The two senior members of the Kings' summer league roster discuss their overseas stints in tones reverential and relieved.
"Me and Darnell (Jackson) have been joking around about how it's a 10-month grind over there," forward Rob Kurz said after a minicamp practice this week. "It's different than people expect."
Kurz, a 27-year-old forward who last played in the NBA in 2009, has spent much of the past two years in Europe. Jackson, a 26-year-old forward who played for the Kings two seasons ago, went to Ukraine during the NBA lockout.
"Not going to lie it was the hardest experience I ever had in my basketball career," said Jackson. "But it was a great experience. It was a challenge."
The Kings traded for Jackson before the 2010-11 season, sending Jon Brockman to Milwaukee. In his third NBA season, Jackson averaged 3.2 points and 1.6 rebounds while playing a little more than eight minutes a game. With the lockout in effect last season, he signed with BC Donetsk of the Ukrainian Basketball Super League.
The schedule was taxing, Jackson said: "Two-a-days, no days off, back-to-back games, 20-minute sprints with a heart monitor on."
He said his contract prevented him from going out on the town close to games. He's in the Kings' minicamp 25 pounds lighter than when he left Sacramento.
"I think the biggest thing that helped me over there is finding who I really am as a person and a basketball player," Jackson said. "Being over there yourself for a few months, it was hard. Having my girl come over with me helped me a lot.
"I was calling home every day: 'I'm quitting, I'm quitting, I'm coming home.' But the biggest thing I love is, I love challenges. The coach I had was always prepared, every day, and everything was full-speed. I loved it, and the guys were in shape.
"I just thank the Lord I'm back home in the States."
Kurz said he's glad to be headed for the NBA's summer league as well, where it's said players are auditioning for all teams, not just the one whose jersey they wear.
In 2008-09, Kurz averaged 3.9 points and 2.0 rebounds over 40 games for the Golden State Warriors, whose coaching staff included current Kings head coach Keith Smart. Since a 39-game stint in the NBA Development League in 2009-10, he has played for teams in Spain, Germany and, most recently, SLUC Nancy in France.
"For me, (summer league) is important because I definitely want to get back to the NBA," Kurz said. "That's my only goal right now. It's what I'm working for.
"Europe's great, but nothing's like the NBA. It just makes you appreciate the opportunities you have, and as you get older, you want to take advantage of them."
At the same time, said Kings summer league coach Bobby Jackson, Kurz and Darnell Jackson are counted on to bring some veteran qualities to the roster for summer league, which begins today in Las Vegas. Rookies make up much of the roster.
"You've got gambling, clubs, partying, beautiful women around, and it's open to the public," Darnell Jackson said. "I think it's up to the older guys like me to stay on these young guys and let them know we're out here for business."
Rotation plan Bobby Jackson, who will coach the Kings' summer league team with Alex English, said he doesn't plan to use a big rotation every game just for the sake of getting players onto the floor.
"I'll probably play about eight or nine guys," Jackson said. "I don't want to play a guy five minutes and then another five minutes. That's doing him a disservice."
Jackson said guard Jimmer Fredette, rookie forward Thomas Robinson and center Hassan Whiteside "are going to play the bulk of the minutes at those three positions. Everyone else is going to have to filter in, but there's still a lot of minutes there."
The Kings said Thursday they removed two players from the roster forward Augustus Gilchrist out of South Florida and guard Adrian Oliver of Modesto and San Jose State.
Thompson makes it official Strong forward Jason Thompson signed his five-year contract that will pay him approximately $30 million.