In a gym on San Diego State's campus a couple of summers ago, Xavier Thames was on the same court with some NBA talent, trying to hold his own in pickup action that featured Klay Thompson and Chase Budinger.
Deron Williams was there, too. Little did Thames know he'd be the Nets point guard's teammate one day.
"I played against him. He might not remember," Thames told Newsday on Saturday, "but I remember because he's De- ron Williams. But when he was in San Diego a few summers back, I got a chance to see him up close and personal, one of the best point guards in the NBA. So I'm just blessed and thankful that I get to play with him and a Hall of Fame coach in Jason Kidd. So it's just great."
The Kidd situation may change, but at least Thames will play with Williams.
Traded from the Raptors for cash considerations in a draft-day deal late Thursday night, Thames said he had been on the Nets' radar, no doubt hoping he'd land there after working out for the team's brass at the team's training facility in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Wednesday. The reigning Mountain West Conference player of the year, who averaged 17.6 points and said his game sometimes draws comparison's with Sam Cassell's because of his midrange shot, had 16 predraft workouts, including ones with the Knicks, Pacers, Bulls, Celtics and his hometown Sacramento Kings.
The Nets liked him enough to make the move, which gives Thames an opportunity to learn from his favorite player. Other than Gary Payton, of course.
"I just like Joe [Johnson] because he's real smooth," the 6-3, 187-pound Thames said. "I'm kind of the same way. I'm not going to show a lot of emotion out there. He just plays the game the right way, and that's what I like about him.
"When I first get the chance to meet him, that's going to be crazy because everybody in my family knows that my favorite player is Joe Johnson. So I'm definitely getting a picture because when I went to work out on Wednesday, I asked -- I ain't going to lie -- I asked them, I said, 'Is Joe Johnson around?' They said, 'Nah, he's not around today.' I was like, 'OK.' "
Thames is pretty close with another San Diego State product, the guy who just collected NBA Finals MVP honors earlier this month: Spurs forward Kahwi Leonard. Although Thames sat out Leonard's final season in school in 2011 -- he'd transferred there after playing his freshman year at Washington State -- the two developed a good friendship and remain in contact.
Leonard texted Thames the day of the draft and again after it was over, thrilled to see that Thames had his name called. Probably almost as exciting as it was for Thames to watch Leonard hoist that hardware after the Spurs dethroned the Heat.
"It was crazy to see him get the Finals MVP, and then for it being on Father's Day and his dad has passed away," Thames said. "That, being Finals MVP, and win a championship, too, and also he's only in his third year. I was happy for him. Real happy for him."