Ryan Arcidiacono knows acronyms. He was BMOC at Villanova, captain of the basketball team as a freshman and all four years. He was MOP of the 2016 Final Four thanks to his 16 points in the championship game and his assist to Kris Jenkins for the walk off winning three pointer.
Arcidiacono was perhaps the most famous basketball player in the country a little over a year ago. Now, as a Bulls starter the last two games, he’s just another Summer League hopeful trying to figure out a way to get NBA on his pay check.
Though Arcidiacono’s journey is more so the story of Summer League than that of the big names, Ball, Fultz, Tatum, Fox. He’s among the hundreds of players, long shots most, trying to draw to the basketball version of an inside straight, the NBA jackpot that they all dream about.
Though it’s perhaps more stark for Arcidiacono given the way he’s traveled so quickly from basketball celebrity to apprentice.
“Hopefully get invited to a training camp,” Arcidiacono was saying with the Bulls set to play their final 2017 Summer League game Friday. “Whether it’s the Bulls or someone else, just looking to showcase what I can bring to an NBA roster and go from there.”
Such is the fate of so many collegiate stars, one day celebrated nationally for their basketball abilities, the king of campus, the stars of the TV highlight shows. Then a few months later it’s riding the buses and bunking in the budget hotels as Arcidiacono was last season playing in the now G-league for the Austin Spurs.
Arcidiacono, a 6-3 guard who relies more on spirit than spring, wasn’t drafted. He made it through three preseason games with the Spurs last year and then spent the season in the Developmental League. He joined the Bulls Summer League team to, if not so much land a spot with the Bulls, get a chance to show his play.
He has gotten a chance with point guards Kris Dunn and Cameron Payne, who were expected to get most of the lead guard playing time, leaving the team for personal, family reasons. Arcidiacono started the last two games for the Bulls at point guard, averaging 4.5 points and three assists. He made some nice plays off the dribble and ran the team effectively, though the Bulls faded late in Wednesday’s game against Portland to fall to 1-3. That loss officially knocked the Bulls out of the summer title race after winning the Summer League last year. Friday’s final Bulls game (7:30 Central) against the Philadelphia 76ers is in the consolation round.
It will be a chance for shooting guard Antonio Blakeney to continue to make an impression with his scoring. It remains uncertain if rookie Lauri Markkanen will play after a toe injury kept him out of the Portland game. It doesn’t appear Paul Zipser, though with the team, will get in any games with an ankle injury.
Arcidiacono because of his heritage could play in Italy as he played for the Italian national team in the summer of 2015. Though the dream remains the NBA. He’s not giving up or giving in.
For so many big time collegiate stars, they just aren’t big enough or quick enough or explosive enough for the NBA . Arcidiacono, Villanova teammate Jenkins and North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, who made the big shots down the stretch for North Carolina in that much talked about 2016 final NCAA game, all are playing in this Las Vegas Summer League. Paige was in the D-league last season with the Salt Lake City Stars.
Arcidiacono, 23, doesn’t appear quite fast enough for the NBA, though there always were questions and he overcame them to become one of the most celebrated players in college. He wasn’t a big scorer at Villanova, his biggest season averaging 12.5 points as a senior. Though he possesses those traits not easily measured and categorized, the intangibles of leadership and the ability to make a big play under pressure.
Guys like him don’t project as NBA players. Then, like Isaiah Thomas, some get there and surprise.
“I feel I can change the game, bring a different tempo to the game and space the floor on the offensive end,” said Arcidiacono. “Make plays in the pick and roll and knock down some open shots while defending and picking up full court. I feel this is just a part of life. My college career speaks for itself. I finished it the way I wanted to. I knew it would be a tough challenge for me to make this league. I still think I can. It’s about keeping a positive attitude and finding the right place and right opportunity.”
Arcidiacono never veers from the belief; he seeks the chance.
“It is an unusual situation to go from such a high level to try to just scrap to make a ninth to 15th roster spot,” Arcidiacono acknowledged. “But it’s something I love and you really cannot complain about playing basketball for a living.”
Arcidiacono’s father, Joe, played football for Villanova, and Ryan was basically committed to the school by adolescence. Villanova coach Jay Wright was watching him when he was in junior high camps. Ryan became a big time scorer in high school, but surgery for a herniated disc in his back kept him out his senior year. Even missing the last year, he became his high school’s alltime leading scorer.
He wasn’t quite recovered starting college, but still was selected team captain as a freshman. Villanova made the tournament that season and lost to North Carolina in the first round. Arcidiacono went on to be all-Big East and finish his collegiate career cutting down nets and being feted everywhere.
And then standing in line for an Orange Julius.
But guys like Arcidiacono thrive on the challenge, dismiss the doubts and can surprise.
“I’ve had some ups and downs in my life, tough experiences,” noted Arcidiacono. “Specifically the back injury my senior year in high school. I wasn’t allowed to play and then started all four years at Villanova.
“I won’t say I overachieved. I think I achieved what I wanted to. I think I definitely feel I can play in this league. I think it’s going to be a lot tougher for me. Maybe it’s not this year; maybe it’s five years down the line. But it’s something I’ve dreamed about since I’ve been a little kid and I’m going to work for it, put my best foot forward and see what happens.”
“Everyone knows who the first round picks and top players are,” Arcidiacono acknowledged. “But this is a very important time for guys on the bubble, guys overseas trying to come back and play in the U.S. or the NBA, and guys playing for contracts overseas, too.”
Guys like Ryan Arcidiacono. Just looking to get noticed. Arcidiacono hopes to be yet again. It’s happened before despite the unlikely odds. WTG. NP?