Each year, the NBA holds one of its summer leagues in Las Vegas. A city that offers an escape and vacation destination for millions of visitors (nearly 40 million in 2013) becomes a two-week harbor for young, professional basketball players looking to gain valuable experience and land an invitation to a team's training camp later in the year.
Those working to impress NBA personnel during this time include former Wisconsin Badgers forward Ryan Evans -- who played for the Minnesota Timberwolves -- along with guards Ben Brust and Jordan Taylor. Both Brust and Taylor reunited, this time not as Badgers but as Milwaukee Bucks teammates.
The two players have enjoyed their time with the Bucks during the NBA Summer League in the desert while working to improve their skill sets in hopes of securing training camp invites and roster spots.
Though both are focused on basketball, it's been a fun reunion. Taylor was a junior when Brust came to Wisconsin as a freshman and they became good friends. Taylor admitted at times it seemed like they missed current Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser, and despite not playing as many minutes as normally accustomed in their college days on the court, it's been an enjoyable experience.
Brust mentioned they picked back up on some similar hobbies as they've done in previous years, like playing the FIFA video game in their downtime.
"Unfortunately, my 'FIFA' record isn't as good as it once was like it was in college," Brust admitted Wednesday evening.
"It never was that good," Taylor retorted quickly.
Both players' paths intertwined with the Bucks. Vice President of Player Personnel Dave Babcock spoke with Taylor in Dallas and contacted his agent after Taylor was rehabbing from hip surgery five months ago.
For Brust, his first contact with Milwaukee came about three weeks after the Badgers' 74-73 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats in the 2014 NCAA Final Four, as the Bucks wanted Brust to work out for them. After the workout, he thought the organization might want to have him back, but a call never came. After the NBA Draft, Brust received a call from the team and everything came full circle.
The two former Badgers joined another former Big Ten standout, Purdue center JaJuan Johnson, on the summer league squad along with two potential cornerstones of the Bucks franchise in No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker and "The Greek Freak" Giannis Antetokounmpo. Taylor has played as the back-up point guard to second-year player Nate Wolters, while Brust has been playing shooting guard while also adapting to some point guard responsibilities, primarily due to his 6'1 height.
Their minutes on the court in Las Vegas were not as plentiful as their Badgers days. Taylor, the NCAA's all-time assist-to-turnover ratio leader at 3.83, only averaged about 11,2 minutes per game in five contests, while Brust -- Wisconsin's career three-point shot leader with 235 -- averaged only about 7 while playing in only three of the five games so far.
"It's a little different, obviously not playing the minutes that we're accustomed to playing," Taylor said, "but it's a different viewpoint from that standpoint, but it's definitely been fun."
Both benefited from playing against the summer league teams and against their Bucks teammates. Taylor has seen the talent level close not just between American and European basketball players, but between the talent playing in the summer leagues.
"There's not much separation between a lot of guys," Taylor said. "It's just kind of about timing and making your impact at the right time."
Brust noted the range of experiences he's encounted so far in Las Vegas, as both veterans and rookies alike hope to impress enough teams stateside and abroad.
"Everyone you go against is gonna bring it, and you're gonna bring it, so when your name's called, you gotta be ready," Brust said.
Playing against Parker and Antetokounmpo, both former Badgers see two talented players with a large upside. Antetokounmpo leads the Bucks in scoring with 17 points per game so far, while Parker's second on the team with 14.5 points per game.
Taylor said he's interested to see how the young duo develop throughout their career, while Brust believes they could be franchise-changers.
"They got a lot of potential and lot of growing to do, but they should turn this ship around," Brust said.
Brust and Taylor have enjoyed the time playing for a coaching staff lead by new Bucks head coach Jason Kidd. Assistant coach Sean Sweeney has been coaching the team primarily throughout this summer league season, but Kidd is at every practice, providing feedback when necessary while allowing Sweeney to fully run the practices.
Taylor hopes to warrant an invite to a training camp later this year. If not, he plans on probably heading back to Europe.
Same goes for Brust on the court, as he hopes to play hard and contribute to the Bucks if given the opportunity. He did have a couple of nice assists in only four minutes of play in a 100-71 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.
"As a first-year player coming out, a lot of the times, I've heard you gotta wait a bit," Brust said. "So I'll be playing the waiting game -- hoping to get some overseas offers from some decent places, and just have to give it my all day by day."
While staying focused primarily on basketball, they had time to enjoy some of Las Vegas' attractions. Both went on the "The Roller Coaster" at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino, while Brust had the chance to catch the Michael Jackson One show performed by Cirque du Soleil this week.
"When you get a little free time, you put a little bit on black or something," Taylor said with a laugh. "But we're not big gamblers."