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Rookies cite D’Angelo Russell as one reason they like Nets

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Will D’Angelo Russell be their teammate or a memory by the time they take court in October?

In their introductory press conference Monday at HSS Training Center, rookies Nic Claxton and Jaylen Hands both cited Russell’s play when asked what they like about their new team.

“For me, I watched them a lot because I like D’Angelo Russell and how he comes off the pick-and-roll. The teams is really centered off the pick and roll, getting downhill,” said Hands. “They put up a lot of three’s, Jarrett Allen is protecting the rim, rim-running. So, I think it’s a lot of modern NBA basketball, making decisions off the pick and roll and just playing, getting up and down. So, I really like that. That fits my game.”

Claxton agreed.

“As far as players, of course, D’Angelo Russell and Jarrett Allen. He really shocked a lot of people and players with what he did early on in his first year. I just continue to watch, and I’m just happy to be here.”

The question, of course, is whether the Nets will renounce Russell’s rights so they can pursue Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant among others. They and we will know in a week or so.

In discussing what he likes about the team, Claxton also made a point of praising Brooklyn’s chemistry.

“One thing that really stuck out to me, just being a basketball fan, is watching their bench and how excited the players on the bench get for the guys that are out on the court,” Claxton said. “That’s more like a college feeling when it comes to that. That’s really cool because my freshman year in college I was one of those guys on the bench just getting excited for the players out on the court. That’s really good to have, especially in an NBA organization because you really don’t see it that much.”

In general, the two expressed satisfaction with joining the Nets. Charles Claxton, Nic’s father, told reporters after the press conference that Nic had worked out with 11 teams and had good feelings abut two of them ... one being the Nets.

Both players also cited the family atmosphere they encountered when they worked out for the team.

“I was here a few weeks ago for my workout and I really enjoyed it. It was one of the workouts that really stuck out for me, the staff and even all the way down to the personnel here.

“It was different. It was a different feel. The city. I just had a good feeling. Like I always say, I feel like God, he has a way of just making everything right so when I heard my name called the 31st pick, I was blessed and I was happy right away and I’m really emotional so you were able to just see it in my face.”

Marks was non-committal about plans for both players. Development will be the priority, not “pigeon-holing,” he said.

“I think that’s something we pride ourselves on, from Kenny, the assistant coaches, performance team, all the way through here. I’d hate to pigeonhole one of these guys into, ‘hey, this is gonna be his path.’

“I think we’ve run into some problems with that in the past, if we’ve said, ‘he’s going to play in the G League,’ or he’s going to do this or he’s going to do that when all of a sudden we get a guy like for instance take Rodi last year, he rose to the occasion. I never want to limit any of the guys we have in here.”

Specifically, Marks wouldn’t characterize Claxton, a quarter-inch short of seven feet, as either a 4 or a 5. “I think that’s yet to be determined,” Marks said. He did note that Claxton has ball-handling talents similar sized players don’t possess, mainly because he grew up as a point guard then had a growth spurt.

Of course, a lot of the rookies’ immediate future will be determined by how much the team changes next week with the beginning of free agency.

Marks also said that character played a role in picking Claxton and Hands. The two had achieved academic as well as athletic honors in their two years of college.

“I think it translates,” he said of intelligence. “You’ve got to give credit to not only them but the families for the way they were raised and have grown up. I think we like adding depth and worldly character to our group here.

“We’ve got a diverse group as is and now we’ll be learning from these guys. We’ll be taking away something from these guys, too. It’s terrific. Everybody has an opportunity, but certainly we were looking at IQ and basketball IQ. I think there is definitely some translation there.”

Marks also hinted that the Nets may have believed Hands would go higher. He was asked if the Nets had targeted the hyperathletic point guard who led the Pac-12 in assists.

“I think as the draft transpires there’s always people that you think, well we didn’t expect that or we didn’t see this, especially when you get after the high, high picks there,” he said adding, “It’s always about trying to capitalize on the moment and finding advantageous opportunities for us and obviously we were thrilled to have Jaylen available for us when we were picking there.

Both players have connections to the Nets. Hands met Joe Tsai a little more than a year ago in China when UCLA played in the PAC -12 China game and Claxton played against Jarrett Allen.

“We met him in China on a UCLA trip. He was talking to us and then mentioned he lived in La Jolla and his kids watch basketball in San Diego and they were fans of me,” Hands noted with a smile. “

“It was really cool get to get to know him. At time I wasn’t really aware of how big a deal he was. Just doing research with some of our other coaches and finding out how much he means was crazy! So for it to come full circle means a lot. I can’t wait to meet him again.”

Claxton played against Allen three years ago in a FIBA Americas U18 tournament in Chile, Claxton for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Allen for Team USA. Both players scored seven points and Allen outrebounded Claxton 10-7. Although Claxton’s memory of the game was vague, he’s a big fan of Allen.

“I don’t remember much honestly exactly playing him that particular game,” he said. “But I’m a big time basketball fan. I’ve been watching the Nets and watching him. I pretty much know his game. i think he does a great job just protecting the rim, finishing around the basket, he’s extremely long, Me and him on the court we can be extremely disruptive, especially on the defensive end.”

Marks said both will play in the Las Vegas Summer League. Meanwhile, Sportando reports that Josh Gray, a 6’1” point guard, will play for the Nets in summer league. Gray played for the Suns in 2017-18 before joining Changwon LG Sakers in South Korea last year.