The Maine Red Claws management was practically giddy with their draft last week. They got a tremendously gifted athlete, 6-foot-8 forward Chris Wright from Dayton, followed by a shooting guard, Durrell Summers of Michigan State, and an potential inside force in 7-1 center Mike Tisdale of Illinois.

Starting Saturday, we’ll find out how good the draft really was.

The Red Claws open their third NBA Development League preseason at 10 a.m. Saturday with the first of many two-a-day practices at the Portland Expo. Fourteen players will try to impress the staff and make the Red Claws’ 10-man roster.

For Jon Jennings, the Red Claws president and general manager who spent many years working with the Boston Celtics in various positions, it’s among the best times of the season.

“Training camp is so important to set the tone for the season,” Jennings said. “There’s never another time in the season where we’ll have an extended period of time to put in what the coaches want to put in for a system.”

Based on the past experiences of head coach David Leitao and assistant Donyell Marshall — both in their first year professional season — it’s going to be a defensive system. It will be predicated on defense and rebounding leading to a transition offense.

The young players coming into camp have already talked about learning from them.

“Coach Marshall was someone I watched play on television when I was growing up,” Wright said. “And I know about Coach Leitao’s reputation at Virginia. I’ve heard a lot of good things about them and I’m looking forward to being there.

“When you’re looking to move up in the world of basketball, they’re good guys to help you.”

Leitao is regarded as an excellent teacher. Marshall’s role may be simply to show the young players exactly what it takes to get into the NBA, where he played for 15 years.

Jennings likes the look of his team. In addition to young stars, it has a couple of Red Claws veterans returning — guard Kenny Hayes (who is Wright’s cousin) and forward Paul Harris (who’s coming back from the Philippines after buying out his contract midway through last season).

They also drafted a D-League veteran guard in Darren Cooper and traded for a D-League veteran inside man in 6-10 Anthony Kent.

Of course, over the next two weeks, the Red Claws will find out how it all meshes together.

“I think if you look at our team today on paper — and I know it’s all about playing on the court, not on paper — I think we’re a pretty good team,” Jennings said. “Coach Leitao and I and the basketball staff will work hard to put the best team on the court.”

The Red Claws will have until 5 p.m., on Nov. 23 to submit their final 10-man roster. They open their season two nights later in Springfield.

Jennings said there will be some long nights for the staff.

“It’s very important for us to determine together who the final roster is,” he said. “I think what I’m most excited about is seeing our coaches develop the young players. That’s what this league is really about.”


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