Asante Gist of the Maine Celtics dribbles the ball Sunday during a game against the Wisconsin Herd at the Portland Expo. Gist is one of several new players on the team’s roster, brought in to replace those signed to 10-day contracts by NBA teams in recent weeks. China Wong/NBAE via Getty Images

NBA G League glory can be just a phone call away. At least it was for Asante Gist. Along with a dash to the airport, a short flight, a physical and a quick introduction to his new teammates and coaches.

On Dec. 17, Gist was lounging at his parents’ home in East Orange, New Jersey, not far from New York City, when he got a call from his agent. The Maine Celtics needed a player tonight, now, ASAP. A few hours later, Gist was at the Portland Expo, scoring 11 points off the bench for the Celtics in a 111-99 win over the Long Island Nets.

“I met Coach (Jarell) Christian when I was getting dressed. He told me some of the plays we run. The assistant coaches, I didn’t meet them until I came up stairs and took the court,” said Gist, who began his college basketball career at Eastern Kentucky alongside Maine native Nick Mayo before transferring to Iona, which he led to the 2021 NCAA tournament. “I took the court and joined the team with four minutes left in warmups.”

With NBA teams poaching G League rosters to fill gaps created as players are sidelined because of COVID-19 protocols, shuffling the roster has become an almost daily occurrence for Christian, coach of the Maine Celtics, and the team’s general manager, Remy Cofield. Last Thursday, guard Ryan Arcidiacono became the sixth Celtic in two and a half weeks to sign a 10-day contract with an NBA team, joining the New York Knicks.

Along with Arcidiacono, Maine has lost Theo Pinson (Dallas Mavericks), Luke Kornet (Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks), Juwan Morgan (Toronto Raptors), Chris Clemons (Atlanta Hawks) and Jaysean Paige (Detroit Pistons) to NBA teams. Morgan and Paige have returned to the Maine Celtics. On Monday, Pinson signed a two-way contract with Dallas, meaning if he returns to the G League it will be with the Texas Legends, Dallas’ G League affiliate.

“It’s one of those things, I’m happy for the guys to get that opportunity, but it is very difficult to build a competitive roster when your top four or five guys are gone,” Cofield said.

Maine went 10-2 in the G League’s 12-game Showcase Cup “preseason” before Christmas, then 0-2 at the Showcase Cup tournament in Las Vegas. The Celtics are 1-0 since the regular season started and are scheduled to host the Delaware Blue Coats on Thursday.

The league shut down from Dec. 27 to Jan. 5 – not because teams had players sidelined by COVID, but because NBA teams did. G League clubs needed time to replenish rosters picked over by NBA teams desperate to fill holes in their lineups. NBA teams are able to use a medical hardship exemption to replace a player out with COVID and exceed the normal roster limit of 15 players. Many of those medical hardship roster spots are coming from the G League.

“The NBA has the G League to lean on, and overseas guys to lean on to fill their rosters. The G League, if you’re missing your top guys, the talent pool is low after that,” Cofield said.

Maine Celtics Coach Jarell Christian: “You never really know who you’re going to have from day-to-day. You don’t know if you’ll have enough for practice. You don’t know if you’ll have enough for games.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Christian added: “You never really know who you’re going to have from day-to-day. You don’t know if you’ll have enough for practice. You don’t know if you’ll have enough for games. It’s kind of like a revolving door or a moving target. You just have to be patient with it.”

The loss of a player can come suddenly. Kornet’s first call-up, to the Cavaliers, came on Dec. 21, shortly after he had gone through a shootaround and walk-through prior to that evening’s game against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

“We found out a couple hours before the game that we were going to be without our starting center after going through a walk-through and shootaround thinking that he was going to be there that night,” Christian said.

The Maine Celtics were scrambling to fill roster spots on Dec. 17 when they stumbled into Gist. That morning, Maine had seven active players. League rules require eight players dressed to play. It wasn’t as simple as finding a former college player in the Portland area, signing him for a day and sticking him at the end of the bench. The G League requires free-agent signings to come from the approved available player pool, and league officials told Cofield to find somebody on that list who could get to Portland by tip-off.

Back home in New Jersey after being waived by the Westchester Knicks on Dec. 2, Gist was happy to throw his basketball shoes, a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt into a backpack and hurry to Maine for what he thought would be a one-off. Inserted into the game late in the first quarter, Gist nailed his first shot, a 3-pointer from the corner. He finished with 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting and earned a spot on the roster.

Asante Gist started Maine’s first regular season game Sunday, scoring eight points in a 117-89 win over the Wisconsin Herd. China Wong/NBAE via Getty Images

“For the most, I’m really confident in my game. I had to feel it out to see the plays, stuff like that, but I feel like basketball is basketball. Once I got on the court and ran up the court once or twice, I felt like I was at home. I was trying to figure it out as I went. They were talking me through plays,” Gist said.

Gist started Maine’s last game at point guard, Sunday’s 117-89 win over the Wisconsin Herd, scoring eight points. Cofield pointed to Gist and Deonte Burton, who came off the bench Sunday to score 12 points and grab seven rebounds in his Celtics debut, as examples of getting lucky on the waiver wire. A 6-foot-5 forward, Burton spent two seasons in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“When a team goes through that much of an overhaul, especially in the scenario where we’re dealing with COVID stuff as well, you have to get lucky,” Cofield said. “Things like that don’t come by very often, but when they do, you jump on them. … You have no idea sometimes. You’re picking a name out of a hat. Asante is now squarely in our rotation as a guy that can fill a role.”

Cofield and Christian feel the Celtics are in a good place now, roster-wise. Morgan is back, and the team will find out soon if Kornet will return or sign a contract with an NBA team. It’s not the most ideal way to build a team, but it’s the only way they have.

“Plug and play. That’s the kind of culture that we’re creating. Next-man-up mentality,” Christian said. “It’s a tough thing for everybody. It’s tough for players to get used to the new guys. It’s tough for the new guys to get used to a new system and new coaches. And it’s tough for the coaches to get used to the new guys to try to coach and teach them.”

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