Catching up with the Nets’ 2021 first-round picks, who just wrapped up an impressive run at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas
Brooklyn Nets rookies Cameron Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe, the respective 27th and 29th picks in the 2021 NBA Draft, are in the enviable position of getting to start their pro careers playing with a trio of superstars in James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving.
But you’d better believe that they’re already accomplished players in their own right.
Sharpe, a 6-foot-11 center from North Carolina, and Thomas, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard out of LSU, helped guide the summertime Nets to a strong finish. Thomas had an all-time great week in Las Vegas, leading all players in scoring, including multiple 30-point performances, a game-winner, and co-Summer League MVP honors alongside Sacramento’s Davion Mitchell.
On one of their few off days in the desert, the 19-year-olds sat down with Boardroom to discuss playing for the Nets, their pre-draft and Summer League experiences, whom they looked up to in their journey to the NBA, and what it’s going to be like playing with Brooklyn’s big three, and how they can help the Nets win their first NBA championship.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
SHLOMO SPRUNG: You guys have only been playing for the Nets for about a week, but what’s it like being a part of this team and this organization?
DAY’RON SHARPE: So far, it’s been great. All the coaches are trying to teach us things, and even players on the team are trying to teach us the ways of the league, which things are gonna happen [in] your rookie season, how the refs are going to be.
CAM THOMAS: Basically we’re learning on the job. We haven’t really had many practices. We had like three, four practices and then we went straight into games. We started off slow, but I think everybody found their rhythm and we’re all clicking.
SS: What’s it like playing together now that you’ve had a few games under your belt?
CT: It’s been good. Because I’ve never played with Day’Ron before, and it’s been great because we have a good connection because we’re in the same agency. We had workouts at CAA, so we have a little bit of a good history before coming here. So I feel it was a great match.
DS: I think they got two steals in the draft. They got an all-out scorer, and then they got a hard, hustling big guy who will anchor the paint and play hard, grab rebounds.
I think we go well together, feed off each other. I’m gonna set screens, he’s gonna shoot, or he’ll shoot, I’ll get the rebound, throw it back to him so he could shoot it again. I feel like we’re a good tandem.
SS: Day’Ron, it seemed like during the pre-draft process the Nets were pretty high on you early on. What was your experience like dealing with them before the draft?
DS: My agent was telling me, “The Nets, they love you.” We could get a workout there. So I worked out for them, I showed them I could shoot. They already knew I could rebound, because one of the scouts, B.J. [Johnson], he’s been watching me since middle school and I didn’t even know that. He liked my game, so they brought me in, had good interviews. So we were a good fit.
SS: Cam, same question for you.
CT: My first workout for them was a private workout. It worked out really well, and they kept in contact with my agent. And then I had a late, late interview like a day or two before the draft. I felt like the fit was there, but they didn’t really expect me there at No. 27. It was just a steal, honestly.
SS: You tied the game Thursday with that three, and then won it in sudden death. Lost the ball with about four on the shot clock, picked it up, shot it off one leg and it went in. The crowd went crazy. What makes you different?
CT: Just my confidence. I feel like my confidence makes me different because I’m not afraid to take any shot, plus I know my teammates have confidence in me to hit those shots because they know my skill set and my ability on the court to put the ball in the hoop. My confidence really separates me to make those kinds of plays.
SS: Who did you grow up watching and who inspires your games?
DS: I grew up watching LeBron. He was my favorite player growing up. He’s always been since I was a little boy. He was drafted in ‘03 and I’ve been watching ball since I was like six, and LeBron’s been that guy since he came into the league.
I’ve always loved watching Bron. And as he’s gotten older, I’ve always seen how he’s gotten his teammates involved and he started winning more, going to more playoffs and Finals.
And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to like more guys at my position. I’ve started watching [Nikola] Jokic more, when he first started playing for the Nuggets. Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Tim Duncan, those types of guys.
CT: Growing up, for me, it was Kobe. All Kobe. Even when he was playing, it was all Kobe. There was like nobody else. But as far as players now since he’s gone, I like James Harden, Kyrie, [Victor] Oladipo, a little bit of Bradley Beal. But mainly Harden, Kyrie, and Dipo.
SS: It’s probably good of you to go on the record saying you look up to your teammates.
CT: I know, right? It’s crazy.
SS: What would you say were your signature moments in college?
CT: I’d probably say mine was probably both our NCAA Tournament games, because it’s win or go home and you’ve gotta step up. I think those were my two signature games at LSU to show that I have the confidence to pick my play up in pressure situations.
DS: Probably both times when we played Notre Dame and when we played Louisville. My first time we played Notre Dame, it was around the beginning of the season, I put up 25 and 10. The second time we played Notre Dame in the [ACC] Tournament, I almost had a triple-double [14 points, 10 rebounds, six assists]. And then against Louisville I had 21 and 11.
SS: I know you guys haven’t been in Brooklyn that long, but who’s been mentoring you so far?
DS: For me, mostly it’s been Thiago [Splitter]. He talked to me the most. He’s got a ring under his belt, been on a championship team with the Spurs, so he knows how to be a big, heading to a team and squad where I’ll mostly be getting rebounds, setting screens, playing hard. So he’s been guiding me while I’ve been at Summer League.
CT: For me, it’s been RFK [Ryan Forehan-Kelly], he’s been taking me under his wing, showing me different clips, talking to me, pulling me to the side. So RFK, really everybody, STAT [Amar’e Stoudamire], Thiago, really everybody talks to us and gives us pointers.
I guess they see the potential in us and want us to be the best versions of ourselves.
SS: Cam, you mentioned your superstar teammates. Do you two feel less pressure as rookies now that you have them on your team? Another team might expect you to do more right away.
CT: Yeah, of course. I think that’s like every rookie going late in the first round. You’re going to better teams, and they already have their star players, superstar players, so the pressure’s not going to be on us that much.
But we want to get out there and contribute to a winning team. I think coming out, we have no pressure, really. We’re just going out there and doing what we do.
DS: For me, whenever I play, I don’t really feel pressure. I’m just trying to go out there and win, so I’m gonna do what I can. A lot of times during the season, we have ups and downs with your teammates and in games. But as long as you come together, I think it’ll work out.
SS: Have you guys spoken with either KD, Harden, or Kyrie yet?
DS: I just said one thing to KD the day after the draft. I just DM’d him, I was like let’s go get this ring. And he was like, for sure!
CT: I haven’t said anything to anybody yet. But a few of the guys came out to watch us play, though. Bruce Brown, DeAndre Jordan, Jevon Carter, Nic Claxton. Some guys came out, but I didn’t really speak to anybody, though.
SS: What was it like seeing those guys out there supporting you?
CT: It was big for those guys who are already in the league a few years and come see what the future and potential is coming through Brooklyn. It was big for them to come out to watch us and be there.
SS: Cam, you said you try to look up to Harden and Kyrie on the court. What are you most looking forward to learning from those guys?
CT: Just different ways to score. How they think the game through. How they become efficient. It’s little stuff like that, and the way James playmakers, how he sees the game from a point guard’s perspective. Just learning different stuff like that, and Kyrie’s efficiency in the mid-range and really from all over, because he had a 50/40/90 season. Really, just his efficiency and how he gets to his spots.
DS: Like Cam said, the in-between game. Most people say the mid-range game is gone, but most of the guys that’s killing the league, they’ve got the mid-range game. When we play defense, they’re probably going to be able to get those mid-range shots up. So I feel like I wanna work on my in-between game, because most people don’t expect you to go there.
SS: You guys may be late first-round picks, but you still have some big money coming in on your contracts. Have you guys thought about potential investments or business strategy yet?
DS: I’ve hired a financial advisor. So I’m going to try to get a nice little budget going, as well as investing my money. But I haven’t really thought about it. I just got in the league, so I’m trying to focus on basketball right now.
CT: I haven’t thought about investing anything. Of course, you see stuff and you want to invest in it because it’s a good thing to invest your money. But right now, I haven’t really thought about investing my money.
Same thing as Day’Ron. I’m worried about getting in the gym and working on my game so I can contribute to a championship team.
SS: What have you thought about, though?
CT: Just little stuff like crypto. Everybody does it, so it’s like, why not just try it? But I’m not really worried about investing my money.
DS: I should’ve invested my money in Bitcoin a long time ago.
SS: How do you envision your roles in helping the Nets win their first NBA championship?
DS: I see my role as being the grit ‘n grind guy, like a PJ Tucker-type guy. Mucking the paint up, contesting every shot, try to get every rebound, set good screens for Harden, Kyrie, and KD, be able to knock down the open jumper.
That’s a big thing. I can’t be on the court if I can’t hit a jumper; if they swing it to me, I knock [it] down. Be able to contain guards that I gotta switch onto. Just do all the little things to help the team win, play my role.
CT: Just doing whatever it takes to be on the floor. If they need me to score that game, if it’s ISOs, catch-and-shoots, pick-and-rolls. Anything, scoring the ball, playing defense, playmaking if need be. If one of the guys is out, be the playmaker as well.
Just little stuff like that, defending, playmaking, scoring.
SS: Have you guys closed your eyes before going to bed and envision being on the court with KD, Kyrie, and Harden in these huge playoff games?
CT: Even before I got to the league, I was like, I wanna play with James Harden when he was in Houston because he was playing with the ball in his hands and getting all these assists, catch-and-shoot threes for all the guys. To be able to actually play with him in Brooklyn now, I can’t wait.
DS: I never thought I was gonna play with KD, Kyrie, and Harden at the same time. But I don’t really think about it, for real. I’m just going day by day. So when I see them and it happens, it happens.