Following a Summer League contest in late July, Chris Copeland sat all alone inside a designated area for the Knicks squad at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas. The 28-year old was not upset with his performance or the result of the game; he was simply taking a moment to gather his thoughts during an important period of time for his career.
Copeland averaged 13.8 points per game for New York in Summer League action. His impressive inside-out game often left your head tilted upwards wondering if this player could make a veteran-laden team in October.
On Saturday afternoon, the Knicks announced their 15-man roster and Copeland earned a spot but that’s just the start of his story. Finding success in professional sports can be a matter of circumstance as extremely talented players have missed their opportunity due to depth at their position, coaches failing to capitalize on their talent, injuries, and a whole host of unplanned events.
With Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby, and Rasheed Wallace all missing time throughout the preseason, Copeland received another shot to prove his worth.
In just 19 minutes, Copeland found daylight in an overtime victory against the Celtics in the second preseason outing for the team. The forward dropped all 21 of his points in the second half while helping New York topple its division rival.
Once again, Copeland was potent in a matchup against Boston seven days later. He received significant minutes with most of the Knicks roster sitting out the contest to rest on the second game of a back-to-back. There was no time to relax for Copeland, the preseason was the proving ground and he took advantage of the 37 minutes of court time in Albany. Copeland scored 34 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the floor, 3-of-4 behind the arc, and a perfect 9-of-9 at the charity stripe. Additionally, he grabbed six boards, snatched two steals, and registered a block.
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler has certainly noticed Copeland’s impact, “He's learning how to play at this level but Cope has been professional for a while now. He's experienced playing at a high level. He's brought a nice little spark to our team.”
Over his next two games, Copeland posted a combined 31 points to conclude a critical preseason for the former University of Colorado standout. Copeland’s confidence level has increased dramatically over the course of the last three months since his Summer League debut.
“My teammates give me a ton of confidence, they are always behind me, they believe in my game, they want me to stay aggressive offensively, and some things to work on of course. My teammates give me the most confidence in the world as well as the coaching staff and I go out there and I’m pretty comfortable on the floor,” Copeland stated.
Next to rookie Pablo Prigioni, the 6-8 forward flourished off a variety of pick-and-roll sets during the preseason. He understands when to pop off the screen and when to dive towards the rim for an easy bucket inside the paint. A solid shooting stroke allows Copeland to damage opponents from the perimeter, which is a necessity for a big man working the most effective play in the NBA.
Copeland believes his overseas experience has assisted in his development at the next level and especially with the pick-and-roll. After leaving CU in 2006, Copeland inked a deal with the D-League team in Fort Worth before jetting to Europe where he spent the next five seasons. Copeland suited up for squads in Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.
“Both of our [Prigioni] international experiences help us on the floor, reading screens, reading the defense, we kind of know what each other is looking for and it’s successful on the floor at times,” Copeland explained.
As seen in the past, New Yorkers gravitate towards the underdog. Copeland has already felt the power of playing on the grand stage in the orange and blue. The New Jersey native is appreciative of his position in life and not taking one day for granted in this journey to the NBA.
“It is amazing man,” Copeland said with a bright smile. “The fans have been behind me, it’s overwhelming but like I said before, it’s just such a blessing to be here all together. Hopefully, I can give them a good show and at the end of the day, I have a lot of learning to do, a lot of growing to do but I’m just glad to have the opportunity. I’m thankful for the fans at the end of the day.”
The season opener is set for Thursday night and Copeland is entering a new chapter in his life. Copeland will help provide depth on the frontline with Stoudemire missing time. His road to the league was not the traditional route but Copeland has found a path and will prepare for his next big break.