NCAA Selection Sunday always has been a special day for Ryan Arcidiacono, the Windy City Bulls guard on a two-way contract who was the star for the 2016 champion Villanova Wildcats.
“My freshman year we were a bubble team and were a nine seed,” Arcidiacono was saying Sunday afternoon as the matchups were announced with his alma mater the East No. 1 seed. “You grow up watching the tournament and Selection Sunday and you don’t know if you are going to get in. And then we got in and it was pure happiness, jubilation, because we had an up and down season. We lost to UNC in the first round, but just to get to the tournament and saying you did it is pretty special.”
It was yet another special Selection Sunday for Arcidiacono this year, one that is beginning to demonstrate why that pure happiness may just continue for years.
Arcidiacono Sunday led his Windy City Bulls to a 104-100 victory over the Orlando Magic G-league team with 29 points and 12 assists, 13 fourth quarter points with three of four three pointers to rally Windy City in the Sears Center from a double digit fourth quarter deficit and sixth consecutive win. With five games left in the regular season, Windy City moved within a half game of making the playoffs for the first time.
Antonio Blakeney, who joined the NBA Bulls on this road trip with 14 points Sunday in the Bulls 129-122 win in Atlanta, played a role in the Windy City streak as the league’s leading scorer. But it’s Arcidiacono’s team leadership, shooting and playmaking that had energized the team. But more significantly, Arcidiacono is continuing to make a strong case for that backup Bulls point guard job.
From going undrafted in 2016 after being Most Outstanding Player in the tournament with the pass for the game winning shot over North Carolina to a shaky G-league season with San Antonio last year, Arcidiacono has added weight and strength and especially an improved knack for team management.
He was excellent in pick and roll against the Magic team that featured former NBA player from Ohio State Byron Mullens. Arcidiacono was adept in finding Jerell Eddie for five three pointers and making all 10 of his free throw attempts when the opponent became desperate. Though not athletic and talented to the level of Bulls point guard Kris Dunn, Arcidiacono possesses the natural point guard instincts and reliable shot (45 percent on threes for Windy City) to be a supporting NBA point guard.
Which is his goal. It’s not like he doesn’t have ambition; but he seems to know his road to accomplishment. Remembering who you are is a talent, too.
“If you’re an NBA team, hey, I’m not going up there to score a ton of points,” Arcidiacono acknowledges. “I’ll bring that energy off the bench, I’ll knock down an open shot and be solid for you. I think I’m a perfect backup or third string point guard for an NBA team; just going to do the right things on and off the court and be solid on the court.”
That’s right; here’s a guy who wants to be T.J. McConnell.
The 6-2 pesky point guard from Duquesne has become a vital player for the developing 76ers with his court management, transition play and shooting. It’s not always about the guy to be the next star. Arcidiacono understands. I asked him about fellow Pennsylvanian McConnell.
“He’s an energy guy, a spark,” Arcidiacono noted. “He’s really good and some guy I want to model my game after because he’s so aggressive on the defensive end and he’s now starting to shoot the ball and be more aggressive. He’s a capable shooter and they have to regard him, so hopefully my career is on the path his already is.”
It’s often said confidence in any occupation can change a person. I remember asking Michael Jordan—mandatory comparison for all Bulls players, though I am confident Ryan Arcidiacono is no Michael Jordan—about what enabled him to develop so quickly in the NBA. He pointed to the confidence he gained when coach Kevin Loughery immediately entrusted him with the ball and to make plays.
Though the 6-3 Arcidiacono was experienced, the uncertainty of the NBA after not being drafted perhaps led to some hesitation. He averaged just 6.5 points for the San Antonio affiliate and then with the Bulls Summer League team Arcidiacono averaged about six points in primarily a setup role with Blakeney the leading scorer. Both thus got the two-way contracts that allow them to be 45 days with the NBA team. The Bulls have a match option on Arcidiacono for next season.
Arcidiacono played 13 games with the Bulls this season, mostly when Dunn was out with a concussion. He attempted 12 shots in the 13 games, primarily being a facilitator. Though he also showed the expected grit taking charges and diving for the loose balls.
“It was my first games in the NBA,” Arcidiacono noted. “It was, ‘Where am I going to fit in?’ It’s kind of like when I played in the D-league last year. I struggled to start because it was how does my game translate and all that. But now I’ve had those games under my belt. I’ll be more aggressive next time I’m up there, but I hope it’s soon or after our season. You need to have that confidence in yourself and I feeI do. Every game I’ve gotten better. I’ve learned so many things from the coaches, coach (Charlie) Henry. There are things I can bring to an NBA team and do on an NBA level for an NBA season.”
It’s clear watching the 23-year-old Arcidiacono how much he’s changed just this year. He’s stronger, filled out more, and certain running the team. He’s always talking, directing teammates in sets, adept in the pick and rolls, intimately aware. Windy City had 31 fast break points with him pushing the ball for 40 minutes, playing the entire fourth quarter as Henry obviously couldn’t have him off the floor.
“I’ve gained a lot, grown so much as a player on and off the floor,” Arcidiacono agreed. “Being able to play those NBA games, getting that experience I feel more and more comfortable and then especially when I come down here I can control a game, pick my spots on the floor. I’ve been through a season of kind of ups and down and know how to handle a season. I feel every day I got better and (with the Bulls) pushed Kris and Jerian (Grant) and I still feel I can make an impact on the NBA level and hope teams are taking notice and watching me.”
As these things go it being the G-league, it was Arcidiacono’s turn to sign autographs immediately after the game. So he went to the concourse for about a half hour as soon as the game ended. He did want to know then what Tiger and the Bulls and Blakeney did. Villanova? The selections were coming. Arcidiacono knew they’d be a one seed in the East, he said, so it meant playing in Eastern cities.
“I’m not rich enough to afford a private plane,” he said with a laugh.
He thought back to some of those Sundays.
“My sophomore and junior years we were expected to be high seeds and we celebrated like crazy once we saw our names on the board and then we lost early in the tournament,” Arcidiacono recalled. “Then my senior year we were expecting like a one or two seed and we had no reaction. It was like, ‘Blah.’ No one got excited. I didn’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing, but we kind of had a mission in our minds after what happened. We wanted to get through that first weekend and then we were playing with house money after that.”
No, don’t bet against this guy.