.”
Martin is back with the Nets after joining the organization on a two-way deal last January. He played 16 games for Long Island, averaging 16.8 points, 4.0 assists and 2.2 steals. He saw a bigger role with Brooklyn on the NBA Campus in Orlando last summer, making six of his nine NBA game appearances last year during that stretch of the season. Martin had a 20-point game against the Celtics and a career-high 24 points against Orlando last summer. He started last season in the G League with Sioux Falls, averaging 18.5 points and 5.0 assists in 16 games before being signed by the Nets.
“JMart’s just a rock star. He’s a stud,” said Brielmaier. “The guy has been this defensive presence at every practice. He’s very motivated to prove how elite of a defender he is, and his offensive game has continued to improve. His shooting, his playmaking, his ability to get to the rim and finish.”
Massinburg, the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year at Buffalo in 2019 and a two-time All-MAC selection, is in his second season with Long Island, the only returning player from last season’s 10-man roster. He averaged 7.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.6 assists while playing in 23 games.
“It’s always better coming back the second time,” said Massinburg. “You know you have a lot more experience under your belt. You know how the pace of the game is. You basically know what to expect, so yeah, I’m excited to be back again.”
The 23-year-old from France is the highest-drafted player on the Long Island roster. The 31st overall pick in 2018, Okobo spent two seasons with the Phoenix Suns, appearing in 108 games and averaging 4.8 points and 2.2 assists. He previously played nine games in the G League with the Northern Arizona Suns in 2018-19, averaging 18.1 points, 7.4 assists, and 1.4 steals.
“Elie is an amazing player,” said Riccardi. “We’ve seen him from his draft time to being on the Phoenix Suns, to playing for the Northern Arizona Suns, so similar to BJ (Johnson) and similar to the other guys on our roster, we’re really excited to get a chance to work with Elie, someone we’ve seen from afar and we’ve liked all his intangibles and all his skills and his NBA size. Just looking forward to seeing how he mixes with our group and our coaching staff and vice versa.”
The 25-year-old big man finished up his college career making a run at the NCAA title with Texas Tech in 2019 after two seasons at St. John’s and one at Tennessee. He signed a two-way deal with the Phoenix Suns last January after beginning the season on their Northern Arizona Suns G League roster. He played three games for Phoenix, and in 40 G League games averaged 10.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 49.1 percent.
“Tariq’s still learning the pro system, and what can make him special at this level,” said Brielmaier. “His athletic ability, his length, his timing, all put him in that category. Now it’s the little pieces that will propel him to that next step; when to get out of a screen, when to hold a screen. How to get positioning to get a better angle to rebound. Understanding how to sit down and guard these smaller guards when we’re in switching situations. It’s more of a finer tune pieces with him. He’s got all the physical gifts, so now we’re just really trying to have him understand the importance of the little details, and feel the nuances that it takes at this level.”
Scott returns to the Long Island Nets for his sixth pro season after playing abroad last year. Over two seasons and 95 games with Long Island in 2017-18 and 2018-19, Scott averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 assists.
“Such a stabilizing, calming force,” said Riccardi. “He knows what we are all about, and he helped set that foundation a few years ago. Having him part of this group is a huge benefit for us and for all the players and the staff itself. He’s been through it and he knows exactly what we’re looking for and I’m truly excited to have him part of this group, just because of his institutional knowledge and his leadership.”
Over the last three seasons, Sestina has gone from All-Patriot League Second Team at Bucknell to playing one season at Kentucky and now into professional hoops. At Kentucky last season, Sestina shot 40.7 percent from 3-point range, and he said Brielmaier has encouraged him to let it fly.
“He’s messaged me, he’s sent me clips, we’ve talked about it a lot,” said Sestina. “He said, you’ve got a flamethrower, you’ve got to let that thing go. He said if you leave the game with a full clip, that’s on you. They’re confident in me, and having a front office and a coaching staff that’s confident in you should give you the ultimate confidence when you go out into the game and play and just knowing that your teammates are confident in you as well in your ability to do something.”