When the Charlotte Hornets drafted Noah Vonleh, 18, with the ninth overall pick last month, associate head coach Patrick Ewing knew there would be days like Sunday.
It’s Ewing’s job as a summer-league coach to figure out how to get Vonleh past these days as quickly as possible.
Vonleh had 18 rebounds in the Hornets’ 72-65 loss to the Sacramento Kings at Las Vegas Summer League. But he also committed eight fouls (there are no foul-outs in summer league).
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It’s a strict rule with this coaching staff. Players must learn how to guard without fouling.
Vonleh spent just one season at Indiana before turning pro and his 240 pounds stretched over a 6-foot-10 frame make it tough for him to rumble in the lane against grown men.
But Ewing said he’s tough on Vonleh already because the rookie’s potential is so great.
“He’s got to man up and fight,” Ewing said. “I don’t care how old you are, you’ve got to fight. They say if a dog won’t bite when it’s a puppy, it won’t bite as a dog.”
Vonleh gets that and isn’t bothered by Ewing’s critique. He struggled to hold his ground against Sacramento’s Quincy Acy in the lane and ended up pushing and grabbing to compensate.
“I knew coming in it was going to be tough, that guys would be way older than me and way stronger than me,” said Vonleh. “As I keep growing and getting older, I have the chance to catch up. But it’s definitely challenging to be 18 years old playing against grown men.”
The Hornets are 0-2 in summer league, but they played far better Sunday than they did in their Friday opener against the Golden State Warriors, when they fell behind by 26 during the first half.
They played Sunday without Cody Zeller, who was excused for his brother Tyler’s wedding Saturday. Zeller arrived in Las Vegas slightly before tip-off Sunday, so the Hornets elected not to play him.
The Hornets got a better performance from their other first-round rookie, P.J. Hairston. He scored 22 points with 20 shots from the field, going 6-of-13 from 3-point range.
“I felt like in the first game I rushed a little bit – rushed my shot,” Hairston said of his improved play.
He committed seven fouls, which contributed to the 40 free-throw attempts the Kings took Sunday. Predictably, that didn’t sit well with Ewing.
“I know this is summer league,” Ewing said, “but you know our philosophy is defend without fouling, limit layups and run people off the 3-point line. We’re not doing that right now.”