Though a player’s first season in the professional ranks often resembles a roller coaster ride, with ups and downs, twists and turns, rushes of excitements and moments of worry, it’s those players who can best adapt to the changes, both in the game itself and the lifestyle, that most quickly translate their talents to success on the next level.
Villanova graduates and NBA rookies Randy Foye and Allan Ray both gave strong contributions in their introductory seasons in the pro ranks. While fellow newcomer Kyle Lowry’s campaign was cut short by a broken wrist, he did enough in his first few games to have the Grizzlies eagerly anticipating his return.
Foye, the seventh overall pick, was given the best opportunity to shine out of his former Villanova teammates, and he did not disappoint. While it took the first month of the season for Foye to get significant minutes, he quickly became one of the key members of the team by the end of November.
Foye broke out with his first huge game on Dec. 27 in a 100-98 win over the Chicago Bulls. He tallied 25 points and hit the game-winning shot in the final second to seal a big win for Minnesota.
“That’s what I do best, make plays for myself and for other people,” Foye said.
The win against the Bulls helped to establish Foye as a key player on the T’wolves roster. The rookie was given a big role in crunch time despite the veteran presence of Mike James and Troy Hudson at the point guard position.
Foye averaged 10.5 points per game in January, the same month Coach Dwane Casey was fired despite the team’s 20-20 start. Randy Wittman took over at the helm for the remainder of the season, and Foye first cracked Minnesota’s starting lineup on Feb. 11 against the Boston Celtics. The guard scored 10 points and dished out eight assists in his first start, and he went on to start the team’s next eight games.
Wittman ultimately felt that Foye was best suited to be a spark off the bench, so he lost his starting job but continued to earn a similar level of minutes and raised his scoring average over the season’s final months. One of his finest games of the year came in the season finale when he started against the Memphis Grizzlies and finished with a season-high 26 points to go along with eight rebounds and six assists.
Seeing time at both backcourt positions, Foye proved that he could handle the role of “combo guard.” He finished his first NBA season averaging 10.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, while shooting 43 percent from the field, 37 percent from behind the 3-point arc and 85 percent from the free-throw line. While Foye heated up down the stretch Minnesota floundered, finishing with a 32-50 record.
Playing in a more difficult environment this season was Foye’s former teammate and roommate, Ray, who signed as a free agent with the Boston Celtics after the draft. The guard played in just three of the team’s first 24 games while the losses for the injury-plagued Celts racked up losses left and right.
Despite the terrible state of the team, Ray couldn’t seem to get off the pine. His first major playing time came on Dec. 26 at Denver when he scored 12 points in 18 minutes on 5-of-10 shooting. Ray’s playing time continued to be spotty at best, but when he got to play significant minutes, he almost always scored points and knocked down his shots from long range.
The rookie guard cracked the 20-point mark for the first time against Atlanta on Jan. 15 with 22 points and followed it up with 20 points five days later against Washington.
Even though Ray was finally getting a chance to contribute and often provided a scoring punch off the bench, Boston went on a record-challenging 18-game losing streak.
A week after the team finally snapped its streak, Ray was sent to the NBDL following the returns of several of his injured teammates. He arrived to the Austin Toros just before the tragic death of the team’s head coach and former Celtics All-Star Dennis Johnson. With many of the team’s games cancelled, Ray played just twice with the Toros, totaling 25 points in his second game.
The guard was recalled on Mar. 9 and saw an immediate boost in his role in Boston, playing in 17 of the team’s final 20 games and even getting to start five games. After his time in the D-League, the guard averaged 9.8 points per game, including a season-high 22 points against Indiana on Apr. 7. and hit double-figures in scoring in six of his final 10 games.
Ray finished the season averaging 6.2 points per game while shooting 41 percent from downtown in 47 games.
While Ray spent plenty of time watching from the sidelines, his playing time far outweighed Lowry’s with the Memphis Grizzlies. The two-year Villanova guard actually got off to the hottest start of ‘Nova’s NBA trio. The point guard played 28 minutes in his first NBA game, a triple-overtime loss to the Knicks. Lowry scored six points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the game, playing almost all his minutes at the end of the game. He went on to earn minutes in 10 of the first 11 games of the season, filling up the stat sheets in each of his appearances. His best game was against Orlando on Nov. 20 when he scored 16 points and had five rebounds and six assists in a Memphis win. In the next game, however, Lowry broke his wrist and ended his season. He had to have surgery to repair the injury, and missed the rest of the Grizzlies’ difficult season. In his 10 games, the rookie averaged 5.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
He’ll have to work even harder to get back than originally thought after having additional surgery to fix the fracture in early March.
Though the ride had its bumps in the road, each Villanova player can be proud of his initial NBA effort and look to build toward stardom in year two come November.