By Sam Perley
The city of Charlotte got its first glance at the 2017-18 Hornets on Saturday afternoon during the team’s annual Open Practice. In partnership with KIA, this event was free to the public and featured a sneak peek at the new Hornets Fan Shop, a team practice and an autograph session.
“It was great. The fans were into it, loud and I think the guys loved it,” said Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford. “We’ve been working hard and this was a great changeup for all of us.”
This will be Clifford’s fifth season with the team, although he hasn’t seen as large a fan turnout for open practice in year’s past compared to Saturday’s attendance.
“It shows that [the fans] have belief in our team. I do too and so do the players. We’re excited about what we can become. Our players looked forward to [today]. You could tell the longer we did it, they were having fun. It was a fun day.”
Clifford ran the team through a series of drills at the start of the afternoon that featured passing, cutting, three-point shooting and dunking. The vibe in Spectrum Center got a bit looser after that with players soon engaging fans with some on-the-court games and activities.
Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky squared off in Catch Phrase while Dwayne Bacon took home the three-point contest honors over fellow rookie Malik Monk and Marvin Williams. Nicolas Batum and Johnny O’Bryant also each partnered with a fan for a game of Hot Spot as well.
“This is my 13th season and I don’t think I’ve ever been to an open practice with this many people,” said Hornets forward Marvin Williams. “Just to feel the excitement that the city has and the support they’ve always given us, it really makes us look forward to Opening Night.”
Three of the team’s newest players on guaranteed contracts, Dwight Howard, Michael Carter-Williams and Julyan Stone were also all officially introduced to the hometown fans.
“It’s crazy to see the lower bowl filled with fans. It’s impressive,” said Howard. “I know a lot of guys are excited. In past years, it wasn’t like that for open practice. To see all the fans who came out here today, we’re very grateful for them. It means a lot to us, we’re excited and we can’t wait to get going.”
The eight-time NBA All-Star stayed behind noticeably longer than any other Hornet player to sign autographs after the conclusion of the event.
“A lot of fans don’t get these opportunities, especially during the season because we’re in and out. Usually, open practice is really for the fans. They didn’t have to be here, but they chose to be here and spend half of their Saturday with us. Just trying to be a little appreciate and show some gratitude.”
The Hornets will practice again on Sunday morning before departing for their first two preseason road games of the year. They will play the Boston Celtics on Monday night followed by a meeting with the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night.