INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Shortly after the 2022 NBA Draft — one night the Cleveland Cavaliers added four new players — RJ Nembhard received a hilarious text from his sister Jayden.
You drafted Billy from “Stranger Things.”
No. Not him. Just the Billy Hargrove lookalike – Luke Travers.
Selected with the No. 56 pick overall, the Australian-born swingman has a similar mullet, with curly blonde locks reaching down to his cleavage and an unmistakable mustache. Travers even hails from the same region of Western Australia – Perth – as Dacre Montgomery, the actor who plays Billy in the hit Netflix show which ran for five seasons.
“He definitely looks like him,” Nembhard said with a laugh. “It’s my show.”
Professional golfer Cameron Smith is the other comparison that usually comes after a glance at Travers – even though he is around nine inches on the Queensland native.
“I love golf and seeing him rocking that hairstyle is pretty cool,” Travers said. “The hairstyle is quite popular in Australia at the moment. It’s a little different here though.
So when did the idea for the mule come about?
“That was not so long ago. Maybe a year and a half,” Travers said. “I’ve had long hair all my life. But I wore a headband and I just got sick of it and thought there’s no better way to get it off my face than to cut off the front and leave the back.
Travers already has a signature look. But is there more to him than exquisite hair?
The Cavaliers think so. He showed enough on film and in a pre-draft practice to get picked in the second round.
At the end of the New Zealand Basketball League season, Travers packed his bags, left his family and took the 3 p.m. flight to Los Angeles, where he began draft preparation alongside coaches Jordan. Lawley and Tony Vasaturo. Travers, living in the United States for more than two months, was in Chicago for scouting. He then worked for various teams, including the Cavs.
According to sources, Travers was part of a competitive group session early in the process with Khalifa Diop (Cleveland pick No. 39), Notre Dame guard Blake Wesley, Nebraska guard Bryce McGowens, the invitation of the Cleveland’s summer league Malik Osborne and Karlo Matkovic — the New Orleans Pelicans’ 52nd overall pick.
Travers is not flashy. He doesn’t stand out in individual drills, lacking notable athleticism or a reputation as a sharpshooter. But he is able to separate himself in team environments, where he can show off his basketball IQ, versatility, intangibles, nonstop drive, and all-around game.
“We had Luke here for a practice session and I liked what I saw,” said Mike Gerrity, the Cavs player development ace who will coach the summer league team. ‘I was really impressed. I thought he had a very good game. Then you come back and watch a film of his time in Australia and get to know the type of player he was there. One of the things that is close to my heart is its versatility. He can do a lot and has a good idea of how to play. I think he can impact the game by cutting, dribbling and attacking, leading the break and bringing the ball down after rebounds. Could probably put it at 4 because of its size if you wanted to play a bit smaller. It gives you all that versatility. Brings a lot to the game. You can tell the guys love playing with him.
Even though a source called Travers the top performer in Wednesday’s practice — the final before flying to Las Vegas — the Cavs won’t be thrilled. We are only in July. He was the 56th pick for a reason. Despite Travers’ confidence after a long list of practices and pre-draft interviews, sensing interest from multiple teams, he waited anxiously for draft night. He didn’t really believe he would be selected until his name was actually called.
Given Cleveland’s current roster breakdown, the plan is to hide Travers overseas for at least another year — a long-term investment that may or may not pay off.
“At the end of the day, that’s what the team wants and that’s what I’m ready to do,” Travers said when asked about the overall plan. “If it’s to go back and do another year, then that’s what it is. If it’s going to stay, then I will too.
The Cavs opened summer camp Saturday with two days. They had three different sessions – a chance for the guys to not only get familiar with the system and terminology, but also to start adjusting to the NBA game. That learning curve is even steeper for Travers who fended off interest from American colleges to turn pro in 2019-20, joining the NBL’s Perth Wildcats. It was there that Cavs international scout Primoz Brezec first saw Travers in person. This is where Travers developed into a draftable prospect.
Last season, Travers got a little taste of that NBA style. Former Boston Celtics assistant Scott Morrison was Perth’s head coach. General manager Danny Mills was the Philadelphia 76ers’ director of scouting. Travers – who averaged 7.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 41.7% from the field and 25.0% from 3-point range – played in an NBA-like system, with and against former NBAers. But that’s where the comparisons end.
“It’s a whole different ballgame out there,” Travers admitted. “We only play once a week so you have all week to scout a team and the defense is at the top level there. Everyone is playing so hard because we have so much rest. I think we can playing against that kind of defense definitely prepared me well. Just being able to do a bit of everything is something that comes from Aussie basketball.
It took a few days for Travers’ new reality to settle in. Being at Cleveland Clinic Courts, around the coaching staff and new teammates while wearing that Cavs practice jersey helped. So did a July 1 phone call from Cleveland folk hero – and Australian hoop legend – Matthew Dellavedova.
“He said it’s a first class organization full of great people,” Travers said of Dellavedova’s comments. “He would let me know if I needed anything while I’m here to go through him. Having that in my corner is pretty special.
It was Travers’ first time chatting with Dellavedova – although the youngster closely followed Delly and admired her gritty game. Joe Ingles is another Aussie that Travers is trying to emulate. His style of play. His pace. Its two-way impact. His attitude of not backing down. His ability to make his teammates better.
Summer League will give Travers a platform to show that it’s more than a rough development project with a lightweight frame, choppy styling, and funky shooting mechanics. He wants to prove that his style can translate, that he can score the ball better than his numbers indicate and ultimately become a 3-D guy. Maybe even make a name for himself. Something other than a TV character lookalike.
“I love Luke,” Nembhard said when asked to give his first impression of Travers. “He has a bit of flair in his game. He is discreet and doesn’t talk much. But he learns, he wants to improve and he works. »
Travers has only been to Las Vegas once. The first experience was a bit different, only 15 at the time. Because of this, he couldn’t do much in Sin City. Legally anyway. It will be the same for the next few weeks since Travers is only 20 years old. No casinos. No gambling. No drinking.
Only this time, he’s going to live out his fantasy as an NBA player. Even if it’s temporary.
“It was an unreal experience and pretty much what you always dreamed of growing up playing basketball,” Travers said. “It’s starting to sink in. It’s been a lot of fun.”
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