With 1:14 remaining in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s NBA Summer League game between Milwaukee and the Chinese national team, Kris Clyburn finally discarded his warmup jersey and made his way to the scorer’s table.
He wasn’t checking in for the first time in that game — it was the first action of the summer for the former Runnin’ Rebel. Clyburn did not get any playing time in the Bucks’ first three games in Las Vegas, and by the time he entered with Milwaukee holding a double-digit lead in the final minute, the contest was decided and the last possessions were played with the intensity of a walk-through.
That’s the life of an undrafted, unheralded professional athlete. It’s about scratching and clawing to make a roster, and Clyburn is embracing every minute of it — literally.
Despite the lack of playing time, Clyburn said his Summer League experience has been valuable in helping him acclimate to the routine of a pro baller.
“I’m just enjoying the process,” Clyburn said. “If I get to play, that’s a bonus. I only practiced with them one time. To be able to play any time at all is a great feeling.”
Clyburn was one of the first recruits to commit to Marvin Menzies, and the 6-foot-6 wing player developed noticeably over his three years at UNLV. As a senior in 2018-19, he started every game and scored 14.1 points while making 35.0 percent of his 3-pointers. He also emerged as a defensive stalwart, earning a spot on the Mountain West All-Defense team.
Though Clyburn worked out for a handful of teams leading up to the NBA draft, he was not selected. He got a call to try out for the Bucks’ summer roster and made the cut, but he had little time to gel with his teammates, as he only had one practice with the squad before departing for Las Vegas.
Clyburn is realistic and understands it’s unlikely he’ll be playing in the NBA this year, so when Summer League ends he will turn his attention to opportunities overseas. Fortunately for him, he’s getting good advice.
Clyburn’s older brother, Will Clyburn, has enjoyed a long, successful career abroad since graduating from Iowa State and going undrafted in 2013. Last year, Will put up 13.6 points per game for CSKA Moscow and earned EuroLeague Final Four MVP honors.
The brothers have spoken about what it takes to carve out a career overseas, and Kris said it’s something he wants to pursue.
“We talk all the time. He says it’s good. It’s a process — you’ve got to work and it’s a grind. It’s not going to come easy but I’m ready to work.”
Kris is still a long way from EuroLeague stardom. He went scoreless in his 1:14 on Thursday (though he did record one assist), but he’s hopeful and happy to finally be living out his dream as a professional basketball player.
“Being a pro is a great feeling,” Clyburn said. “This is what I’ve worked for all my life since I was 4 years old. My dad put in a lot of work with me in the gym. It’s what I wanted, being able to be a pro and not having to go to school, just being able to work out and do what I want for a living.”