Prospects go from Cayman Islands Classic to the NBA

Nicolas Claxton is fighting for minutes in the world’s premier basketball league.

But before he made it to the NBA, he played in Cayman.

Claxton, a rookie with the Brooklyn Nets, is one of a handful of players who are currently on an NBA roster after participating in the Cayman Islands Classic. Another player, Jacob Evans of the Golden State Warriors, has been sidelined by a hip injury. And Justin James (Sacramento Kings) and Gary Clark (Houston Rockets) have been shuttling between the NBA and its developmental league this season.

The Cayman Islands Classic will be back at the John Gray High School gymnasium on 25 Nov., with the eight participating teams bringing players who hope to join Claxton and Evans at the next level.

For Evans, a first-round pick selected 28th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft, the playing time has proven hard to find. The shooting guard helped lead Cincinnati to the first Cayman Islands Classic championship, and last year he experienced the playoffs with a Golden State team that came within two victories of earning an NBA title.

Evans played 30 games and averaged just six minutes last year for Golden State, but he got to call superstars like Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson his teammates.

Jacob Evans is one of just three players who have played in the Cayman Islands Classic and gone on to be selected in the NBA Draft. Photo: AP

His potential was on display in Cayman, where he totalled 31 points over three games in Cincinnati’s run to the title. He played 34 minutes and delivered 10 points in the championship win over Wyoming, a game which included future NBA players Clark and James.

Clark, Evans’ Cincinnati teammate, scored 17 points in the win and played in 51 games last year for the Houston Rockets. Clark was recalled from the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the NBA’s developmental league – the G League – this week but has yet to play a single minute for Houston.

Meanwhile, on the opposing sideline, Wyoming had a future NBA player of its own.

James played twice for Wyoming in the Cayman Islands Classic but sat out the final game with an injury. Selected by Sacramento with the No. 40 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, he has played in three games for the Kings this season but was assigned to Stockton of the G League this week.

Claxton is the lone player from the 2018 Cayman Islands Classic who has made it to the NBA. The power forward, who played his college ball at the University of Georgia, scored 22 points in a win over Illinois State at last year’s Cayman tournament but then totalled 12 points in losses to Clemson and Georgia State.

Now, as a teammate of NBA champion Kyrie Irving, Claxton is struggling to find playing time. He was picked No. 31 overall by Brooklyn in the 2019 draft but has played in just three of his team’s first 10 games.

One final player, Tyler Cook, was not drafted out of Iowa but has played in four games this season for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Cook played in three Cayman Islands Classic games in 2017, including a 29-point performance against the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

A number of players who took to the courts in the inaugural Cayman Islands Classic are playing overseas, including former South Dakota State All-American Mike Daum, currently with a team in Spain.