PORTLAND – When the lights come up Friday night at the Portland Expo, two towering basketball players will stand out on the parquet floor.

Six-foot-11 Magnum Rolle, and 6-10 Tiny Gallon: two big men who will play no small part in separating the Maine Red Claws from the rest of the NBA Development League.

The Claws’ second season begins at 7 Friday night.

“We’re in a very unique situation that we have two high-quality big guys who are truly NBA call-up candidates,” said General Manager Jon Jennings, who lost his voice this week. “They have the overall talent but are also rookies. It’s pretty unique.”

“I think it’s what’s going to separate us. We’ve got two bigs, me and Magnum who can play inside, out and run the floor,” said Gallon.

From the bigs to a bevy of guards, 15 would-be Red Claws fought for minutes in training camp over the last 10 days. Wednesday night, Stephane Lasme, a 6-8 forward out of the University of Massachusetts, was waived because of injury. He hurt an ankle Monday in the first minutes of an exhibition with Springfield. He is out indefinitely, but the Red Claws will retain his rights.

Tajuan Porter, a 5-8 guard from Oregon and Jajuan Smith, a 6-3 guard from Tennessee, were waived and are free to negotiate with another team. Two other guard candidates, Armon Bassett and James Lewis, were waived last weekend.

“We want to start with defense, create turnovers and run,” said Coach Austin Ainge. “I like my group. I like their toughness, their energy. I like coaching them.”

They are a group emblematic of the D-League: players trying to make the most of a second chance.

There is Paul Harris, the former Syracuse forward who left school early, did not land in the NBA, then spent all of last year injured.

“Being hurt humbled me so much,” said Harris.

Said Jennings: “He’s come in this year with a great determination and fire to become the player he really believes, and we believe, he can become.”

There’s Rolle and Gallon, both were drafted by NBA teams — Oklahoma City and Milwaukee, respectively — but neither earned contracts.

There’s Mario West, a guard and the team’s only returning player, who has spent his career trying to prove his worth on an NBA roster.

A walk-on at Georgia Tech, he’s fought to return to the Atlanta Hawks’ roster for parts of the last two seasons. He worked out for an NBA team just this week.

And there’s Jamar Smith, who is at the beginning of his professional career after his involvement in a 2007 car wreck that almost derailed his life.

He was suspended for the 2007-08 season at Illinois, and later resurrected his career at Division II Southern Indiana.

“He’s got an opportunity to realize the dreams he had long ago,” said Jennings.

For all, it’s a new chance.

So far, said Harris, his team looks well rounded.

“You look around the D-League and you don’t have big guys who are this good,” said Harris. “I think we have it all. When we get it all together, we’ll have it all.”

Rolle agreed.

“I think we’re going to be an exciting team to watch,” he said. “We’re young across the board. And they’ve put us in a situation to compete. I’m so excited to get it going.”

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

[email protected]