'No. 1 LeBron fan' Billy Preston to play for Cavs' summer league team in Vegas

Billy Preston | Rich Sugg | rsugg@kcstar.com

By Gary Bedore gbedore@kcstar.com

Former University of Kansas basketball power forward Billy Preston, who was not selected in Thursday’s NBA Draft, will play for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 Las Vegas Summer League. The league runs July 6-17 at UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center and Cox Pavilion.

Preston, a 6-foot-10, 225-pound, 20-year-old native of Santa Ana, Calif., spoke with “a few teams that showed interest” prior to accepting the Cavaliers’ offer, Preston’s mom, Nicole Player, told The Star on Saturday.

“I think it’s a marriage. It’s a great fit,” Player said after Yahoo Sports’ NBA insider Shams Charania tweeted that Preston had “agreed to join the Cleveland Cavaliers.”

“Anyone who knows Billy knows he’s the No. 1 LeBron James fan, so I mean it just made a lot of sense,” Player added with a laugh. “There’s talk he (James) may or may not stay (in Cleveland). That’s not his (Preston’s) concern. He’s very much trying to prepare himself mentally and physically to get out there and get after it,” Player added.

Player said her son would travel to Cleveland on Sunday and start working out with the Cavs this week.

“He didn’t get a chance to work out for Cleveland (prior to draft). He interviewed with them in Chicago (at NBA Combine in May),” Player explained. “I think he interviewed well. I think maybe that drew them together. Looking at roster rumors, they (Cavs) may or may not bust up the team. It seems to be a good fit," she repeated.

Player said Preston, who worked out for more than 10 NBA teams the past several weeks, was not dejected after failing to get picked in Thursday’s 60-player, two-round draft.

“I think it was one of those things we kind of expected it could go either way,” Player said. “We knew he could be drafted. We knew he possibly could not be drafted. We were always going to be hopeful. We never gave up hope. We also were realistic. He didn’t play. He understood.”

Preston, a McDonald's All-American ranked No. 11 in the recruiting class of 2017 by Rivals.com, represented KU in exhibition games in Italy in the summer of 2017 and during three preseason contests prior to the start of the 2017-18 campaign. However, he never participated in a regular-season game for the Jayhawks.

Preston was held out of the opener against Tennessee State as penalty for missing curfew and a class, and missed the next 18 contests as KU compliance and the NCAA looked into the financial picture surrounding a car he had been driving in Lawrence during the school year.

He traveled to Bosnia in January where he played in three games for a professional team before leaving because of an injured shoulder.

“No doubt in my mind he would have been,” Player said, asked if she felt her son would have been a first-round pick had he played in college last season.

KU coach Bill Self said the same after the draft on Thursday.

“We talked to some people ... they told us Billy was all over the board. Everybody was high on his talent but hadn’t seen him much,” Self said.

“Billy is a first-round talent," Self added. "We had more than one team tell us that. They (NBA scouts) haven’t seen him. You go to Bosnia and only play three games (because of injury). They’ve not had a chance to see him over there playing against what the NBA would consider legitimate competition. They don’t see him at Kansas. It hurt him as far as the draft goes. The bottom line is (undrafted players) have to show some toughness and do it the harder way. Intangibles will be more important than ever concerning those guys.”

Player noted that her son getting an opportunity to play in the NBA is “amazing. He’s a good kid. He had a hard-fought road. More importantly, I think he’s going to get there and do well. He’s absolutely going to play in summer league. I know he’s going to show up when his time is to show up.”

She said she had nothing to say about Preston’s situation at Kansas.

“It’s definitely something behind us," Player said. "We moved on from it personally; now it’s time to show that we can move on from it professionally.”

Player is confident Preston will play in the NBA.

“It’s what we’re praying for. That would be amazing,” she said. “I never doubted my son’s ability, never doubted who he is as a person. He’s mentally strong. Everybody can see he’s physically strong, but mentally … the whole thing that happened at Kansas, he’s mentally tough. The best thing about him everybody can see is he never gets too high, and never gets too low. He doesn’t over-celebrate when he does something good. At the same time he doesn’t come down on himself when he does something not so good.

“I think one of the best qualities a person can have is the ability to compartmentalize and realize it’s not the end of the world (when adversity strikes).”

Preston is the fourth KU player to land with an NBA team the past few days. Devonté Graham was selected by Atlanta with the fourth pick of round two of Thursday’s draft and was promptly traded to his home-state Charlotte Hornets for two future second-round picks. Svi Mykhailiuk was the 17th pick of the second round by the Los Angeles Lakers. Malik Newman, who went undrafted, has signed a two-way deal with the Lakers. He’ll play for the G-League’s South Bay Lakers in El Segundo, Calif., with the hope of playing several games for the parent Lakers as well. All four will play summer-league basketball for their new teams.

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