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By Mike Sandrolini
HILLSIDE | Robert Covington has become a vital part of the Philadelphia 76ers during the three seasons he’s been with the club.
And he’s on the verge of becoming a wealthy young man. Covington and the 76ers could reach an agreement on a contract extension later this year, but if that doesn’t pan out, he’ll be a free agent at the end of the 2017-18 season.
If the latter scenario comes to fruition, Covington undoubtedly will be in high demand around the NBA because he’s proven to be a steady scorer, rebounder and defender at small forward.
Despite the notoriety of being an NBA player, Covington hasn’t forgotten his roots. He hosted his second annual Robert Covington Basketball Camp at Proviso West, his alma mater, last week.
“It’s always good to get back to the people you’ve seen growing up,” Covington told the West Suburban Journal as the camp was wrapping up last Saturday. “The kids that follow behind you, just to make sure that they see that by you’re coming back and giving back, it shows that you care about being here that much more as a person.
“This is where the foundation began for me at Proviso West High School. It’s making sure they see that I’m not forgetting them or I’m not forgetting where I came from. This is about just making sure I want kids to have a way to be off the street. The whole thing of me doing this is just to show that sports are a means to an outlet, but first you have to make academics; that’s the first and foremost thing. Sports is a gift. School is something that’s mandatory.”
The free camp for boys and girls in the community has expanded from two days to three days, and it saw an increase in the number of participants—from 100 last year to 125 that were in for the first day of camp this year.
“We had a huge turnout because when we opened up registration day. We had 150 kids sign up, but we had 125 show up on the first day,” said Teresa Bryant, a Bellwood resident who is Covington’s mother and helps organize and run the camp.
One of the new features at camp this year were all-star and championship games for the NBA Division (ages 14-18) and the NCAA Division (11-13). Participants also were given free T-shirts, meals and other prizes.
Covington says he wants the camp to branch out in future years and have “more and more kids.”
“The more kids you take and give them this type of outlet, the more you can teach the kids that those who are having trouble at home or are having problems, it’s a way for them to really stay focused and have some fun around positive people that want to see change,” he said.
The upcoming 2017-18 campaign will be interesting, not only for Covington personally and professionally, but for him and his Sixers teammates. Philly has languished near the bottom of the NBA standings over the past few years, but an influx of young, potentially star, talent has the city buzzing. Making the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2012 is definitely in the cards this season.
The Sixers had the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft both in 2016 and 2017 (Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, respectively), as well as the third overall pick in the 2014 draft (Joel Embiid).
“We had a great foundation and a great core already,” Covington said, “but now we’re adding pieces like that to the team. And then you’ve got the work ethic and you’ve got guys that know how to push each other. It’s the amount of talent that we have and the amount of hard work that we put in.”
Covington is eligible to renegotiate his contract with the Sixers starting Nov. 15—the day three years ago when he first signed with the team as an undrafted free agent. At that point, the Sixers can offer him a three-year extension. If both sides can’t reach an agreement, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the season. At this point he’s taking a wait-and-see mindset toward the possibility of having his contract extended or going into free agency.
Covington’s 2016-17 season ended just a couple of weeks before the conclusion of the regular season after he suffered a slight tear of his lateral meniscus. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair the knee in April, and reports that he’s healthy and looking forward to training camp.
“I’m just playing it out,” he said. “Whatever happens happens. My main focus right now is to get back healthy and making sure that I’m back to 100 percent because once the time comes when we go into training camp, all that other stuff will happen. That’s why my agent does; that’s what I pay my agent for. He’s going to put me in the best scenario and he’s going to go over it with me and we’re going to evaluate things.”
When asked if looking at the possibly of signing with the Chicago Bulls would be an option if, for some reason, he doesn’t reach a deal to stay in Philadelphia, Covington replied:
“If it’s the right opportunity, you never know. But right now I don’t think Philly will let me go because of how valuable I am to the team, but numbers-wise, we’ll see how everything pans out.”
“It would be nice to have him closer to home,” Teresa said with a laugh, “but we love Philly. Everything is a business so I hope things work out for him.”
Covington had a rough go of it shooting three-pointers at the start of last season, averaging below 30 percent from the arch at one point. He improved that percentage as the season went on, but one aspect of his game never faltered: his defense.
Called on to guard some of the NBA’s top scorers on a nightly basis for the Sixers, Covington is now recognized as one of the league’s top defensive players.
“My coach, (assistant) Lloyd Pierce, and my (head) coach Brett Brown, they told me, ‘If you want to stay in this league and be effective and dominant, you have to become a two-way player.’ ” Covington said. “You can’t just be known as a shooter; you have to be able to do more than that. You’ve got to be able to guard the best players.
“They gave me that challenge. My second year they saw glimpses, but last year, it just skyrocketed. It’s just a matter of an emphasis of studying, watching film, going over scouting reports, doing all the other stuff so I make sure I know who I’m going against. That’s what’s elevated my game.”
It goes without saying that Teresa is proud of her son.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I’m glad he’s getting a chance to live out his dream.”