Jimmy Butler and Wesley Matthews are now household names, established NBA players.
But that wasn’t the case when they both left Marquette University years ago. In fact, at the time, both Butler and Matthews were facing uncertain futures in basketball.
But Matthews and Butler enhanced their chances of becoming pro players when they made distinct impressions on NBA officials with stellar performances at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in Portsmouth, Va., a basketball showcase for college seniors that has been held annually since 1953.
This year’s PIT will be held April 12-15 and, just like in years past, 64 participants will be hoping to use the tournament as a springboard for a professional basketball job – just like Matthews and Butler did.
Among those who will exhibit their wares for NBA officials and other pro team representatives from around the world at the upcoming PIT are Bronson Koenig and Luke Fischer. Koening is the starting point guard for the University of Wisconsin and Fischer is the starting center for Marquette University, two NCAA Tournament-bound teams.
“Those are two really good college players,’’ PIT chairman Mahlon Parker said of Koenig and Fischer. “They have filled out their paperwork and told us they plan to attend (the PIT).
“The NBA people said they wanted to see those guys play here, so we’re happy they’re planning on coming.’’
Koenig and Fischer, like the rest of the PIT players, are considered fringe second-round prospects for the June NBA draft. Even if they aren’t drafted by an NBA team, a strong showing at the PIT could still land them spots in the NBA D-League or overseas.
The 6-foot-3 Koenig is averaging a team-high 14.1 points a game while being a part of a balanced-scoring attack for the Badgers. He has shown he can be an explosive scorer, though, as he’s racked up seven 20-point plus games this season, including a recent 27-point outing against Ohio State.
The 6-foot-11, 250-pound Fischer is averaging 11.1 points while shooting an impressive 65 percent from the field for the Golden Eagles.
Fischer, who began his career at Indiana before transferring to Wisconsin, is also grabbing a team-high six rebounds per outing and has a team-high 46 blocked shots.
During its 65-year history, the PIT has been a showcase for a slew of exceptional players, including Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Ear Monroe, Dave Cowens, Dennis Rodman and Rick Barry, whose son Canyon is expected to be a part of this year’s tournament. Canyon Barry, a 6-6 guard, is the University of Florida’s second-leading scorer at 12.3 points a game.