Jerrelle Benimon became the first Fauquier County product to sign an NBA contract Friday.
A Fauquier High and Towson University graduate, Benimon signed a partially guaranteed two-year contract with the Denver Nuggets.
"It's exciting," he said, "but I also know [there's] still a lot of work to be done."
Benimon will attend the Nuggets’ training camp in September with the hope of making Denver’s final 15-man roster for the regular season. With Benimon’s signing, the Nuggets currently have 16 players entering training camp.
Benimon had his heart set on signing with Denver since playing for the Nuggets during July in the NBA Summer League.
See original Aug. 6 story
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Playing in the NBA Summer League wasn’t an “I made it” moment for Jerrelle Benimon.
He’s too jaded for that.
The novel thrill of playing basketball at an elite level has worn off as Benimon has climbed closer and closer to making a reality out of his childhood dream of playing in the NBA.
He's far from satiated, though. The Fauquier High and Towson University graduate remains driven.
Benimon is only a few steps away from making an NBA roster – albeit lofty steps for an undrafted free agent – and plans to soon accept a training camp invitation from the Denver Nuggets.
Playing for the Nuggets and Miami Heat in the Summer League gave Benimon his first taste of the NBA.
"It was special. It's obviously something you look forward to your whole life," the 23-year-old said. "But I've been doing this for too long. It's never a big deal to me anymore. It's just playing basketball.
"Once you've already seen those players in college and [NBA players] in pick-up [games], it's the same thing over again," said Benimon, a two-time Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year
. "It was fun, but it was just another experience."
The ultimate experience would be making an NBA roster for the 2014-15 season. The next step toward that end is attending an NBA team training camp, most of which begin in late September.
If Benimon dazzles during training camp, he would likely then join a veteran camp and try to make a preseason roster.
"Then into the [regular] season, hopefully," he said. "You never know. If they don't like you, they wouldn't invite you" to training camp.
Benimon said he received training camp invites from the Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers, Charlotte Hornets, New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, among others.
"Teams that are interested will offer you partial guarantees" under contract, he said. "They'll say, 'We like you. Come to our camp.' And you choose where you want to go.
"I'm pretty locked on going to Denver," Benimon said. "It's what team likes you and fits you. They seem interested in me."
And for a good reason. Benimon finished the Las Vegas Summer League session as its second-leading rebounder with 11.3 per game for the Nuggets. If nothing else, that validated his rebounding numbers from his college career at Towson.
This past NCAA season, Benimon ranked second in Division I with 11.2 rebounds per game and third in double-doubles with 21. The 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward scored 18.7 points per game.
During the 2012-13
season, the Georgetown transfer
ranked second in the nation with 20 double-doubles and ranked third in rebounds with 11.2 rebounds per game en route to setting a Towson single-season record with 346 rebounds.
Also during the Las Vegas Summer League, Benimon led the Nuggets with a 51.9 field goal percentage (minimum 16 field goal attempts).
He didn't play during the Nuggets’ first two games in Las Vegas, but then broke out with 11 rebounds and nine points during 15 minutes of play in Denver's 87-69 loss July 15 to Utah. He also had an assist, block and steal in that game.
"I wasn't really at practice [before] the first couple games," Benimon said. "As time went on, you figure it out. … It was just me being more comfortable."
Benimon earned more playing time July 16 in a loss to Dallas. He finished with six points, eight rebounds and a block over 31 minutes.
Then he ended the Summer League with his most impressive performance during a loss to the Lakers. Benimon had 17 points, 15 rebounds and four assists in that game.
"A double-double is always good," Benimon said. "I think it was beneficial for myself going to the next level."
Benimon had a converse trajectory during his Summer League session with the Heat in Orlando. He played in four of the Heat's five games, but his minutes dipped significantly after starting the first game.
In that initial Summer League game, an 85-77 loss to Boston, Benimon had five points, nine rebounds and two assists over 27 minutes. He then played only 23 minutes over his next three games with Miami and didn’t get another start.
"They knew I wasn't going to play with them in Vegas,” said Benimon, who had already committed to join the Nuggets for that session. "So that might have had an impact" on playing time.
"It was whatever," he said. "It was fun getting minutes."
Benimon, however, said he preferred playing with the Nuggets.
"It was a different style; different system. The offense was different," he said. "I kind of went with the Nuggets' style better – just the way they ran plays."
That's one reason Benimon plans to join Denver's training camp. Another reason is Tim Connelly, the Nuggets' general manager and executive vice president of basketball operations.
Hired last summer as the Nuggets' GM, Connelly previously served 10 years with the Washington Wizards, including a stint as director of player personnel. He also has ties to the Towson Tigers after growing up in that Maryland city and attending Towson Catholic High School.
"I have a pretty good relationship with the GM," Benimon, a 2009 Fauquier High
Connelly and the Nuggets, however, didn't take Benimon during the NBA Draft on June 26. Various analysts projected Benimon as a late second round pick, at best, or an undrafted free agent that would eventually sign with an NBA team or play overseas.
said he expected to get drafted by a team but also tempered his expectations.
"I was getting calls every minute" during the draft, he said. But "I knew with the NBA, stuff changes. You never know."
"You live to the next day even if you don't get picked," he said.
Prior to the draft, Benimon already knew he would get the opportunity to showcase his skills during the NBA Summer League.
"They even tell you before the draft: 'If we can't draft you, we want you to come play Summer League,'" he said.
Before the draft, Benimon traveled around the United States to work out for various NBA teams, including the Nuggets, Heat, Lakers, Clippers, Wizards, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz.
"It was fun," he said, "but it's a grind traveling each day."
Despite going undrafted after those workout sessions, Benimon said he didn't enter Summer League play looking to showcase any specific skills.
"I trust my skills as a whole already, so it's always just to play hard," he said. "That's one thing you can always control."