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Ty Jerome and Mamadi Diakite use G League as springboard to NBA action
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Ty Jerome and Mamadi Diakite use G League as springboard to NBA action

Ty Jerome’s second professional season began about as poorly as possible.

The former Virginia basketball star injured his left ankle on the first day of training camp with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder. The injury lingered a bit longer than expected, forcing Jerome to rehab instead of preparing for game action with his new team — Jerome was traded to Oklahoma City from the Phoenix Suns in November.

“It was kind of disappointing,” Jerome said in a Monday phone interview with The Daily Progress. “After the first few days, I had to just embrace the situation and just put all my energy into getting healthy.”

As part of that rehab process, Jerome played a few games with the team’s G League affiliate to work back to health and regain a rhythm on the floor. He excelled during his few weeks in the G League bubble in Orlando, and the Thunder brought him back up at the end of February.

In his first two games with the Thunder, Jerome averaged 12 points, 4.5 assists and three rebounds per game. He shot a shade over 50% from the floor across both games. He tallied nine points and seven assists in his team debut, after competing in the G League bubble just a couple days prior.

“I think the thing that was most impressive about how he played was I thought did a great job just kind of plugging in, which is always a challenge when he’s coming from Orlando in the last 48 hours,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault told reporters after Jerome’s debut. “I just thought he seamlessly plugged in, and I think it’s a testament to our holistic development and our development program.”

Jerome praised the Thunder’s commitment to development. He spoke highly of the rehab process and how the team helped him get back to health. With Jerome now healthy, the team has stressed the importance of nurturing the guard’s game. He didn’t play a full season with the Suns due to injury and was used sparingly in Phoenix, making him inexperienced at the professional level.

“From top to bottom, it’s just an awesome organization,” Jerome said. “Super organized, they preach development, and that doesn’t change now that I’m healthy.”

After trading away Chris Paul in the offseason as part of the move that involved Jerome, the Thunder entered a rebuilding mode. They’re a few games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but there’s a talented group of young players on the roster. Jerome hopes to be a part of the team’s future plans at the guard position.

Jerome isn’t the only former UVa standout to find success at the G League level. Former Cavalier Braxton Key recently scored 29 points in 29 minutes on 12-of-15 shooting in a two-game stretch spanning the end of February into the beginning of March. Key, who played at UVa from 2018-20, contributes mostly off the bench for the Delaware Blue Coats.

Mamadi Diakite, another key contributor on UVa’s national championship team, dominated his G League peers in his first few weeks of game action as a professional. He posted six consecutive double doubles from Feb. 21 — March 1 before the Milwaukee Bucks called him up to the NBA level Wednesday.

Diakite becomes the eighth former UVa men’s basketball player currently on an NBA roster.

It’s unclear what Diakite’s role might be for one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, but he proved himself at the G League level. He averaged 18.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game across his 12 G League games. Diakite also blocked two shots a game, providing a key lift defensively.

Diakite’s promotion comes after The Athletic reported Tuesday that the NBA plans to eliminate the regular-season game limit and playoff limitations originally set on two-way players. Before the season, two-way players — guys who split time across the G League and NBA — were not expected to be allowed on NBA rosters during the postseason.

It seems like that rule will be changed, allowing guys like Diakite to spend as much time at the NBA level as their respective organization wants.

The G League is meant to prepare players for the NBA level. The system worked for Diakite and Jerome early this season.

“The style of basketball that I was playing in the G League is the exact same way I’m playing at the NBA level,” Jerome said.

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