Season likely over, but Windy City Bulls coach thankful for development
The Windy City Bulls were scheduled to host the Long Island Nets on Thursday, March 12.
Instead, they gathered in the locker room at the Sears Centre and said goodbye.
"We called them all in and we had an impromptu farewell and it was pretty cool," said first-year Windy City Bulls coach Damien Cotter. "It wasn't a planned event, but it was raw and it was real and the guys were very warm and emotional toward each other. That's sort of how you write a season to help players out at the end of it."
Overall, the fourth season for the local G-League franchise wasn't a huge success. The Bulls had a 17-26 record when the season was suspended due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
There hasn't been an official announcement, but there's no reason to expect the G-League season to continue. Windy City had seven games remaining.
Most of the players went home after the meeting. Two-way player Adam Mokoka went to stay with friends in New York to wait out the NBA's potential resumption. Cotter, a native of Australia, drove to Washington D.C., where his wife Xenia works at the Australian embassy.
Windy City didn't pile up the wins, but can claim some player development victories. In the last game played in Hoffman Estates, rookie center Simi Shittu piled up 32 points and 21 rebounds in a loss to Canton.
Two days earlier, Mokoka had his best game of the season in a win at Maine, finishing with 27 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists.
Mokoka was one of the bright spots for the Bulls organization. He didn't offer much in summer league or preseason. But as time went on, the 6-foot-5 wing from Paris, France showed some nice 3-and-D potential. His aggressive defense against Dallas' Luka Doncic on Mar. 2 at the United Center pushed the NBA Bulls to one of their best wins this season.
Cotter felt one decision that helped unlock Mokoka's defensive potential was having him guard the ball as much as possible in the G-League.
"I think it's difficult for foreign kids to come over and play in the G-League," Cotter said. "The G-League is such a unique league and it's so frantic, the basketball style, it's so up and down. It's going to take a period of adjustments.
"We kept playing him, we stuck with him and we found a role that was going to transfer to the next level. He started making shots as well."
There were also plenty of disappointing moments for Windy City. None greater than the season-ending knee injury suffered by former DePaul star Max Strus at the G-League showcase in December.
Strus averaged 18.2 points and 5.9 rebounds in the G-League. Before the season stopped, he was hanging around the Advocate Center after his ACL surgery, which is a pretty good sign the Bulls would like to keep Strus around next year.
"I think with how the Bulls were with their injuries, he would have had an opportunity to play (for the NBA Bulls)," Cotter said. "But what we lost in Max was a leader. He was sort of like the glue for us. I'm just talking in the context of winning and losing.
"The other thing Max did, he was really starting to develop. He was improving his defense. We were getting him to handle the ball and come off pick-and-rolls. He was starting to display skills that were going to serve him at the next level. I liked how he cared about playing the right way."
Heading into this season, Windy City expected to see plenty of Bulls second-round pick Daniel Gafford in Hoffman Estates. But the rookie center ended up filling a role with the NBA Bulls and only played in three games for Windy City.
Veteran guard Milton Doyle from Loyola averaged 17.5 points while struggling through a hip injury. Windy City's leading scorer was guard P.J. Dozier, a Denver Nuggets two-way player on loan. He averaged 21.4 points in 18 games.
Some other bright spots were midseason acquisition Jaron Blossomgame (16.9 points) and versatile rookie Justin Simon (12.8 points). Cotter thinks DePaul product Tre'Darius McCallum might have made the biggest improvement from start to finish this season.
Windy City finished ranked second among 28 teams in the G-League in defensive rating and eighth in assist percentage. Cotter felt the late-season win at Maine, which had its full roster and a 28-14 record, showed what the Bulls could accomplish.
"That was to me an accumulation of not dropping your head when things are going tough and staying true to what we were about as a team," Cotter said. "The players had some values and they stuck it out. That was a great win. That was probably our best win of the season. I don't think many players are going to disagree with me on that."