Coming home is always an enjoyable experience for Medford’s Kyle Singler, but there’s always a little something special about Mother’s Day weekend.
First, he gets a chance to reunite with his extended family and, most importantly, his ever-supportive mother, Kris Singler.
Second, he gets a chance to see how one moment of inspiration has turned into something truly amazing for the community here in Southern Oregon.
Fresh off his sixth season in the NBA — and third full season as small forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder — Singler is excited to be back in Medford for the 12th annual Singler Open, a youth basketball tournament that began as his senior project at South Medford High and has ballooned into so much more these days.
“My expectation of my senior project and the tournament was to do something that I could keep going with,” said Singler on Thursday, “but I didn’t necessarily expect it to have the impact that it has. A lot of help has gone into making sure that the tournament survives, so there’s many people to thank.”
As part of that, the former Duke national champion and Final Four MVP will be making the rounds again this weekend to shake hands, pose for photos and take the time to chat with those who volunteer for the tournament as well as the ones who continue to come back and support his fundraising venture for Kids Unlimited.
Younger brother E.J. Singler, who played at Oregon and in the NBA’s G-League, will be absent for the first time this year after recently wrapping up his first basketball season in Germany.
This year’s tournament runs Saturday and Sunday and features 200 boys and girls basketball teams — based in Oregon, California and Washington — from the fifth grade to high school levels. Games will be played on 26 courts at 12 venues throughout the weekend, with Kids Unlimited CEO and founder Tom Cole noting the economic impact on the area from the Singler Open to be estimated at $750,000 since its inception by the local tourism bureau.
“For Kids Unlimited it’s been great because it’s not only been a fundraiser but it’s helped to expand the profile of what we do here for kids,” said Cole. “And for our kids who are a part of the program and have grown up in the program, it’s also been a really great way to give them an identity and to give them a relationship that they’re extremely proud of.”
“It’s become a hallmark event for Kids Unlimited and obviously the Singler family’s participation with it has been incredible,” Cole added of the tourney. “It says a lot about the character of both (Kyle and E.J.) to continue to be invested in this even though they’ve been removed as members of this community for so many years.”
Kids Unlimited will be tournament headquarters for the event, with a Saturday get-together planned from 5-7 p.m. that features $6 pasta dinners, music, prize giveaways and a shooting contest that harkens back to E.J. Singler’s Skills Competition senior project while at South Medford.
Funds raised from the event, as well as the Cota-Singler auction that includes former NFL and Oregon star Chad Cota, have enabled Kids Unlimited to expand its programming at the school and use those resources to grow the services it provides, as well as removing financial barriers for kids to access sports opportunities.
“I really feel like the tournament does impact a lot of kids, outside of the community and inside the community,” said Singler, who turned 30 on May 4. “Everything that’s generated goes back to Kids Unlimited, so that’s a good thing.”
Singler has missed only two tournaments over the years due to obligations overseas while playing in Spain or in the NBA playoffs. This will be another short stay in town as he looks to further develop this summer by spending his offseason in Los Angeles working out and scrimmaging with fellow NBA players and those hoping to reach that pinnacle.
Singler played in the fewest games (12) of his career this past season for Oklahoma City, mostly being one of the odd men out on the active roster since NBA teams can only suit up 13 players for games. As a result, all his totals were career lows for a 6-foot-8, 230-pounder that was an All-Rookie selection when he broke into the NBA with the Detroit Pistons for the 2012-13 season.
“It definitely was a different experience than a lot of the other years that I’ve played a lot in,” said Singler, who played 68-plus games per year during his first four NBA seasons. “Every year that I’ve been in the NBA has been a different year, with different things I learn and pick up. This year was a lot of work being done in the practice facility, I didn’t get a ton of game minutes.”
His typical routine included a lot of skill work and then one-on-one and three-on-three games each day, putting in a couple hours work each occasion to continue honing his abilities so he and other reserves would be ready when their time came.
“If you’re not playing, it definitely breaks up the year,” said Singler. “Some days it’s so competitive that you forget that they’re on the same team as you. It gets chippy, several guys got stitches while playing this year. It’s great because you form habits when you’re not playing.”
That was the upside; the downside was the role he plays with Oklahoma City continues to be different than anything he is accustomed to in his playing days.
“It definitely challenges the focus,” he said. “Your attention and your mind can wander but I’ve got a good support system. My teammates and coaches were supportive, my family was supportive and my girlfriend was as well. That really anchors you down and makes you stay present and in the moment and puts you in a place of, ‘Don’t forget what you’re doing.’”
Oklahoma City went 48-34 during the regular season and earned the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference behind team leaders Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. The Thunder was ousted in the first round of the playoffs by a red-hot Utah Jazz team featuring Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell.
Singler said he absolutely feels he can contribute at the NBA level but some things are out of his control.
“There were parts of the season where I really wanted to plead my case and really try to see if the coaches would think about putting me back into the rotation,” said Singler, “but we had a good team this year. We had a solid roster with guys that really could win games. With that brings a lot of complicated scenarios, but the team that was out on the court, they were successful and we got a good playoff seed, we just ran into a good Utah team.”
The 2018-19 season will be the final guaranteed year of a five-year, $25 million extension Singler signed in July 2015. His contract is $4.9 million for the coming season, with the following year carrying a team option.
As someone who has always carried a competitive fire, Singler said his goal this summer and for the coming season is to prove his value for the Thunder. He’s a career 36 percent shooter from 3-point range and 42 percent overall with a team-first approach and willingness to do whatever it takes on the floor.
“I’ve just got to get ready for next season and really try to sell myself best to the coaches that I’m going to be somebody that they can count on throughout the year,” Singler said of his offseason approach.
“I’m not a Russell Westbrook or a LeBron James,” he added, “but I do believe my competitiveness and my feel for the game gives me an edge and an upper-hand with some players in the NBA. I don’t think that’s ever going to be something that goes away and I’ve really got to find the best method in using that and getting our coaches to believe in me.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry