The former Temple University star, overseas pro and NBA hopeful is on the Jazz Summer League Roster.
Each year, Summer League arrives shortly after the Draft. It is where the top picks, undrafted free agents, former lottery picks, and NBA and overseas journeymen converge for the chance to make a name for themselves in a sea of pro-level talent. Those games will have a different meaning for everyone, and for those without a guaranteed contract or place on a roster, it is an audition.
The top picks play alongside journeymen, huddling up with players who will continue forging their basketball odysseys in leagues across the world. For every success story, there are hundreds of hopefuls who have cycled in and out of summer league. That is what makes the paradox of the rosters so special. Dreams are realized, and dreams are fought for.
Dionte Christmas has been so close to realizing his. In 2009, the year he went undrafted as a senior out of Temple, he participated in training camp for his hometown Sixers. Last season, he averaged 12.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists for the Celtics in Orlando Summer League. He continued playing for the Celtics in Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 14.2 points on 48% shooting. His play earned him a partially guaranteed contract, but he was eventually released by the Celtics after appearing in four preseason games.
After playing in Russia and Italy this past season, Christmas is back to work, preparing to play with the Utah Jazz in the 2013 Orlando Summer League. While the Jazz acquired No. 9 overall pick Trey Burke in the Draft, they are in definite need of a scoring two guard. I got a chance to catch up with Christmas while he prepares for the Jazz’s first Summer League game on Sunday, July 7.
Tracy Weissenberg: I think a lot of people remember you with the Celtics last year. Can you catch everybody up on your career since then?
Dionte Christmas: I still keep in contact with those guys. Great organization…they gave me a great opportunity. [After being released] I signed with one of the biggest teams in Europe. I signed with CSKA, but I finished the year off in Italy with Siena. We won an Italian championship. So I had a pretty good year individually. I’m just back trying to get back into the NBA and trying to get another contract with a team and hopefully just stay over here for the year. Time is winding down for me, but I’m still feeling great. I’m still young. Like I said before, I’m going to just keep trying until I get it.
TW: Can you talk about the game overseas, how does it prepare you for these opportunities?
DC: Very physical. I know the NBA is very physical as well. Playing in Euroleague is very physical every single night. You’re playing top level basketball every single night. I think that prepared me for situations like this, like Summer League and to play in the NBA. I believe I can play in the NBA and I’ve been told by a lot of people high in the game of basketball such as Doc Rivers and Aaron McKie, coach for the Sixers. A lot of people told me I can play in the NBA, so I’m never going to stop chasing this dream. Hopefully, this year it can happen. Last year I was so close, I was knocking on the door, and this year, hopefully I can get in.
TW: You were pretty close with Philadelphia in 2009.
DC: Yeah, a lot of times I was very close. I was very, very close. But the NBA is a game of numbers, it’s a numbers game. So sometimes, you’re good enough to play, but some teams may need something and you’re the one guy that they have to let go. I believe that happened to me twice so far in my career, and I’ve been told that. I can’t hang my head, I’ve never hung my head. I’ve never given up one time. I believe God has His plan for me. I should keep playing hard and keep respecting the game, and just keep giving it my all. I think it will happen. Even if it doesn’t happen this year, it will happen next year.
I look at the guy [Chris] Copeland this year for the Knicks, he was 28. He played really well. I’m never going to give it up.
TW: You’re taking my questions! I was going to ask you about Chris Copeland. He told me he never even got the chance to play in Summer League until 2012. He just had a successful rookie campaign, so you have paid attention to stories like his?
DC: Yeah, for sure. I love stories like that. My favorite story to tell people is me and Wesley Matthews. We came out together [in the 2009 Draft], both of us were undrafted. We went to Orlando, we went to Vegas, and we didn’t really know what was going to happen. He got picked up by the Jazz, and he was just going through camp, not knowing what to expect. He had that one chance in the playoffs, I think a couple of people got hurt, and he played really well against Kobe Bryant. The next year, he signed for $35 million. That right there just showed me you never give up, and a lot could happen. There have been a couple of guys that played in Summer League that got contracts, and Chris Copeland is another great story that is mind-blowing to me. He played Summer League, played well, played preseason, played well, and got some minutes. Now, he’s probably going to get a big contract this year. I tip my hat off to them, I respect them a lot for that.
TW: You’ve talked about coming so close to your NBA dream in the past. How do you personally deal with bouncing back and continuing your career?
DC: Since I was young my dad, he’s like my brother, he’s always told me never to give up. One story that comes to mind when I was young, I think I was like 11 years old, my dad asked me what sport I wanted to play–either football, basketball or baseball. He told me whatever sport I chose, I had to play that sport, he would never let me quit. I chose basketball, and the first time I played basketball, I got cut. I wasn’t that good. Actually, that was my worst sport. I got cut, so he actually went to the coach, and asked the coach, can I continue to practice with the team but just not play games? And the coach said yes, cause he was a good friend of my dad. So I had to go into practice every day with the team that cut me. That right there got me prepared for times like this. I’ve been cut before. The Sixers have cut me. Teams have said no to me. It just motivates me. I think every year I’ve gained from each team that’s released me or has cut me or whatever the case may be. My focus is the same and my game has elevated to another level, so I just want to showcase that this year.
TW: You’ve played in Russia, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel. What have been the best aspects of those experiences because you’ve really traveled the globe?
DC: Yeah, my mom and dad and grandma really say that all the time. I’m only 26 and I’ve seen the world. I get a chance to see the world and play the game that I love to play. That’s the beauty of it. I thank God everyday. When I play, I thank God for the blessings and everything he’s given to me up to this point. A lot of people haven’t seen the things I’ve seen or made the money I’ve made or gotten the opportunities that I’ve gotten.
TW: What is the hardest aspect of having a professional career overseas?
DC: Not seeing your family and being away from home, that’s definitely the hardest part. I’ve been over there for four or five years now. I don’t want to say it’s getting easier, but I’m starting to deal with it better. This year, I didn’t get home until June 21. If I do go back, I would have to go back sometime in August. I get about a month and a half, tops, home, so you have to just cherish the time you have with your family.
TW: How do you view the opportunity of Summer League?
DC: Going to Summer League, I take it as going to work. There’s 30 teams, and you just need one person, one team to like you. I’m not just playing for the name on my chest, I’m playing for all the teams there, representing themselves and watching Summer League. It’ll be another great opportunity for me. Like I said, I signed a huge deal last year in Russia, and I think it was all because of Summer League and the way I played. I’m not just playing for NBA teams, I’m playing for some of the top level overseas teams [to scout me] as well. It’s going to be another great opportunity for me and to showcase what I can do.
TW: You’re playing for the Jazz, who have a few guard slots opening up because Randy Foye and Mo Williams are free agents. I know the roster isn’t fully shaped yet, but did you break down their situation, and see yourself as a potential fit?
DC: Yeah, for sure. I watched them this year, they had Randy Foye, and in the past they’ve had some good shooters and great playmakers. I definitely could see myself playing there. Throughout the practice today, I picked up some of the things that they do during the season. I think I could definitely could fit in with the Utah Jazz. It’s a great program and I’m just happy to play for them.
TW: You’ve been around some great NBA teams and veterans, like last year with the Celtics. Has anything you’ve seen during practice or any advice you have received stuck with you?
DC: Watching their work ethic, and watching how hard those guys work. Those guys are established Hall of Famers. So just watching that was enough for me, but I definitely talked to those guys personally…talking to Doc Rivers was great too. Doc told me, you know, he definitely thinks that I’m an NBA player, he definitely thinks that I belong in the NBA. Never stop what I’m doing, don’t give up my dream, just keep playing, keep fighting, and things will all fall into place. Doc talked to me for a long time after [the Celtics] released me. I love Doc, he’s a great guy. I’m very happy for him and his new job. He’ll do great things in L.A., I believe.