Champ Oguchi’s performance for Nigeria in the Olympics earned him NBA tryouts with the Heat and Spurs, giving him renewed hope that his big chance will come soon.
By Kevin Thomas
PORTLAND - The opening day of practice for the Maine Red Claws did not feature the glamor of, say, the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. But Champ Oguchi still wore a smile Monday as he ambled through the hallway of the ancient Portland Expo.
"Back in Portland, Maine," he said.
Just another stop on a path that Oguchi hopes will lead to the NBA.
Oguchi, a 6-foot-6 guard, played for the Red Claws in 2010-11.
Last year, his passport was ever at the ready.
Oguchi, 26, began the season in Lebanon, playing first in a league, and then with an Iraqi team in a tournament. From there, he hooked up with teams in Venezuela and then the Philippines.
Then came July and the Olympics. Oguchi, a Houston native, played for the homeland of his parents -- Nigeria.
"A lot of traveling," Oguchi said.
"I would call it exciting," Oguchi corrected.
The highlight, of course, was London.
"Amazing," Oguchi said. "From the opening ceremonies, to the fans, to just being in London, and the whole atmosphere. You just have to cherish moments like that."
Nigeria opened with a 60-56 win over Tunisia, then lost four straight, including a 156-73 rout to the U.S.
In Nigeria's final game, a 79-73 loss to France, Oguchi hit 8 of 14 3-pointers and scored 35 points.
Along with the memories, Oguchi has mementos from the Olympics, including photos taken with Kobe Bryant and another with LeBron James.
What Oguchi wanted after the Olympics was to be James' teammate in Miami. Both the Heat and the San Antonio Spurs were impressed with Oguchi's Olympic performance and invited him for a tryout. But neither team asked him to training camp.
"A great experience," Oguchi called the tryouts. "(But) they had some guys at my position that pretty much do the same things I do. It just didn't work out."
Oguchi's options then were to go overseas and earn a decent salary, or play in the NBA D-League, with its low pay (maximum $24,000) but high visibility.
Oguchi decided on the D-League, returning to the Red Claws, which maintained his rights.
"He's got a great reputation around here," Red Claws Coach Mike Taylor said. "The Celtics were very high on him. He was a priority to try and get back."
Oguchi said that now that he's on the "NBA radar," he wants to stay close.
"After talking with Austin (Ainge, the Celtics' personnel director) about my career and the direction I want to go, we thought that the D-League at this time was the best decision," Oguchi said.
"I feel like I deserve to be playing in the NBA. That's just how I feel. Being so close, I wanted to make sure I put myself in that position to achieve that goal."
Oguchi said his game has improved since his last time in Portland. He can finish drives to the basket better. And he can play a little point guard. But his strength remains far from the hoop.
"Of course, shooting is what I do," Oguchi said. "It's my bread and butter."
MONDAY'S CAMP OPENER "started on a very positive note," Taylor said. "But we have a long ways to go."
Taylor and staff will run two practices a day through Thursday, then one Friday before an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday in Auburn. Roster cuts will come next week.
We want to make sure we give everyone a good evaluation, a good look," Taylor said.
POINT GUARD is the most competitive situation, although the starter is a given -- first-round draft pick Shelvin Mack.
"Obviously Shelvin Mack is the featured point guard," Taylor said. "We're real excited to have him. And he played extremely well this morning. He impressed us all.
"Basically, with our backup point guard spot, you have four rookies battling it out. The competition will be very intense."
The four are fourth-round draft pick Cervante Burrell from Seattle University, and three who earned invitations through tryouts -- Raheem Singleton (University of Maine), DaQuan Brooks (Western Connecticut State) and Farnold Degand (North Carolina State).
JEREMIAH RIVERS failed his physical Sunday. Rivers, the son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers, is recovering from surgeries on both ankles in February.
Rivers remained in Portland, but his status with the club has not been determined.
With Rivers not playing, Maine has 15 players. The roster must be down to 10 next week.
THE CELTICS were on the road Monday night in Chicago. When they settle back in New England, it's possible that at least one player -- center Fab Melo -- and maybe a second -- forward Kris Joseph -- could join the Red Claws.
"We're waiting for the call," Taylor said. "It's all according to the Celtics' time frame. We anticipate some (Celtics) players at some point in training camp."
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: