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Seals Is Hopeful the Risk Will Be Worth the Reward

It’s the thing that nobody in the gym wants to talk about. And it happened to Shea Seals on Saturday.

Players compete in the Fila Summer Pro League at The Pyramid at Long Beach State to improve their skills and hopefully catch a scout’s eye. They want to do it all without injury.

“You can’t think about getting hurt,” Seals said. “You think about playing ball.”

Seals was playing ball Saturday, in the first game of the league’s first day. He was playing well too, with 17 points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes.

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Then he jumped and his knee didn’t quite cooperate. He hyperextended it. That was the last thing that needed to happen to a man without a contract for the next season.

“It was scary,” Seals said.

He went to the bench. He flexed his knee while the trainer examined it. He stood up, walked gingerly, sat back down. He flexed it some more, stood up to take a short walk down the sideline, returned and sat back down. Then he reluctantly went into the locker room for further examinations. When he came out a few minutes later he had an ice bag on his knee. He was done for the day.

No need to risk any more damage.

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“It wasn’t like they needed me out there,” Seals said.

Not with his team leading by 70 points.

The NBA lockout has scared away most of the top talent, which could result in plenty of lopsided scores such as the 177-110 pasting put on the Running J’s by Seals’ Hoop Mecca squad Saturday.

“Last year it was like playing on an NBA team, with NBA coaches and everything,” Seals said.

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This year, his team didn’t even have a coach. Somehow the players managed to find a substitution pattern.

“We’ve got a lot of unselfish guys,” Seals said. “You get tired, you go out.”

Seals stays competitive by pretending his defender is the best player in the NBA. He stays relaxed by ignoring the fact that he is auditioning for employment.

“I just come out to have fun,” Seals said. “I don’t think about getting a job. You do that, it’s putting extra pressure on yourself.”

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It wasn’t supposed to be like this. After a stellar career at Tulsa, Seals was projected to go in the first round of the NBA draft last year. But as the draft grew nearer, questions about his ability to get his shot off arose and his value plummeted. He wasn’t selected.

“It was kind of a wake-up call,” Seals said. “It showed me how you’re not going to be given anything. You have to work for it.”

So he’s working. He spends a gorgeous summer afternoon indoors playing basketball in front of 120 people, three of whom are at any given moment in time playing the Pop-a-Shot game on the concourse, causing the game’s electronic notes of “Sweet Georgia Brown” to beep out while players step to the free throw line.

Madison Square Garden it isn’t.

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Seals got a taste of basketball’s glamorous life by impressing the Lakers enough during training camp that they kept him around on the injured list all season. He was activated Feb. 27 and played in four games, making one basket and two free throws.

He still calls his rookie year in the NBA, “a great experience.

“You’re playing on one of the best teams in the NBA, probably the most talented,” Seals said. “It’s competition at all times. Every practice was competitive.”

Seals had a pair of Detroit Pistons compression shorts on. That might be the one perk of trying out here and there, trying to catch a job: free gear. He also has stuff from the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves.

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Who knows if he’ll be back with the Lakers next season. He could never be sure he would be with the Lakers all of this past season. He spent the season living in a hotel near the airport.

He’s out there playing for another job. Every time on the court brings the risk of injury, but if you’re not playing, no one can see you.

He’ll see if the knee will feel good enough by Monday’s game.

“I don’t want to jeopardize nothing,” Seals said. “If I’m ready to go, I’m playing.”

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Then again, a person in Seals’ position doesn’t have a choice.

“Not really, man,” he said. “Not really.”


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