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Sixers give La Salle's Steve Zack shot to make impression

With Joel Embiid still on the shelf, Explorers star gets a chance to show what he can do at Las Vegas Summer League.

LAS VEGAS - So, who was the first person to start a game at center for the 76ers after it was announced that Joel Embiid would miss the upcoming season because of another foot surgery? How about La Salle alum Steve Zack?

Yes, it was in the Las Vegas Summer League. And, yes, he was starting because the team decided to give rookie Jahlil Okafor the night off after he had played three games in four nights in Utah and then another two days later in Vegas.

Zack is the kind of player a coach loves. He knows his limitations, works endlessly to improve his strengths and is often correcting his mistakes before a coach can blurt out any constructive criticism.

The 6-11, 245-pounder averaged a modest 6.3 points in his four seasons at 20th and Olney, but he averaged 9.4 rebounds a contest during his final two seasons. He can block shots, be disruptive to penetrators and has enough upper-body strength to battle with the big boys of the NBA. His vision isn't clouded enough to think that he positively will garner a spot on an NBA roster, but he knows that playing hard and showing he belongs could parlay into something special.

"Who doesn't have dreams of playing in the NBA?" Zack said during the team's day off yesterday. "My agent contacted me a couple of weeks ago and said that the Sixers wanted me to come to a training camp to prepare for Vegas. I was told that if I made a good impression, I would have a chance to make the trip. I just wanted to make an impression out there and get a chance. It started out just like 12 guys going to the minicamp. We played five-on-five against some veterans, like Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington, guys like that. I thought I played really well. I had one of the best weeks of ball I played in a while.

"I just concentrated on doing what I think I did well at La Salle, played to my strengths, which is defense, play big, rebound, ran the floor and was vocal. I brought a lot of energy. It had nothing to do with offense. They brought me in for defense, not offense."

Yet there he was on Saturday night in Las Vegas getting eight points in 20 minutes, to go along with eight rebounds and three each of blocks and assists.

He knows what this is all about. He looks in the stands and sees people with notebooks watching intently. This is an audition, a way for him to have more options about where he might play basketball for however long he can.

"I was with my agent and starting to narrow down some options about playing overseas," Zack said. "But then this came along, so we kind of put that on the back burner. The summer league is loaded with scouts in the stands, so now a bunch of opportunities can happen. You look in the stands and you see so many scouts from the NBA and overseas. The Sixers have been great in telling me that I am not only showcasing myself for them, but for many other people, as well. They've been great. This is a great opportunity."

Though he is the old man at 22, Zack isn't ready to stop learning something about the game he loves. And he's grabbing information from a mere 19-year-old.

"Obviously, I can learn so much just by watching Jahlil Okafor, and I have," Zack said. "That man, for being so young, has so much talent. Just watching his game, I can learn a lot - his strength, footwork, ability to get the shot that he wants. I've learned a lot from him. I know I haven't ever played against anybody that good."

Is the NBA a longshot for Steve Zack? Of course, and he knows it. But right now, it is presenting him the opportunity of a lifetime, something he's dreamed about pretty much all of his life. He'll continue to play hard, play to his strengths and do whatever is needed to make himself noticed. Wherever that leads, Zack will contentedly take it.

Six shots

The Sixers didn't play yesterday and were given a full day off after a morning meeting, with no practice. They face off against the New York Knicks at 5:30 p.m. today . . . After today's games, the teams will be seeded 1 through 24 and play in a double-elimination tournament, ensuring all teams play at least five games.