Bucks Merrill Relying On Family Support To Begin NBA Career

Nov 23, 2020, 3:15 PM
(Photo courtesy of Utah State Athletics)...
(Photo courtesy of Utah State Athletics)
(Photo courtesy of Utah State Athletics)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA was forced to do away with its annual Las Vegas Summer League. As a result, the 2020-21 rookie class isn’t getting the soft landing previous draft classes have been afforded in their preparation for the NBA. In place of the Summer League, former Utah State guard and the newest member of the Milwaukee Bucks Sam Merrill is turning to his family to ease the transition from college to the NBA.

In the month of November, KSL Sports is featuring articles focusing on men’s health with a focus on the mental health of coaches, athletes, and athletic organizations in the state.

Merrill, a four-year star at Utah State was drafted by the Bucks with the 60th and final pick of the NBA Draft. The Bucks acquired the pick in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans and signed Merrill to a two-year contract worth $1.4 million.


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Frustration Leading Up to the Draft

In the week leading up to the draft, Merrill spoke with KSLSports about his approach to maintaining his mental health. The Aggies season concluded after Merrill hit the tournament-winning three-point shot against San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference championship game.

Shortly after, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus which led to nationwide shutdowns of most organized sports.

“When that happened there was a day or two of sadness and disappointment,” Merrill said. “But from then on, I was just focused on what my next goal was going to be. And I was hoping to get drafted and make the NBA.”

Unlike many NBA players who have family members that have played professional basketball, or attended schools that regularly develop NBA talent, Merrill has been forced to carve his own path into the league. Nobody in Merrill’s family has played pro hoops, and the Aggies guard was the first player from Utah State to get drafted since 1986.

“Originally thinking the draft was going to be June and then maybe July and then August, and then it was October 16, and then it wasn’t October 16,” Merrill said about the difficulty preparing for the draft. “And then it wasn’t announced November 18. And that’s been very frustrating.”

Between the uncertainty of the draft date and an ankle injury that altered the pre-draft process, Merrill reached out to others who have gone through the process before him to better prepare for the transition.

“I’ve tried to talk to people and say, ‘Hey, what are those first couple months like?'” Merrill said. “How different is it? And they’ve all just said, you know, you got to have a good support system.”

Bucks Merrill Finds Support From Family

Without close relatives to pave an NBA path, Merrill turned to his family to help shoulder the uncertainty leading up to the draft, even living with his parents after college.

“Having a wife that I can obviously talk to and can help me out is great,” Merrill said. “Having parents and a family that are very supportive as well. I don’t know exactly what’s coming, but I would hope that with my good support system and having a good foundation that I’ll be able to handle anything that comes my way.

In addition to his family, Merrill turned to former Aggie teammate Crew Ainge to aid in the transition. The two friends were playing together at Utah State when Crew put Merrill in touch with his father and Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge to get a better idea of what to expect leading up to the draft.

Rather than test the draft waters after his junior season, Ainge told Merrill to return to Utah State which would force other front offices to travel to see him play.

“‘You play at a smaller school, and some of these executives are almost lazy,'” Ainge told Merrill. “‘They’ll see you and they’ll see what they like and what they don’t like they’ll take that and won’t put forth the effort to come and watch you the next season.'”

During his final season in college, Merrill averaged 19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists, leading to his selection in the second round. Now, with his support system in place, Merrill is ready to begin his professional career.

“It’s a whole new world for me,” Merrill said. “Like I said, I’m just trying to carve my own path. And I’m excited to see what happens.”

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