San Diego State forward Malik Pope has had a bumpy path to the NBA, but his first professional opportunity has finally arrived.
The 21-year-old Pope, who is a Sacramento native that received national attention while attending Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove, will join the summer league roster of the Los Angeles Lakers, according to two sources. Those people spoke to ABC10 on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly since it had not yet been announced by the team.
After visiting and working out with the Pistons, Warriors and Jazz during pre-draft visits, Pope did not hear his name called during last Thursday's NBA Draft. Instead it was the Lakers, who also hosted the 6-foot-10, 215 pound stretch forward for a workout, who will take a shot on the former Aztec.
Pope briefly tested the NBA waters last year following his junior season with the Aztecs, but he decided to withdraw his name from the NBA Draft to return to play his senior season at San Diego State.
The decision to return to SDSU was a wise one.
Pope enjoyed his finest season with the Aztecs, shooting 52 percent from the floor, and posting 12.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per contest while appearing in 32 games. His long frame and ability to stretch the floor - shooting 36 percent from the perimeter - still makes Pope intriguing to today's NBA game.
If only he can stay healthy.
Before attending SDSU, Pope was a heralded recruit, who first attended Burbank High School in South Sacramento, before transferring to Laguna Creek. He drew comparisons to NBA superstar Kevin Durant and thought to be a potential lottery pick for the NBA after maybe one or two years of college, despite suffering two setbacks due to injury.
Pope broke his left leg for the first time in 2012 as a junior while attempting a dunk. He'd suffer another break to the same leg months later, causing him to miss his senior season as well.
Despite two leg injuries, Aztecs head coach believed in Pope's talent enough to still offer him a scholarship and lure him to SDSU.
Largely because of the injuries and spending so much time enduring grueling rehabilitation, Pope fell behind in developing as a basketball player. The success of his senior season was briefly marred by suspension from SDSU when his name surfaced in reports about him allegedly receiving $1,400 improper benefits.
He would be cleared and went on to appear in the Mountain West Tournament, where he is SDSU's all-time career scoring leader. Pope's Aztecs would appear in the NCAA Tournament where they would fall just short against the Houston Cougars 67-65; Pope finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
As his attention turn to the NBA as a college graduate, Pope's opportunity with the Lakers will mean his first NBA experience will take place in his hometown.
The Lakers will participate in the inaugural California Classic Summer League also consisting of the Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat and the Kings, where they'll compete over three days inside Sacramento's Golden 1 Center coming up July 2, 3 and 5th.
A day later, Pope and the Lakers will head to Las Vegas where, for the first time, every NBA team will participate the NBA Summer League, taking place on the campus of UNLV.
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