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Singler brothers return for tourney

Brothers Kyle and E.J. Singler had front-row all-access passes to two of the most exciting basketball seasons at their levels this past season, and now they’re interested in seeing what the up-and-comers have to offer this weekend as hosts once again for the 11th annual Singler Open.

With 190 teams, 24 gym floors and 300 games spanning Saturday and Sunday, there will be plenty of opportunity for that in a benefit tournament for Kids Unlimited that began as Kyle Singler’s senior project and has grown into one of the largest sporting events in Southern Oregon.

“Since missing last year, I’m looking forward to just getting back into making my rounds from gym to gym and enjoying the tournament,” said Kyle, who was part of the NBA playoffs last year for Oklahoma City, but a first-round exit this year by the Thunder re-opened his calendar.

“Every year is a little bit different,” he added. “The times that I’m here, you just get a taste of what it’s really like and get to immerse yourself into what’s going on and I get a kick that each year is a different experience for me.”

E.J. Singler served as master of ceremonies last year — only the second time Kyle has been absent through his years at Duke or in the NBA — and counts the annual event as a favorite year after year.

“I always have fun doing this,” said E.J. “Kyle and I look forward to coming back and doing it. We have 190 teams this year so it’s amazing that they keep coming back and it seems like those teams really enjoy it and that’s what we like to see. That’s why we do it. We love the community and family feel and we like to bring that to the tournament, and that’s what makes it a little different than most.”

In terms of individual accomplishments, this past season for Oklahoma City wasn’t the most prolific for Kyle — he played in only 32 games and averaged 2.8 points and 1.5 rebounds in 12 minutes per contest — but he insists it was far better than most realize.

“It was another growing year for me,” said Kyle, who completed the second year of a five-year Thunder contract he signed after being acquired from the Detroit Pistons. “I thought our season was, along many lines, a good year for us. We didn’t get as far as we wanted to in the playoffs, but I thought in the regular season we did well.”

“My year and my experience was different,” he added. “I got a lot of things accomplished that I wanted to outside of playing in the games, so I was proud of that.”

Kyle’s three highest-scoring games came in the final week of the regular season, including eight points against Denver in Russell Westbrook’s record-setting 42nd triple-double and 11 points in OKC’s final home game victory over Minnesota.

He played 20 or more minutes three times in that final week after doing so only twice the rest of the season, and earned praise from head coach Billy Donovan for his readiness in those situations.

Along the way, however, Kyle was able to work with and see firsthand one of the most magical seasons in NBA history put forth by Westbrook. The guard stepped up following the free agency loss of Kevin Durant and broke Oscar Robertson’s record for single-season triple-doubles.

“Russell had an unbelievable season where he was just a man on a mission and that was amazing and really cool to be part of,” said Kyle.

“There were some games that were more impressive than others,” he added, “but his whole season was really special in many ways because it was somewhat of a team thing but it was also him kind of taking on the challenge and doing whatever he could for us. It was cool and it was a different kind of record than just an individual thing, it kind of meant more to us as a team thing.”

Kyle is already looking forward to what the 2017-18 season will entail. He said he feels blessed to have the opportunity he has with the Thunder.

“There’s a lot of things you don’t have control over, you have to just stay focused in the development part of the game,” he said. “I’m not one to make any predictions or anything like that. My mindset is I have to prepare the best I can for the coming year and see what happens.”

“It’s a hard league to be part of and I enjoy every minute about it,” added Kyle, who turned 29 on May 4. “You’ve got guys that really get after it and it’s a hard league and that really only fine-tunes who you are as a competitor.”

No one has ever questioned his younger brother E.J.’s competitive fire and, after a successful career at Oregon, he finally reached a milestone in April when his Raptors 905 squad won the NBA D-League championship for the first time in program history.

E.J. averaged 10.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 28 minutes per game and played a key role in the Toronto club’s breakthrough campaign in his second season with Raptors 905.

“That was the first time I’ve popped the champagne so that was pretty cool,” E.J. said of the championship celebration. “It was definitely one of the most fulfilling, learning seasons I have ever had.”

Raptors 905 was coached by veteran NBA standout Jerry Stackhouse, and E.J. said his contributions were pivotal in his and the entire team’s development.

“Just being able to learn from a guy like that each and every day, I really, really improved as a basketball player probably more than any other year I’ve ever played basketball,” said E.J. “He was a basketball player at the highest level and he saw the game a little bit different and kind of talked to us about things coaches don’t normally talk about. He would just give a lot of good tips and stuff that I’ve never heard of and I really improved as a player.”

As for his own basketball pursuits, E.J. said he is in his typical waiting period to know what his next step will be. Off the court, however, he is excited to be marrying his high school sweetheart, Bryn Dressler, in a ceremony on June 23 in Italy.

“It’s hard right now to figure out what’s going to happen, that’s every year for me,” said the 26-year-old. “After a good season in the D-League and winning the championship, I think this will open a lot of doors for me, whether that’s an overseas job or something with an NBA team.”

Besides making their rounds to various venues this weekend for the tournament, which features boys and girls teams from Oregon and California from fifth grade to high school, the Singler brothers will serve drinks at Dutch Bros. on the corner of Stewart and Columbus at 3 p.m. Friday.

A highlight of the Singler Open will also come Saturday night at South Medford High School, when the brothers host a meet and greet that will include various food carts, music and raffle prizes. That event runs 6-7:30 p.m., with Kyle and E.J. speaking to those on hand and showing a highlight video around 7 p.m.

Admission for adults Saturday is $14 for a two-day tournament pass or $10 for a single day pass, with senior and student (sixth-12th grade) tickets at $7 for both days or $5 for one day. Kids in fifth grade and under are admitted free of charge. On Sunday, adult tickets are $5 and seniors/students move to $3.

All proceeds go to Kids Unlimited. In recent years, the estimated overall impact to the city from the Singler Open has been more than $600,000.

Games will be played at Central, South Medford, North Medford, Crater, Phoenix, St. Mary’s and Cascade Christian high schools, as well as Hedrick, McLoughlin, Scenic and Talent middle schools, Kids Unlimited and the Santo Community Center.

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

Kyle Singler
E.J. Singler