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E.J. Singler's hoop dreams put on hold

E.J. Singler believes he has more good years of professional basketball in him.

He just hopes the coronavirus doesn’t extinguish his opportunity to find out.

Singler, a former South Medford High and University of Oregon standout, has enjoyed a vagabond pro career that would sate most anyone stricken with wanderlust.

His journey was to continue recently with another trip abroad until the coronavirus forced postponement of the New Zealand National Basketball League. The shutdown is expected to continue into May and will be re-evaluated as warranted.

It’s conceivable that his 30th birthday, in early June, will arrive before the resumption of his career.

Singler, a 6-foot-6 wing, signed a one-year contract in late February with the Canterbury Rams of the NZNBL. It would be his second straight season in the league, which serves as a stepping stone to the more prestigious Australian NBL.

Singler played for Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, last year, was on the league’s five-man all-star team and emerged as an MVP candidate. He parlayed that success into a season with the Brisbane Bullets in the Aussie league, and hoped to follow a similar path this year.

“Who knows when (coronavirus concerns) will stop and what all the implications are,” said Singler, who, along with his wife Bryn, is spending the off time in Medford with family. “I was wanting to get back into the Australian league, and who knows if that league will even be ready to start in September.”

The New Zealand league was to begin April 11 with an 18-game schedule that stretched to mid-July.

The Australian league follows and operates during basketball’s traditional winter months with a 28-game schedule. This past Aussie season ended recently when the best-of-five Grand Finals were shortened to three games in March because of the coronavirus. Perth, with a 2-1 series lead over Sydney, was crowned champion.

“I’m 29 now and I’m going to try to play as long as I can,” said Singler. “I don’t know when that end date is. It could be right now, having the coronavirus affecting it, but I hope I have a couple more good years in me, for sure.”

He’s certainly no stranger to good years.

Singler made his mark in Oregon well before his pro travels.

His South Medford teams made the state tournament all four of his years, and he was a sophomore starter in 2007 when the Panthers captured the Class 6A championship. He played alongside his brother, Kyle, who in October announced his retirement from professional basketball.

E.J. Singler was honored as the state player of the year following his senior season, when he averaged 21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists a game.

He then moved on to Oregon, where he crafted another decorated career. Upon graduation in 2013, he set program records for most games played (142) and was the Ducks’ winningest player with 89 victories.

Singler completed his four years as only the eighth player to register more than 1,500 career points and 500 career rebounds. His 1,546 points rank 12th of all time.

Singler wasn’t selected in the 2013 NBA draft, but he was under contract, however briefly, with three NBA teams — Portland, Utah and Toronto — in ensuing years and played for several Summer League and G League teams.

He also joined international teams in Estonia, Germany and Greece before his forays into New Zealand and Australia.

The NBA is the pinnacle, of course, but Singler has no regrets over the direction his career has taken.

“For sure, everyone wants to play in the NBA and make it to the top of the top,” he said. “For me, I gave it my best shot. I put everything toward making it to the NBA. I got three shots at it, and I was happy with what I did during those times with those teams, but sometimes your dreams or whatever don’t work out and you have to move on.”

His most prolonged NBA look came with Toronto in 2016-17.

Singler and a handful of other players were invited to training camp to vie for the last roster spot. He thought he got a fair shot and made a good impression, but the Raptors elected to keep Wichita State rookie point guard Fred VanVleet from that audition.

VanVleet is now the team’s starter and averaged 17.6 points per game before this season was suspended.

“Looking back,” Singler chuckled, “they probably made the right decision.”

Singler considers it a blessing to have been able to travel internationally and see places he likely never would have.

“I’ve always looked at it as a positive and as a journey,” he said. “It’s just been great so far. My wife and I have loved every country we’ve been in and met some amazing people, so those kinds of things are priceless.”

Should the New Zealand league commence, Singler will return to a loop in which he’s well established.

For Hawke’s Bay last season, he averaged 20 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 43 percent on 3-pointers.

Hawke’s Bay finished second in the league with a 14-4 record and lost to unbeaten Wellington, 78-68, in the title game. Canterbury, Singler’s new team, was third.

Each team can sign up to three import players, and Singler’s workmanlike style doesn’t necessarily fit what some teams look for.

“They usually are looking for guys who can score,” he said, “put up a lot of points, basically, and entertain their fans. That’s probably not my best strength. My best strength is probably doing everything really good and not specializing in scoring, or something like that.

“If you do get on a team or with a coach that really likes that all-around basketball player, then you can stick in that scheme or in that country for a long time. It’s all kind of finding your niche.”

After showcasing his wares in Hawke’s Bay, Brisbane came calling from the Australian league.

Singler played in all 28 games, starting seven, and averaged 8.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists. His 44-percent shooting on 3-pointers led the team.

Even though he didn’t start for the Bullets, who placed fifth and missed out on the four-team playoffs because of a tiebreaker, Singler played “starter minutes,” averaging more than 20 per game.

His do-everything role was a microcosm of his basketball life.

“I felt like I had a big impact on the team,” said Singler. “I feel like I was kind of the glue guy, like I have been on a lot of teams I’ve been on; just being able to do a lot of different things that can affect in a positive way the outcome of a win for the team.”

In his final regular season game, he tallied 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

Singler hopes to return to the Aussie league, either with Brisbane or another team. League operations are on hold, but another big season in the New Zealand feeder league would be a step in the right direction.

Singler, who declined to divulge details of his contract, is penciled in as a starting wing for Canterbury.

In announcing the signing, Rams coach Mick Downer acknowledged Singler’s extensive experience and his “lethal” 3-point shooting.

“But,” Downer said in a statement, “it’s his reading of the game, ability to create space, cut hard and compete on the glass that will add additional layers to the offensive end of the floor for our team. Sharing his experiences throughout the world on his basketball journey and being the consummate professional will be another great component of his locker room and community leadership.”

For his part, Singler likes how the roster has shaped up. One of the additions is 6-foot-10 center Jack Salt, who played for Virginia.

Two other import players were in the Australian league with Singler last season.

“I definitely thought we had a good group of guys, a good core group of New Zealand players,” said Singler. “Collectively, we would have had a very talented team and definitely had a shot at winning the whole league this year.”

They still might, but no one knows what’s in store.

“It’s a waiting game right now,” he said.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com.

E.J. Singler of the Brisbane Bullets handles the ball during a NBL game between the Brisbane Bullets and the South East Melbourne Phoenix at Nissan Arena on Jan. 23, 2020, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)