By Greg Bates
Times Press sports correspondent
It’s a phone call Sandy Cohen III has been waiting for his entire life.
On Monday, June 24, Cohen spoke with his agent David Hamilton who informed him the Cleveland Cavaliers invited him as a free agent to play on their Summer League team. Cohen’s dreams of playing in the NBA are alive and well.
Cohen, who wasn’t selected in the NBA draft on June 20, couldn’t hold back his excitement that night after a hectic day.
“I’m just really excited to get out there and work,” said Cohen, who starred at Seymour and then in college for Green Bay. “Just happy and blessed to get picked up. Not knowing what’s going to happen exactly, I just feel happy that someone saw the potential in me and wanted me to join the squad. I’m just ready to get out there and get to work. And I’m excited to get the opportunity and the chance.”
The Cavaliers were one of three NBA teams – along with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Indiana Pacers – that Cohen worked out for on a private basis. The 23-year-old traveled to Cleveland in early June for a workout. Cohen underwent workouts with plenty of other teams while competing at the invite-only Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in April.
Seymour boys’ basketball coach Jon Murphy was in Portsmouth, Virginia, for the action and counted 11 teams that conducted interviews with Cohen.
“He was on everybody’s radar,” Murphy said. “I think Sports Illustrated had labeled him as one of five mid-major kids that has a chance to get drafted because of the intangibles that he brings.”
Cohen said his agent fielded a number of calls in the days following the draft but the Cavaliers made the biggest push and offered a roster spot for their Summer League team.
“We were obviously thrilled about it and he’s very excited and rightfully so,” Murphy said. “We felt that he had a chance to catch on with a couple teams – he had a couple of really good workouts. And talking to his agent, he felt that something could work out. We’re just kind of crossing our fingers after the draft that he’s getting an opportunity to play in the Summer League with a team and it worked out.”
Is playing for the Cavaliers a good fit for Cohen?
“Honestly, I didn’t care which team I was going to be on,” Cohen said. “I’m a pretty versatile player and I can fit in almost any system.”
Getting to realize his NBA dream is something Cohen can’t believe is happening.
“This is something I wanted to do literally since I could remember,” Cohen said. “I always wanted to play in the NBA, and it’s crazy that it’s happening but I knew it was always a possibility, and it feels right. I’m glad it’s happening.”
Cohen and the Cavaliers have three games at the Salt Lake City Summer League on July 1-3 and then head to the Las Vegas Summer League, which runs July 5-15. The Cavaliers are guaranteed four games plus the league tournament.
If he plays well at the two Summer League camps, Cohen could find his way onto the Cavaliers’ regular-season roster or perhaps another NBA squad.
“All it takes is one or two games to show a team what you can do and if someone sees that potential in you, that’s all it takes,” said Cohen, whose sister, Natisha Hiedeman, is playing in the WNBA for the Atlanta Dream. “I’m just happy to have that chance.”
Said Murphy: “The idea is they’re not looking at kids like Sandy to come in and star. He’s one of those kids that for a few years you fill out the roster and develop.”
Cohen knows that if he just plays like himself, he’ll show NBA teams he belongs in the league.
“Just that I’m a player that can do a little bit of everything: pass, rebound, defend – I can guard multiple positions – make open shots and just do my job and just come out with that competitive attitude,” Cohen said. “If you make shots, that makes everything look better. So, hopefully my shot’s on and hopefully I’m doing my thing offensively but also just playing hard and bringing energy to the team.”
Versatility is a necessary quality to have in the NBA. Cohen knows that and so does his high school coach.
“That’s what everybody likes,” Murphy said. “We’ve talked to enough agents during the process of hiring an agent that several referred to him as an analytics darling. He’s 6-6, he’s got the 6-11 reach, he’s got a 40-inch vertical and he’s a point guard. He can pass, he can shoot. That versatility is why he’s getting this opportunity.”
Cohen is coming off a senior season in which he led Green Bay in every major statistical category. He scored 666 points, which is a program record, and was named all-Horizon League first team. Cohen, who played the final season and a half of his college career in Green Bay after transferring from Marquette, put up 17.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game as a senior.
If making an NBA roster this year doesn’t happen, Cohen should have some options either in the G-League – which is the NBA’s developmental league – or in Europe.
“We hope this is a chance to get more exposure,” Murphy said. “A lot of times these deals, if you don’t end up on the team there’s so many different avenues.”
Cohen has always been a humble person on and off the basketball court. Even though Cohen is getting a shot at the NBA, Murphy knows this won’t change his former player one bit.
“If anything, this might make him work a little harder and kind of make him see that this dream is still alive, and that’s exciting for any kid,” Murphy said. “For a kid from Seymour, that’s amazing.”