GALLOWAY, N.J. - Who could blame 76ers coach Brett Brown if, after two seasons and a combined 37-127 record, he was looking for a little divine intervention? That certainly wasn't the reasoning for his visit to the Ben Franklin Parkway this past weekend to see Pope Francis, but the worldly coach couldn't pass up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So he and injured center Joel Embiid, hobbled with crutches, scored some premium seats to watch Saturday night's festivities.
"We were right down there, and because of Joel's injury the Philadelphia and CIA and all the special police treated us well," Brown said. "We got right where we needed to go quick and just had a chance to take it all in. (The pope) is amazing. Really. Goodness."
It was back to reality for Brown and his team yesterday at Stockton University as they held their first day of training camp. They spent three hours on the court early in the morning, Brown's first look at his revamped team that includes 19 players (not counting Embiid), 14 of whom are in their first training camp with the coach.
While the practice didn't offer many hints as to what this season may hold, there were some flashes of what to expect. The obvious attention goes directly to how well big men Nerlens Noel and rookie Jahlil Okafor will be able to play together. But much of that will depend on the outside shooting of Nik Stauskas, Robert Covington and Hollis Thompson.
"You hear me say this all the time: My offensive world, how I see it, is pace, space and pass," Brown said. "It's pace: We're going to continue to run with Jah. It's space: How do you space out of a post feed because you have Jah? It's easier when you have shooters. How do you space behind a pick-and-roll? What is your spacing if you put it on the floor and drive? Space in the halfcourt game is king because these are big men. You need space. And then the king is pass. What do you do at the end of it? Do you share?
"Post spacing really comes with shooters. Maybe the best play that Jahlil has is Covington and Stauskas. He's got space to do stuff. We experienced it (in San Antonio) all the time. So, these shooters will most definitely complement Nerlens, and especially Jahlil."
In the offseason, Brown talked to Michigan coach John Beilein about Stauskas, acquired from the Sacramento Kings in the offseason. The college coach told Brown that having Stauskas stand in a corner and wait to shoot threes would be a waste of his talent. Stauskas is eager to prove to his new coach that his old coach is right.
"I think the offense, with the additions we have on this team and the firepower and having Jahlil down on the block, I feel like the offense over time will take care of itself," said Stauskas. "But the identity of this team needs to be a scrappy defensive team.
"I feel like my offense will come naturally. I'm one of those guys where I don't necessarily need the ball in my hands every time down the floor to be effective. Especially with guys like Jahlil down low. For me to be spotting up on the wing and spacing the floor and giving him the room to work, I'm being effective without even having the ball sometimes. Just me being a shooter and having a high IQ for this game, I feel like that will help this team. The scoring will come with all that."
As for shooting and taking the ball to the basket, "My experience with Team Canada this summer showed that I could do a little bit of both," he said. "I was really effective in transition in spotting up for threes, but I was also effective getting rebounds and getting out on my own. I think that is something that this team will see, what I'm capable of over time. I'm looking forward to helping them out."
Stauskas grew up in the Toronto area. He shoveled the driveway to shoot hoops in the winter, obsessed with the sport at a very young age. That eventually led to playing for Beilein, under whom Stauskas made the huge leap from good freshman to Big Ten player of the year as a sophomore. He was taken by Sacramento with the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft and, after a tumultuous Kings season, came to the Sixers in a trade.
"When I made my jump from a college basketball player to an NBA prospect, I made that jump because the ball was put in my hands and I was given the opportunity to play in the pick-and-roll and really just create off the dribble," Stauskas said.
"As good of a shooter as I am, I feel like I'm a better playmaker than I am a shooter. I enjoy making plays for other people or getting to the basket myself. That's something that I feel I can do pretty well. Moving forward with the Sixers, it's just a matter of proving myself and proving that I'm capable of consistently doing that in this league. Once I can do that, I think the sky's the limit."
Noel already can see there is more to Stauskas' game than shooting. "He's not just a shooter," Noel said. "He does a great job of passing the ball and everything."
Brett Brown said defense and accountability are the main focuses for this camp: "We want to cultivate a championship lifestyle. We want to cultivate a championship routine. We want these guys to understand the importance of time" . . . Carl Landry (wrist), Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten (knees) did not participate . . . Joel Embiid watched from the side . . . General manager Sam Hinkie is expected to speak to the media today.