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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Workouts, Summer League and Signing Overseas: Sam Griesel Recaps Busy Summer

July 19, 2023

Sam Griesel didn’t have big expectations heading into his pre-draft process. The goal for the former Husker and his agent was simply to get as many workouts with NBA teams as possible and see where things went from there.

Griesel wasn’t expecting to get drafted or even for a team to make him a priority two-way contract signing. He was hoping to work out for a team or two, gain some experience, perhaps earn a Summer League invitation and then head overseas to begin his professional career.

Griesel thought if workout opportunities would come, they’d come early — and they didn’t. At least not until the week leading up to the draft when Utah, Chicago and Boson all brought him in, and he made the most of them.

“My Boston and Chicago workouts went about as good as they could have gone,” Griesel told Hail Varsity. “I came back home for the draft and was kind of waiting on a summer league invite hopefully, and I ended up getting one from Boston and Chicago. But ultimately I just decided to go with Boston because they were first and I just felt really comfortable in their culture. I feel like if there was any organization that would appreciate what I can bring to an organization both on the floor and off the floor it would be Boston. I thought it was a perfect fit, so we ultimately decided to go with the Celtics.”

A handful of teams choose to participate in the pre-Las Vegas mini-summer leagues — the California Classic and the Salt Lake City Summer League — but not Boston.

”We did a training camp in Boston, which was, I think, a perfect situation for me because I could be in front of the coaches and just get that experience practicing and get comfortable with that for five or six days,” Griesel said. “So I went to Boston on July 1 and we were there until July 7. We flew to Vegas. And so we practiced, did the training camp, got to Vegas, and then it was pretty much all just games.”

Griesel described the Las Vegas Summer League as “glorified AAU.” The Celtics held one practice while they were in Vegas, they’d roll up to the arena 30 minutes before tipoff, warm up for 10 minutes and then play. The Celtics went 2-3 in Vegas and Griesel played in four of those games.

Griesel wasn’t a big fan of the city itself and everything that comes with spending time in Las Vegas, but he was grateful for the opportunity nonetheless.

“Overall, it was a really cool experience,” Griesel said. “I never envisioned myself being a part of an NBA organization at any rank and to be with such a historic organization and well-respected organization like Boston, it was really cool. My goal was just to be a sponge. if I got some playing time, great; if I didn’t, it is what it is. I ended up playing really well, especially in the training camp, and I think I kind of turned some heads within the coaching staff. I think I went into it and I don’t think they expected me to have, really, a role with the team … So it was all just a really cool, humbling, learning experience, and I’m grateful for them for giving me the opportunity and it’s definitely something I’ll remember and cherish for a really long time.”

The most memorable parts of his summer had more to do with the people he met than anything on the court, though he certainly enjoyed that part as well.

“I think my starstruck moments were kind of going to the workouts,” Griesel said. “That’s when I was like, ‘What is happening? I’m in these facilities in front of these coaches.’ My first one, Avery Bradley was there and I don’t even know why; like in Utah, he was there, and then Jason Terry was there. Life has gone in a lot of unexpected directions, to be honest, in the last year, and so I’m kind of just rolling with it at this point. When I was in Boston, Jayson Tatum was on our flight to Vegas and he walks through the plane and gives everyone a fist bump. It was just crazy, really cool.”

Griesel wasn’t the only former Husker on the Celtics’ summer league roster. Dalano Banton also signed with the Celtics after spending his first two years in the league with the Toronto Raptors, and he played in two games in Vegas with the Celtics.

“He came late to training camp because that deal didn’t get done until like halfway through, but it was definitely cool,” Griesel said. “We talked a little bit about Coach Hoiberg and some of the other staff members that we had shared experiences with at different times, but it’s definitely cool for for a school like Nebraska to have, I think, five guys in the NBA Summer League. Basically me being a hometown kid in Nebraska and always being a Nebraska basketball fan, it’s definitely cool and promising for the future of Nebraska basketball.”

Griesel performed well enough for the Celtics’ brass to reach out to him about signing an Exhibit 10 contract, which is essentially a training camp invitation that teams use to scout players for potential two-contracts or, if the club opts to cut the player before the season, to secure the player’s G League rights for that season. However, Griesel had already agreed to sign with a German club before Summer League began, and he chose to stick with the prior commitment.

“It was really stressful, to be honest, deciding on what I wanted to do and what I felt like my heart is telling me to do,” Griesel said. “I think I always kind of knew that Germany was the place for me and where I would be happiest, just kind of the person I am, and obviously, the basketball side of things too — I think I have a very European style of basketball. Sometimes the G League has a bit of a narrative around it that none of the guys want to be in the G League, they all want to make it to the NBA, and they’re going to do whatever they can to show that they are ready for the NBA. And it makes sense, but that’s just not really who I am as a basketball player or as a person. I can do the little things and I want to win basketball games, I don’t really care about my personal stats. Among many other reasons, I think that’s a better situation for me in Europe and I think I’ll be able to show my my skills and my talent more in that system than I would in say the G league. 

“And then from a life experience perspective, it’s something that I really cherish and I want the basketball side of things to be great, but I want my quality of life to be even better. That’s even more important to me. I’m a big culture guy, and I love traveling and getting to experience different cultures and fully embracing that. Learning about the people and living their way of life is something that really intrigues me. So getting to do that in a country that I’m somewhat familiar with already with my grandparents being there, it will be a really cool opportunity. My grandparents haven’t seen me play person since my AAU games in high school, so it’ll be nice for them that they don’t have to wake up at 3 a.m. to watch me play.”

Griesel signed with Telekom Baskets Bonn, based in Bonn, Germany. Germany was the natural landing spot for Griesel, who owns dual citizenship as his father, Achim, is from Germany. European clubs have a limit for the number of foreign players they can have on a roster, but Griesel’s dual citizenship gave him a leg up when seeking a team.

“I’m an American basketball player, but I’m also considered a German native, I have German citizenship, so it’s kind of like they get an American player without having to count me as an American player, long story short,” Griesel said. “So it’s a good situation for me, it’s a good situation for them. The team I’ll be playing for plays in the Champions League, which is like the second best European League, and then they play in the top league in Germany as well. So for the top league in Germany, I’m considered a German; for the Champions League, I’m still only an American. So it gets a little confusing, but basically, it’s just kind of a shortcut for German teams, I guess.”

Baskets Bonn is coming off a second-place finish in the Basketball Bundesliga (the top league in Germany) and a championship in the Basketball Champions League (a competition for European clubs ran by FIBA). In addition to seeing the club’s success, Griesel also received positive feedback from Tyson Ward, a teammate of his at North Dakota State who played for Baskets Bonn last season.

“He was a guy that I definitely reached out to about the city and just what his experience was like,” Griesel said. “He loved it and obviously I’m sure not a lot of people here are going to know this but they had like an incredibly successful season for their organization, probably the most successful season that they’ve ever had. So there’s a lot of buzz around the team right now. 

“When a professional team over there has success like that, pretty much everyone moves out, everyone gets a promotion, if you will. So there’s a new coach, a new team, so it’s a good situation for me to go into to, even though I’m a rookie, bring some leadership qualities and find my role and we’re all kind of doing it together. So just overall a really good opportunity for me and I’m really excited.”

Griesel said he wishes he had a little bit more time to decompress from his buy summer, but he’s looking forward to his next challenge regardless. Soon he’ll be heading overseas to begin his life as a pro.

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