LAS VEGAS — As the week progresses at the Las Vegas Summer League, the games tend to run together. There were eight total games on the two courts, similar to an AAU Tournament where the players, besides those top draft picks, are essentially nondescript.
This is the time of the week when team executives begin heading back to their cities, the crowds thin out and the standout players shut it down.
But are these games meaningless? Just ask Celtics summer league point guard Pierria Henry, a 25-year-old overseas vet who played college basketball at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His chances of making the Celtics roster are nil but he realizes this summer league is an opportunity to show all 30 teams his skills.
He’s a 6-foot, 5-inch fireball who has played with passion and urgency in the Celtics’ first three summer league games. He misses a shot, he responds with a steal. He commits a foul, he comes back and takes a charge.
Henry is the embodiment of what those summer league players not signed to lucrative rookie contracts should be about. This week is an ongoing job interview with 30 prospective employers. There are league executives who watch every game, in addition to scouts from international teams.
Henry is a Boston Celtic for two weeks, and he said he treasures that opportunity because it could lead to the next one.
“It’s truly a blessing to be able to learn up under these guys (the Celtics),” said Henry, who is averaging 10 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game. “Just to be around these type of people is truly an honor, incredible to experience. What I really thought about is how much I could really learn and how much better I can get within this little bit of time frame I have with them.”
The Celtics play at least two more summer league games as they enter the elimination part of the tournament.They play the New York Knicks on Thursday. If the Celtics lose, their final game is Friday. If they win, they’ll continue in the tournament portion Saturday.
While basketball executives are clearing out of Vegas, players like Henry are savoring these games as more chances to make an impression. The Celtics plucked Henry, who went undrafted in 2015, out of Tofas, a team in the Turkish Basketball Super League located in Bursa, population 1.8 million.
Hundreds of summer league players join NBA teams for this brief period after playing overseas, hoping to garner a more lucrative contract abroad, get a G-League opportunity or even a NBA training camp invite. That’s the end game for Henry, he has a contract with Tofas next season but wouldn’t mind a chance to stay in the States in the G-League.
The South Charlestown, W.Va. native has played in Georgia (in Europe), Germany, Israel and Turkey in the past three years. Culturally, he said, it’s a major adjustment to Turkey, “from the language barrier, to figure out how you eat and how to order food. But I can’t complain about it, I enjoyed it.”
Henry says his US driver’s license was good enough to jump into a car in Turkey and begin driving, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
“The way they drive, it is not safe out there,” he said. “Their life and culture ain’t that bad, a lot of things close early.”
One of the more difficult aspects for many younger players about playing overseas is being away from family. Since there are teams all over Europe and Asia, many players have no idea where they will play from season to season, depending on the contract.
Some choose to play in the G-League for the opportunity to remain in the States, although the pay is drastically less. That may be the predicament for Henry, whose family would prefer to see him closer to his West Virginia home. But playing for a first-division team in Turkey and inching closer to an NBA chance is alluring for this basketball lifer.
“They’re definitely supportive,” Henry said of his family. “They want me to stay at home. They could care less about how much money I make overseas or what country I could get to play in. I don’t blame them. I want to be at home as well. It just motivates me and constantly keeps that bug in my ear like don’t settle, don’t get comfortable with being overseas, you deserve to be at home with us, we think that you’ve got the talent and the skills and the work ethic and professionalism to be an NBA player.
“Just trying to take the steps to get there and make it happen.”
As for the name Pierria, there is a fascinating story behind that. When his mother was pregnant in early 1993, her friends gave her Perrier brand water at a party. Soon after, she went into premature labor and blamed the carbonated water, hence naming her son Pierria.
“I just want to bring a championship to the summer league. I don’t know what it’s worth but it’s a way of me showing my appreciation (to the Celtics),” he said. “I’m chasing the love of the game and the competitive spirit in me to show that I can compete with the greats and I can show I can be one of the greatest point guards that I can be.”