LAS VEGAS — Brooklyn is just one borough of five that make up New York City, but the NBA team that carries that name on the front of its jersey truly represents it as a melting pot of cultural diversity. The Nets’ roster for the NBA Las Vegas Summer League, which opens play Friday against Orlando, is a virtual United Nations of professional basketball.
They have players from Argentina (Juan Pablo Vaulet), Bosnia and Herzegovina (Dzanan Musa), China (Ding Yanyuhang), Israel (Shawn Dawson), Japan (Yuta Watanabe), Latvia (Rodions Kurucs) and a U.S. native whose heritage permits him to play for the Puerto Rican national team (Tyler Davis). Oh, and for good measure, American Semaj Christon played last season in the Chinese Basketball Association, where he faced Yanyuhang, who is the two-time Domestic MVP of that league.
Lead Nets assistant Jacque Vaughn, who is running the summer league team for coach Kenny Atkinson, said he recently asked the international players to line up on one side and the American-born players to line up on the other side and then introduce themselves and tell something about themselves.
“It was unbelievable — Japan, China, Israel, we could keep going down the list,” Vaughn said. “It’s great for guys born in the United States to know that this game is global and for us as an organization to bring in people who want to be a part of us.”
Diversity has been a cornerstone of Nets culture since Sean Marks, who is from New Zealand, took over as general manager two years ago. Atkinson played professionally in Europe, and his style of play has been influenced by what he learned there. Marks and Atkinson made Jeremy Lin, who has Taiwanese heritage, their first major free-agent acquisition.
In a recent interview with Newsday, Lin said the Nets have a tight bond made “more special” by their diversity. But he added, “I don’t think they’re looking at roster spots and saying, ‘We need this person to create more diversity.’ By nature, we have a lot of diversity. If we capitalize on that, it will be an even better story. We drafted a couple players from different countries [Musa and Kurucs] and our summer league team will have a lot of diversity as well. It’s going to be cool to see.”
Musa and Kurucs are not expected to play in Summer League because their European seasons ended in June. Vaulet, a former second-round choice, has practiced but is coming off an ankle injury, and Yangyuhang practiced the past two days but is uncertain because of a knee injury. He declined to speak to reporters after Thursday’s practice.
But Christon offered this appraisal of Ding: “I think he’s real good. He’s super-athletic. Could play, could shoot, he played hard. Played super, super hard. He’ll surprise a lot of people…He’s got a little swag to his game, so I like him a lot.”
One international player who seems certain to get a long look is Watanabe, a 6-9 forward who spent the past four seasons at George Washington, where he was defensive player of the year in the Atlantic-10 last season. He had other offers but said the Nets’ diversity was what sold him.
“I thought this organization is great,” Watanabe said. “We’ve got a lot of international players. As an international player, I feel very comfortable being here. I’m really excited about this opportunity. That’s the major reason why I chose here . . . It’s really fun to play with a lot of guys from different countries. It’s amazing.”
Notes & quotes: When the NBA moratorium ends at noon Friday, the Nets’ trade for and subsequent buyout of Dwight Howard will become official along with the signings of free agents Joe Harris and Ed Davis.