Utah's odd couple
Utah Flash rookie Lee Cummard walked out of a photo session during the team's media day, dropped his wiry frame into a chair, shook his head and started to laugh.
"I'm not going to lie," he said. "It was a little weird."
Cummard had just posed for a few pictures with Luke Nevill, another NBA Development League rookie.
The ex-BYU guard and former Utah center begin the season as teammates on the Flash because they are passengers on the same unsteady boat -- young players with an uncertain future trying to carve out a niche in professional basketball.
Nothing weird about that, except Cummard and Nevill spent the last four years trying to beat each others' brains out as members of the Cougars and Utes.
Picture John and Kate minus the eight -- wearing Flash uniforms, trying to win games together, traveling on the same buses and planes, eating together on the road.
Now that's weird.
Cummard's journey to the Flash took him from Provo to Phoenix to Germany.
Undrafted, he played for the Phoenix Suns' summer league team before signing with Alba Berlin of the German League in August.
Two months later, however, the club bought out his contract.
"They wanted a bigger player -- more of a 'three-four' than a 'two-three,' Cummard said. "So we headed back" to the United States.
Because Cummard had gone to Germany, Flash coach Brad Jones didn't have him on the team's radar screen as he prepared for training camp.
Then he got a call from Cummard's agent.
"He said, 'Would you be interested in Lee?' " Jones said. "I was like, 'Well, yeah.' He asked me where I thought Lee would fit in and I told him, 'All I can tell you from watching him at BYU is I think he has a chance.' "
Jones likes Cummard's shooting ability, his length and his toughness.
"Three days later," Jones said, "they called back and said, 'He's coming.' "
Like Cummard, Nevill was not taken in last summer's NBA Draft. But he signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he matched up against Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas in training camp.
"It was a great experience," Nevill said. "Those guys showed me the ropes -- what to expect. So it was great. ...
"Shaq is a joker. On the court, he's serious. But off the court he's a great guy -- easy to get along with, a great personality."
The Cavs cut Nevill in the preseason, however.
"I was disappointed, but I kind of expected it, considering they have two [former] All-Stars at my position," he said. "I knew they probably didn't need another big guy riding the bench."
Nevill had a couple of offers to go overseas, but decided "the quickest path I could take to progress my career" was the D-League.
The Flash were happy to oblige.
"After Cleveland, we thought he was leaning toward going overseas, so I had written him off," Jones said.
Just before the D-League's deadline for signing players, however, Jones double-checked with Nevill's agent.
"He said, 'Actually, we're thinking about it,' " Jones recalled. "But he wanted me to have a personal conversation with Luke."
Jones called Nevill, who was in Los Angeles.
"We talked awhile," Jones said, "and at the end of the conversation Luke said, 'OK, I'm coming. I'll send in my contract.' I'd like to tell you it was great recruiting on my part, but ..."
Neither Cummard nor Nevill expect their history as college rivals to impact their new relationship as teammates.
Cummard calls Nevill "a tremendous player. ... I'm glad he's on my team now instead of having to face him and coming up with a defensive scheme to stop him."
Nevill speaks in nearly identical terms about Cummard: "He's a great player. I welcome great teammates and great players. ...
"He was always a hard guy to guard. When I was at Utah, we always had a trouble with him. So it's great to have him on your side."
Because they play different positions, Cummard claims he never had any on-court problems with Nevill in college.
Laughing, he said, "Never had to guard each other. We just did our thing. So I'll leave discussing that stuff to the big men we had at BYU."
Cummard and Nevill come to the Flash as "allocated players," meaning they were placed on teams because of their "regional significance" once they decided to sign a D-League contract.
"We're excited about them being here," Jones said. "We think they will help us grow our franchise.
"From a basketball standpoint, it's great to have their talent level. And I know our front-office people think it's terrific from a P.R. standpoint."
Team president Joe Brown is pleased Cummard and Nevill opened the season on the Flash's 12-man roster.
"There is a great opportunity for them to play on our team, play very well on our team and further their careers," Brown said.
"The secondary part is, it does help create local interest because they have both been stars for their [college] teams. So it works out great."
Brown knows first-hand that Cummard's presence has boosted the Flash's profile in Utah County: "My neighbor came up to me and said, 'I'm so excited Lee is playing with you guys. I'm going to try and make it out to more games because I want to see Lee play.' "
The bottom line, however, is Cummard and Nevill are playing close to their basketball roots because they deem it the best chance to advance their careers.
Both use the same word to describe playing for the Flash: opportunity.
"As a coach, I just hope that they get what they want out of it," Jones said "I hope they get better and I hope they can achieve what they want because that's the end-all-be-all.
"It's nice they are here in Utah and they have Utah connections but, at the end of the day, the D-League is trying to get you ready to go someplace else."
The college career statistics of BYU's Lee Cummard and Utah's Luke Nevill:
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