Singler reaching new heights

Fresh off solid debut season with Pistons, Medford star takes pride in evolution of local hoops tourney
Kyle Singler talks during a press conference Thursday at Kids Unlimited.Julia Moore

It took Kyle Singler only until the ninth game of his first NBA season before he earned a starting spot as a member of the Detroit Pistons.

Such a meteoric rise is only challenged by that of the youth basketball tournament he started as a senior project while at South Medford High, with the field for his seventh annual Kyle Singler Southern Oregon Open forcing local gymnasiums to be bursting at the seams this weekend.

SINGLER OPEN

WHAT: Seventh annual youth basketball tournament with boys and girls divisions from grades 6-8 and high school.

  • WHEN, WHERE: Saturday and Sunday, with games played at Kids Unlimited, South Medford High, North Medford High, Central High, Phoenix High, McLoughlin Middle School and Sacred Heart Catholic School. Game schedules at kuoregon.org
  • DINNER OF CHAMPIONS: Saturday, 5:30 p.m., South Medford High. Presentation and skills clinic by Kyle and E.J. Singler to follow about 7:30.
  • CHAD COTA/KYLE SINGLER AUCTION: June 21 at Kids Unlimited.

Last year's field of 80 teams is like a blip on the radar this year, with 142 teams slated to compete Saturday and Sunday on 14 courts at seven venues throughout the area.

Given Singler's reaction as he shook hands with admirers of all ages Thursday at Kids Unlimited, it's hard to tell what he's most proud of these days. Ever since he began making national news on the basketball court, the two most important things for Singler have involved making it to the NBA and giving back to the community he calls home here in Medford.

"I can't believe it's the seventh year," the 25-year-old Singler said of his tournament. "It's grown every year and I think it's great for Medford and hopefully is another thing that puts it on the map. I don't think a lot of people from out of the state have been to Medford so it's really cool for them to be able to come here and experience all the great things Medford can give them."

"It's just neat how we've evolved over the years," he added. "I think we've found what works and what doesn't work and we're always trying to improve on it each and every year."

The same could be said for Singler's main pursuit these days as a professional basketball player. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound guard/forward had already put himself through the paces of a workout prior to sitting down Thursday, and plans to remain active throughout the summer to hopefully be able to provide the Pistons even more than he displayed during his rookie campaign.

After Detroit opened the season with eight straight losses, Singler was inserted in the starting lineup on Nov. 14, 2012, in the ninth game and contributed 16 points and four rebounds during his team's 94-76 win at Philadelphia.

The rigors of the NBA season brought its share of highs and lows from that point, but Singler remained a mainstay of the starting lineup and wound up averaging 8.8 points and four rebounds in 28 minutes per game for the Pistons, who finished 29-53 and tied for 11th overall in the Eastern Conference.

"The best part of the year was being with other guys who are there because they love to play basketball and that's what they're all about," said Singler. "It's the best basketball in the world. You play against extreme amounts of talent every single night."

The transition wasn't exactly immediate for Singler, who had barely wrapped up his professional foray in Spain before he was at his first NBA summer camp. He admittedly struggled in the preseason but finally seemed to find his groove with the Pistons at the two-guard and small forward positions.

"Guys are quicker, bigger and able to make plays that you just don't see in the European League," he said. "Whether you notice it in the stats or not, I felt myself getting better throughout the year and I felt the game slowing down and I was able to do things that in the beginning of the year I wasn't able to do."

The flow of the game became so much better with Singler on the floor that it only seemed natural for then-coach Lawrence Frank to insert him into the starting lineup. Singler said he was nervous at first but appreciative of the opportunity.

"I was happy that I progressed into the point where I did get that chance to start and I did feel comfortable playing the minutes that I was given," he said. "It gave me a good feeling that they noticed the things I was doing on the court was helping the team. That's all I ever wanted to do was try to help the team as much as I could."

Unfortunately for the former Duke standout, wins were hard to come by for a Pistons program whose last winning season came in 2007-08 and is undergoing a youth movement. A six-game losing streak in December put them in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year, and a 10-game losing streak in March sealed their fate.

"I really had positive expectations of the team and thought we were going to compete for a playoff spot," said Singler, "but we got off to an awful start and once that happened we were trying to play catch-up."

For someone who has consistently won regardless of the level of basketball he was playing, Singler said dealing with the losses was likely the roughest part of his first NBA season.

"Not a lot of guys on that team have lost like that so it was tough for all of us," he said.

On a personal note, Singler also had his own nightly challenge as he transitioned from defending mostly forwards in previous seasons to shifty NBA shooting guards. Offensively, his move to shooting guard was an easy one but having to race around the court and slice through screens against some of the NBA's best was a daunting challenge but one that Singler was more than willing to accept.

"I was guarding guys like Dwyane Wade, J.J. Redick, Monta Ellis ... guys that are just lightning quick," he said. "I'm not the quickest guy in the world so that was challenging but I think I held my own. After a while though you kinda wanted to say, 'Hey, don't you just want to hang out here in the corner for a while.'"

With the recent firing of Frank, Singler and the rest of the Pistons roster face a bit of an unknown as they go through their summer preparations.

"You just have to have an open mind about it and whoever they do hire, you have to believe that he's the right man for the job," said Singler. "We've got really good front office people and they're going to do whatever's in the best interest of the team."

"I've always had the outlook that I'm going to play my game and if you don't like it, so be it, but I'm going to give you all I have," he said. "I think I bring a unique asset to the game so I think I'll fit in fine with whoever they bring in. Guys will have to prove themselves again but I think it will be good for the team."

Singler said he feels good about the solid young nucleus the Pistons have put together in recent years with the likes of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Brandon Knight, et al. To take the next step, Singler said the Pistons simply need to develop the tight-knit closeness exhibited these days by the Chicago Bulls, who may not have all-stars at every position but play well together and carry a toughness into every possession.

"We definitely have the right foundation," he said. "I'm happy that I ended up in Detroit."

And, it goes without saying, he's happy that he still can call Medford home — and that so many have stepped up over the years to create such a wonderful experience on Mother's Day weekend. The event's family-friendly atmosphere has included the efforts of younger brother and University of Oregon standout E.J. Singler, who is busy these days working out for NBA teams in pursuit of his own hoop dream, and especially his parents Ed and Kris Singler.

"A lot of credit has to go to my parents and all the volunteers that have given their time over the years," said Singler, who is making Medford one of many stops on a road trip this summer with longtime girlfriend Gaby McKee. "This (tournament and auction) really wouldn't be close to what it's become without them."

Games will be played at Kids Unlimited, South Medford High, North Medford High, Central High, Phoenix High, McLoughlin Middle School and Sacred Heart Catholic School. There are boys and girls divisions for grades 6-8, with a new high school division in place for junior varsity and varsity squads.

The annual Dinner of Champions will be at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at South Medford High, with Kyle and E.J. Singler supplying an on-court presentation and skills clinic around 7:30 that encompasses their favorite drills and workout routines.

Both players will also be making themselves available at the tournament sites throughout the weekend, and will also be serving up coffee from 2-3 p.m. today at Dutch Bros. on Stewart Ave.

"I'm the card puncher," Singler said with a wry smile. "That's my job."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry


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