River Lions report submitted by Stephen Dyell, ThoroldNews
To say Trae Bell-Haynes' last 365 days have been a little hectic would be an understatement.
The 23-year-old finished a stellar four-year college career at the University of Vermont and quickly caught the eye of the Milwaukee Bucks after remaining undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft last June.
Bell-Haynes joined the Bucks' summer league team featuring first-round picks Donte DiVincenzo and DJ Wilson in Las Vegas.
The summer league, an off-season competition in which NBA teams come together to try out different summer rosters instead of their regular season line-ups, includes undrafted rookies such as Bell-Haynes. The games are played in front of a bevy of general managers and coaching staffs from leagues all across the world.
“It spoiled me a little bit,” Bell-Haynes said. “Being around NBA professionals showed a lot about playing at that level. You see how hard these guys work every single day to keep their body and talent at the highest level. It was a wake-up call when I was starting my own career.”
The 23-year-old appeared in all five games for the Bucks and signed his first professional contract for Skyliners, Frankfurt in the German Basketball Bundesliga. He played in 11 games before returning to the United States to finish off the season with the Wisconsin Herd, the G-League affiliate of the Milwaukee Bucks.
He concluded a whirlwind year of basketball by signing as a free agent in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) with the Niagara River Lions in late April. The opportunity to play on home soil in front of friends and family weekly has been a unique experience he's cherished thus far.
With the 2019 NBA Summer League beginning at the end of the month, Bell-Haynes says his focus remains in Niagara despite the overlap in scheduling of the CEBL season, and he credits the coaching staff on improving his game in his own country.
“The environment that the coaches have created has allowed us to have fun while being really competitive,” Bell-Haynes said of Victor Raso and his staff.
“They put us in a position to succeed and we've really taken advantage of that and it's made for a great overall experience on and off the court.”
The coaching staff knows the gratitude goes both ways.
Bell-Haynes is averaging 14 points per game while shooting an impressive 53 per cent from the floor. Most of those points come within five feet of the basket as the guard uses his speed and basketball handles to slip into the tightest of spaces on the court.
“When you're smaller than everybody, you've got to find ways to finish among the trees and it's been something since high school that coaches have been working on with me. I pride myself on finding different ways to finish – left-handed, right-handed, pull-up floaters – are all something I put work on everyday in the gym to get better.”
The River Lions, who improved to 8-2 on the season after defeating the Saskatchewan Rattlers 94-83 Friday night, will look for Bell-Haynes to lead the way when the Hamilton Honey Badgers come to the Meridian Centre June 26. The game tips off at 7 p.m.