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For Nets rookies, a chance to develop on the Island as they learn from idols in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s one thing to make it on an NBA roster, even if you’re at the end of the bench or on a two-way deal. But it’s a whole other thing when you’re on a championship contender and then, it’s still wilder when you’re on the same roster as your idols. That’s the enviable situation four members of the Brooklyn Nets roster find themselves in.

They may spend more of their court time at Nassau Coliseum playing for the Long Island Nets of the G League, but most days, they can look across the court and see Kevin Durant, James Harden and before he was exiled, Kyrie Irving. Not to mention Patty Mills or LaMarcus Aldridge or Joe Harris.

Brooklyn’s two-way players — 6’7” second round pick Kessler Edwards and 6’5” undrafted rookie David Duke Jr. — have gotten a first-person look at the work the Nets superstars put in behind the scenes going back to the five-day training camp in San Diego. Both rookies said they have gained a greater appreciation for the work and dedication it takes to become — and stay — the best players in the world.

“I get to see him [Kevin Durant] every single day come into the gym and put the work in, see how he approaches the game, go out and play super hard,” Duke, 22, told NetsDaily at Long Island’s Media Day at the Yes, We Can Community Center in Westbury Thursday. “Just his mentality about things: how he responds to certain situations. I’ve taken that and I learned to appreciate it even more. Growing up as a fan, you don’t really see all the things they do behind the scenes. Now, I get a chance to. I just built an appreciation for the guys like KD, [James] Harden, Blake Griffin, and every vet I can take from. It’s been great so far.”

“I’ve learned a lot, especially from guys like KD, James Harden, and even vets like James Johnson just from watching them,” added the 21-year-old Edwards. “Their off-court workouts, how they carry themselves. You’re talking about some of the greatest players in the world. I’m just looking at them and trying to be just like them,” Edwards said. “It’s a good example for me.”

For now, though, it’s all about the G League and Long Island’s plans for them, starting Saturday when the young Nets take on the Delaware Blue Coats, the 76ers affiliate, before returning home four days later to face the Capital City Go-Go, Washington’s farm club.

In addition to Duke and Edwards, the Nets two first rounders, Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe, are expected to see a lot of time out on the Island. It’ll be the first time two Nets first rounders will spend time with the G League squad.

Throughout Long Island’s short history, the organization has thrived in developing talent, hoping to transform the youth into G League success stories. Heading into the 2021-22 season, the four rookies will be spending time with the Nets G League affiliate. Long Island’s GM, Matt Riccardi sees a “really good opportunity” for all four rookies to get game reps while accomplishing the main goal of developing.

“I think all four of those guys, [it’s] a really good opportunity for them at different parts in the season to get game reps. We’re a veteran NBA team trying to compete for a championship and we feel like we’re doing a great job at that. There will be nights where those four young guys need to step in for Brooklyn and help contribute to wins and there will be other nights where they’re here growing with us on a daily basis and developing in both places,” said Riccardi on the four rookies.

Duke and Edwards, as two-way contract players for the 2021-22 season, will likely play a majority of the season with Long Island while Thomas and Sharpe will be assigned at different points throughout the season, the big club’s needs being paramount. All four rookies have impressed both Brooklyn and Long Island development staff thus far, but Riccardi and the Nets are currently mapping out plans that best suits their respective development as players, as NBA prospects.

“Right now, we have a whole task force working on what is best for their development and constantly looking at that model, watching it evolve as it comes and make sure we’re doing the best for those four players long-term,” said Riccardi who’s also the Nets Director of Scouting. “They have been a joy to work with so far. They’ve been incredible to buy into everything that we’re doing in both programs and one seamless family. They’re really invested in their own development just as we as an organization are invested in them.”

In addition to Riccardi, the development will be guided by Long Island’s new head coach, Adam Caporn, who comes from Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence. Among his pupils, Josh Giddey, the No. 6 pick in the 2021 Draft.

Brooklyn Nets All-Access Practice Photo by David L. Nemec/NBAE via Getty Images

Caporn likes what he has, likes the Nets integration strategy, particularly through the performance team.

“That’s where we are really trying to be seamless that guys come between the two programs and the performance and preparation and the environment as much as it can is really consistent and headed in the same direction,” said the team’s new head coach.

Steve Nash thinks that the group could form the latest Nets’ “stay-ready” group.

“They have a great opportunity to get lots of reps and to be the focal point in Long Island,” said Nash recently. “Those guys, once we get into the season, we’re not really playing up and down in practice. They can play stay-ready group although that’s great and it’s important for us, it’s not the same as playing five-on-five. They get some games there, they get lots of practices, Cam and Day’Ron are still available for our games and same with Kessler and David can be here at night and still experience it and learn and I think it’s really important for their development.”

To that end, Thomas and Sharpe have been spending a lot of time on the Long Island Expressway, commuting between HSS Training Center in Brooklyn and Westbury. a little more then 25 miles. It’s been Brooklyn in the morning, Westbury in the afternoon.

Duke and Edwards, however, are pretty much anchored in Westbury with their G League coaches as they plan for Saturday’s opener. All four are practicing and scrimmaging together, though, including in an informal affair vs. the Westchester Knicks Tuesday.

(Long Island won that contest, by the way. And that neat bounce pass to Duke? It was delivered by Brandon Rachal, an undrafted swingman out of Tulsa.)

Both two-way players think they’ve made a smooth transition from Brooklyn to preparing for the G League season. In their minds, playing with Long Island opens opportunities not only for more game reps and to develop their respective game. It offers an opportunity to carry over new things to the Nets and their championship aspirations. As Edwards noted, the transition, while still difficult, will be made easy because of the similarities in style, in playbooks.

“The play styles of the team are similar. You see the same offensive and defensive concepts. I think the main thing for me while I’m playing for Long Island is just the experience that I’m getting that I wouldn’t be getting in Brooklyn: just the reps for me, trying different stuff, trying to expand my game and do more is the main thing,” Edwards said.

Duke and Edwards do not know how long they will be with Long Island during the G League season, but they say all the right things about the learning process.

“I think the transition has been pretty good,” said Duke on spending time in the G League. “They sat me down saying that this is definitely a step in my development coming down here and getting reps. Obviously, I’m not playing with the Brooklyn team as much as I would be here, so now I can play through mistakes and learn from that, take things away from that team and bring it to here, the communication part. I think this gives me a chance to work on my leadership and learn how to communicate with my teammates at the guard position and just make the right plays.”

Each has been give tasks by that task force Riccardi spoke of.

Duke Jr. wants to put emphasis on his communication skills when it comes to leadership with Long Island. He believes he can carry over those leadership qualities to Brooklyn. The 22-year-old was one of the team’s main leaders during his successful four-game Summer League stint.

“I don’t know the timeframe but I do know that regardless, I know when I go back up with Brooklyn that I want to be comfortable communicating and leading in any way,” Duke Jr. added. “You don’t necessarily need to be a vet to lead. If you just know the game of basketball, you can definitely have some type of input. Coming here, playing through mistakes and learning will give me more confidence.”

Edwards wants to master his shooting touch, particularly the form. Questions about his form resulted in the 6’7” wing being drafted at No. 44. Still, Edwards shot 39.5 percent in his three collegiate seasons at Pepperdine.

“Most definitely my shooting,” said Edwards on what part of his game he wants to grow with the Nets G League affiliate. “I’m going to be using my time in Long Island to develop all the other parts of my game that I’m trying to work on: ball-handling, playmaking, continuing to be a good defender.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way going in the second round, but it’s a good opportunity to be on a championship team. I might not play a lot this year with the main team but it’s a good learning experience and also just going at those guys in practice,” Edwards added. “Obviously, that’ll make me better but seeing if I can make them better too.”

Going back to that superstar and veteran presence in Brooklyn, Edwards said he’s looked to Joe Harris — Brooklyn’s longest-tenured Net who has led the league in three-point percentage the past two seasons. Edwards said he’s excited to learn and further his shooting with Harris’ help.

“I’m already a good shooter but that’s something I want to improve on even more. Looking up the guys like Joe Harris on the team, seeing the way he shoots it,” said Edwards on Harris. “I just look up to him and the way he shoots the ball. I think I can learn a lot from him.”

Indeed, if the G League represents post-graduate class room time for Duke and Edwards, then their faculty has to be seen as the best anywhere.