By Milton Posner
On April 7th, four CAA basketball players stood on a speedily assembled court in America’s largest shopping mall as dollar bills fluttered around them.
Northeastern’s Vasa Pusica, Hofstra’s Justin Wright-Foreman, Charleston’s Jarrell Brantley, and UNCW’s Devontae Cacok had won the Dos Equis 3X3U National Championship — and its $100,000 prize — after seven straight wins over teams representing other conferences.
It was an entertaining, financially rewarding experience for two-thirds of the CAA’s 2019 First Team. But it would pale in comparison to where they were headed.
Pusica went first. Two weeks after the 3X3U Tournament, he signed a contract with KK Partizan, the winningest team in his native Serbia’s top basketball league. Since joining the team, he has averaged eight points, two rebounds, and two assists over 12 games. Pusica possesses the deliberate ballhandling, mature decision-making, and versatile scoring skill to isolate or to attack in the pick-and-roll.
Brantley and Wright-Foreman went next. The Indiana Pacers drafted Brantley with the 50th pick, then flipped him to the Utah Jazz for Utah’s 2021 second-round pick and $2 million. The Jazz also nabbed Wright-Foreman 53rd with their own pick. It marked the first time since 1992 that two CAA players were chosen in the same draft.
Both have great upside; Brantley is a 6-foot-7-inch, 255-pound powerhouse boasting strong athleticism, positional versatility, and a diverse offensive skill set. Wright-Foreman is an electric combo guard who displays blazing quickness, on-the-catch and off-the-dribble shooting, and strong drives courtesy of deft handles and space-consuming spins.
On Tuesday, the Jazz signed both of them to two-way contracts. These contracts allow players to alternate between the NBA and G League (minor league basketball). Brantley and Wright-Foreman will likely spend most of their time with Utah’s G League affiliate (the Salt Lake City Stars), but they can spend up to 45 days with the Jazz.
They will make about $80,000 (prorated) for their G League time and about $900,000 (rookie minimum, also prorated) for their NBA time. The Jazz can make either contract into a standard NBA contract at any time, provided they have a free roster space. Should the pair finish their two-way deals, they would be eligible for qualifying offers and restricted free agency.
Brantley played four Summer League games — he was limited by a hamstring injury — averaging nine points (38 percent shooting) and five rebounds in 22 minutes. Wright-Foreman also played four games, averaging 12 points on 33 percent shooting, three rebounds, three assists, and two steals in 26 minutes per game.
But it was Devontae Cacok who shone brightest in Summer League. The 6-foot-7-inch, 240-pound dynamo averaged 23 minutes across eight contests, logging 12 points on 60 percent shooting, nine rebounds, and two steals a game for the Los Angeles Lakers. His Summer League coach and teammates have praised his defense, rebounding, energy, and toughness.
On July 9th, the Lakers signed Cacok to an Exhibit 10 contract, essentially a training camp invite with a bonus attached. It incentivizes Cacok to remain with the Lakers’ G League affiliate by paying him $5,000 to $50,000 if he is waived by the NBA club, signs with the G League team, and remains there for at least 30 days. The Lakers can also convert the deal into a two-way contract, allowing Cacok to transition between the NBA and G League clubs.
Just 100 days ago, these four athletes donned glitzy plastic sunglasses, gold-colored chains, and shot dollar bills from guns as they celebrated a win in a high-octane but mostly-for-fun tournament. Now they’ve all got real jobs, and how they develop and expand their skills will determine their longevity in an ever-changing sport.