The journey to the gyms of Sin City wasn’t easy for Bryce Cotton.
Cotton was under-recruited coming out of high school in Arizona and when he ended up on the University of Providence roster in 2010, he arrived as a player who would have to fight for every minute, let alone a crack at the starting five. While he would grow to play a key part in the Friars’ first Big East title in over two decades, he went undrafted in 2014 and was added to the Austin Spurs roster at the start of the 2014-15 season.
Just 10 days after arriving in Texas, he made his professional debut and put the NBA D-League on notice recording 19 points, eight rebounds, five assists and one block in 35 minutes of game action. It was a magical start for the slender point guard. At 6’1″, 165 pounds, Cotton’s size had plagued him throughout his career, but with the Austin Spurs he used his diminutive stature to his advantage.
He was named to the Futures All-Star team during All-Star weekend in early February of 2015 and less than month later he signed a 10-day contract with the Utah Jazz.
His NBA debut came on February 27th, he scored three points and nabbed two rebounds in a 104-82 win over the Nuggets. Contrary to the typical outcome of 10-day contracts, Cotton signed a multi-year deal with the Jazz and appeared to be well on his way to silencing his critics and finding a home in the Association.
As they so often do, things didn’t go as planned. The Jazz waived him before the start of the next season and he saw his name bounce between the D-League, the NBA, and even the Chinese Basketball Association in January of this year.
“It’ll test you mentally,” Cotton said on Sunday. “But, it’s a part of the journey, so you have to make the most of it. I’ve studied a lot of little, undrafted guards like Ronnie Price and J.J. Barea so I’m trying to be like them.”
Cotton’s story is tailor-made for Las Vegas Summer League promise, though. Talented enough to see NBA hardwood but with a game that’s still raw in its development, Cotton will have to prove his hardest work over the summer. He got the chance to do so with the Atlanta Hawks Summer League squad and he’s in the prime of his athletic prowess and plays with a chip on his shoulder. These 10 days in Vegas are his NBA Finals.
“I’m just out here trying to play my game,” he said after Sunday’s 88-80 win over the Washington Wizards. “Things are feeling natural right now. I love playing with the team because things are so team-oriented and everyone shares the ball.”
While Cotton may enjoy allocating the rock, he’s actually been the one benefiting the most from the distribution. In his Vegas debut, he poured in 14 points in 17 minutes on the floor. He followed that performance up with a 21-point outburst off the bench on Sunday.
Although the headlines coming out of Vegas have been dominated by the lottery picks of this year’s draft, Cotton is quietly showcasing the kind of game that’s been responsible for him playing a 23 NBA contests in his career. His agility in the paint, tenacity on defense and resilient attitude have proved to be the perfect ingredients for a successful Summer League thus far. Above all else though, he’s aware that when you’re offered a shot, you make the most of it.
“This was only opportunity,” he said, “and I’m glad that Atlanta took a chance on me.”