LAS VEGAS — Shiny, luxurious and over-the-top palaces of make-believe surround Bradley Beal as he familiarizes with the Washington Wizards at the NBA Summer League. Beal can’t help but admire the spectacle of Las Vegas, where temptations and trappings abound, but he refuses to get caught up in it over the next few days — though the 19-year-old probably doesn’t have much choice in the matter.
“I don’t even think they’ll let me in the casino,” Beal said with a grin. “A lot of kids want to be out there and be wild, but I know I can’t lose focus of what I need to do. This is a business trip and not a vacation, so I really have to take this serious and to heart. I really have to focus in and play ball first.”
Beal said he plans to take the same approach throughout his rookie season, ignoring the hype and expectations of being the third overall pick in last month’s draft. He arrives in Washington having already dealt with a similar pressure-filled situation at the University of Florida, where he came in as a highly touted recruit out of Chaminade High in St. Louis and was overly concerned with being perfect and trying to prove that he warranted the marquee billing.
His first few months in college weren’t enjoyable, his team struggled, and Beal didn’t start to have fun again until he relaxed and let the game come to him.
“I really learned a lot from that, and my whole demeanor changed from there,” Beal said.
That calm and even-keeled Beal was evident Friday as he scored a subtle 22 points in his summer league debut, a 102-82 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Cox Pavilion. He missed his first shot, a driving layup, but made his next, a three-pointer, and found a good rhythm offensively as he contributed 14 points in the first half. Steady and efficient, Beal threw down a few dunks, seemingly out of necessity instead of a desire to showboat.
His shot wasn’t as accurate in the second half, as he missed 6 of 8, and he had a few turnovers, but he stayed on the attack. Beal continues to work on improving his ballhandling, but he still managed to find the creases in the Hawks’ defense. Having developed his toughness as a kid trying to attack the basket against his two older, more physically imposing brothers, Brandon and Bruce — who both went on to play college football — Beal had no problem drawing contact on his drives and connected on 9 of 10 free throws.
“He’s special,” said Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell, who is leading the team’s summer league contingent. “You look at his game. It’s like, no emotions. You walk in the gym, you couldn’t tell if he had one point or 30 points. There are a lot of guys, that’s a thing they don’t have, or will ever get. He’ll be fine. Bradley Beal is my least concern.”
Beal admitted that he had “a little brain freeze” a few times and made mistakes on Friday, but he played at the same pace and never appeared flustered or out of control. Beal said he adopted his on-court cool from his parents, Bobby and Besta, who always told him, “Never let anybody see you sweat.”
The Wizards drafted the 6-foot-4 Beal because they believe he can be a consistent perimeter option with his textbook shooting form, and a solid back-court mate for the sometimes fiery John Wall.
Wall knew Beal before the draft and was optimistic Beal would be around when the Wizards’ pick came. Wall offered his barber to Beal via Twitter when Beal requested a haircut before leaving for Las Vegas. Beal eventually settled on a barber that teammate Shelvin Mack suggested, but Wall said he hopes to offer support in any way he can.
“I know everybody is expecting a lot, just like they expected from me. Mines was way more,” Wall said. “I just want him to come in and play confident. I think he’s a humble person and he’s not letting none of that get to him. And he just wants to work and get better. And that’s the main thing coming into this league. As long as you have the work ethic, you’ll be all right. But if you come in and think you’re bigger and better than anything, it’s going to be tough.”
Beal has already tried simply to blend in with his teammates in Las Vegas and has quickly connected with Mack, a second-year point guard who has taken Beal under his wing. Beal certainly has goals for the upcoming season but said he would try not to focus on his own expectations.
“If I’m not doing what I want to do, I’ll try to force the issue. I really just want to do what Coach tells me to do and that’s being a good leader on the floor and a great teammate. So I’m really just learning,” Beal said. “I know what the Wizards expect of me, and anybody else’s expectations of what I should be or should do, it’s not even important — including my family. It’s really what the coach wants to do and little bit of my own expectations to play hard and contribute to the best of my abilities.”
Beal, the middle of five brothers, will have Brandon and Bruce join him in Washington to help him adjust to life in the NBA. He also expects them to offer support and keep him grounded as he steps into a glitzy professional sports world.
“I hear stories all the time about what happens, but I can’t lose sight of what’s important to me, what I love the most and what I’m here for and what got me here,” Beal said. “All the outside stuff is really secondary.”