Paul Suellentrop

Tekele Cotton’s workouts may lead to spot on NBA Summer League roster

Athleticism has always been a strength for former Wichita State guard Tekele Cotton.
Athleticism has always been a strength for former Wichita State guard Tekele Cotton. The Wichita Eagle

Agent Justin Haynes is confident Tekele Cotton can make a strong case for an NBA team based on his defense and work ethic. Staying in the NBA will require improving his shooting and ball-handling.

Cotton, a two-time Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year at Wichita State, should complete his fourth NBA workout this week. He showed off for Oklahoma City, Houston and Toronto previously and his final stop is with a team to be announced, according to Haynes, owner of Worldwide Sports Marketing.

“It's going be about his character,” Haynes said. “It's going to be about his athleticism. It's going to be about how well he defends. He's ready to come in and compete as a defensive guy. Can he come far enough along to be an offensive guy? I know Tekele believes it.”

Cotton played on the wing at WSU, rarely running the team. At 6-foot-3, he profiles more as a point guard in the NBA, although his abilities may allow him to guard bigger players. He enjoyed his best offensive season as a junior, averaging 10.3 points and making 37.1 percent of his three-pointers and 45.2 percent from the field. As a senior, he slipped to 9.8 points while a jammed finger bothered him most of the season. He shot 28.9 percent from three and 41.2 percent overall. His foul shooting — something scouts often see as an indicator of shooting form and potential — remained consistent at 70.5 percent.

“I’m shooting pretty good,” Cotton said after the Toronto workout last week. “The (workouts) are going real good.”

Cotton is training with David Thorpe, who helped former Shocker Gal Mekel prepare for the NBA, at Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Fla. Thorpe has worked with NBA players such as Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Udonis Haslem and Markieff and Marcus Morris. While teams provide different amounts of feedback, Haynes said scouts at Houston and Toronto liked Cotton’s shooting performances. An NBA workout normally consists of drills, measurements, conditioning tests, 1-on-1 games and 3-on-3 games with other prospects. Haynes said NBA people also tell him Cotton’s presence makes workouts better because of his intensity.

“(Thorpe) feels he’s improving as a perimeter shooter and his ball-handling is improving,” Haynes said. “David is a tremendous motivator. Tekele works with him and his confidence is at a different place.”

Cotton’s name is unlikely to pop up in Thursday’s two rounds of the NBA Draft. These workouts are largely about getting him a spot on an NBA Summer League roster next month. Teams will start assembling those rosters after the draft. Players who perform well in the summer leagues — Orlando, Las Vegas and Utah — can earn an invitation to an NBA camp in the fall and increase their value for an overseas contract. Haynes is confident Cotton will play in at least one of the three summer leagues.

“I think he’s earned it,” Haynes said. “We want to drive interest. It's getting the message out. What he did in college can relate to the NBA. He can provide that same role and leadership at the NBA level. It starts with these workouts.”

▪  Former Shocker Darius Carter will play for the Denver Nuggets in the Las Vegas Summer League. Las Vegas games start on July 10 and all 67 are shown on NBA TV with 23 teams and the D-League represented. Carter, a 6-foot-7 forward, is preparing in Wichita.

“I’m doing a lot of conditioning stuff, making sure I’m in shape,” he said.

Former Shockers guard Toure Murry also plans on playing in the summer league and is waiting on a team. He played five games for Utah and Washington last season before the Wizards released him.

The Orlando league, featuring nine teams, begins July 4 with Utah’s four-team schedule starting July 6.

▪  WSU will play in the Battle 4 Atlantis in 2016 and ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reports that the eight-team field also includes Louisville, Michigan State and VCU. The Shockers play in the Orlando Classic in November and return to the Maui Invitational in 2017.

Fins up for Tyler — Injuries to WSU pitchers Sam Tewes and Willie Schwanke received a lot of attention for wrecking the rotation. Coaches never counted on lefty Cody Tyler, so his absence after elbow surgery went largely unnoticed.

Tyler is off to a strong start to the summer for the Wilmington (N.C.) Sharks of the Coastal Plain League, his first action since injuring his elbow as a freshman in 2014. He underwent ligament reconstruction surgery (known as Tommy John surgery) on May 30, 2014. He started throwing with no restrictions in the bullpen during the final month of WSU’s 2015 season. Those sessions went well, a preview of his three starts for the Sharks.

“He’s been able to do a lot without having the full 85-90 pitch count,” Sharks coach Parker Bangs said. “I’ve been pretty careful with him. When his mechanics start to waver, I pull him. We’re working on being economical with pitches and attacking the zone so he can go deep in the game.”

Tyler, from Forney, Texas, struck out 11, gave up two hits and walked five in 5 1/3 innings in his first start. He went five innings in his second start, striking out six and walking one. He didn’t allow a run until his third outing, one cut short when a batted ball struck his hand. In three starts and 13 2/3 innings, Tyler is 2-1 with an 0.66 ERA and 20 strikeouts and seven walks.

“It was a great feeling to be back out there again,” he said. “I wasn’t too nervous. I was just trying to get the feeling of being back out there on the mound again.”

Tyler said his fastball consistently went 91-93 in two of his starts.

“He’s getting ahead with his fastball,” Bangs said. “We preach that you only use off-speed when you need it. As the summer progresses and bats catch up with the pitching, he’ll use it more. He’s got four pitches he can locate for strikes.”

It isn’t unusual for pitchers recovering from Tommy John to blaze away early, while their arms are fresh, before regressing. Sometimes it takes until their seconds season to reach previous consistency. Tyler is prepared for baseball’s ups and downs.

“That’s just how baseball goes,” he said.

Tyler, who pitched 8 2/3 innings as a freshman at WSU, credited trainer Dan Cahill with pushing him through his rehab.

“I definitely wouldn't be where I am right now without him,” Tyler said.

WSU sophomore Tyler Jones is a reliever with the Sharks and also off to a strong start. Jones, who started seven games for WSU as a freshman and compiled a 8.31 ERA, didn’t allow an earned run in his first eight appearances, all in relief. He recorded 13 strikeouts and walked five in 7 1/3 innings.

“He's being very aggressive with the fastball and he's got a good, lively fastball,” Bangs said. “The eighth inning is all his and he’s getting the ball to the closer. it's a rare luxury in this league to have two or three high-quality arms in the bullpen.

Grade report — WSU’s athletes compiled a 3.1 grade-point average in the spring semester and 173 earned a spot on the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

The 20 athletes with a 4.0 included women’s basketball players Rangie Bessard, Kelsey Jacobs and Diamond Lockhart, Melanie Jaegers (softball), Tanaporn Thongsing (tennis), Emily Cook, Kayla Deighan, Jaelynn Griess, Jordan Maestas, Jenny Pinkston, Rachel Shearrer, Kelsey Tenbrink, Chris Peters, Cody Scheck, Justin Scott (track and field), Mikaela Raudsepp, Katie Reilly (volleyball), Alec Heinen, Bryce Schroeder and Meghan Schuetz (golf).

Worth noting — WSU’s baseball team will play in the 2017 Tony Gwynn Classic at San Diego State, along with Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Oregon, Seton Hall, San Diego State, San Diego and Cal Irvine. The tournament, which honors the career of the former San Diego State player and coach, starts in 2016. Gwynn coached 12 seasons at San Diego State after his 20-season career with the San Diego Padres … WSU’s baseball camps continue in July and August with a five-session prospect camp and a three-day camp. For information call director of operations Scott Gurss at (316) 978-3636 … WSU’s men’s tennis team signed Vitor Mendes from Ventura (Calif.) College and Haru Inoue of Gokugeikan High School in Hachioji, Japan. Mendes, from Brazil, went 53-9 in two seasons in singles.

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.

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