It’s time for more basketball in Chi-Town!
Well, technically, the Windy City Bulls play in Hoffman Estates, which is about 40 minutes outside of downtown Chicago. But by the end of this article, I’m sure you’ll agree that a drive out to NOW Arena to watch them play will be more than worth it.
The Windy City Bulls held the 2023 edition of their annual media day last week. It was the first opportunity to see the guys who will don the Windy City moniker across their chest for the G League affiliate of the Chicago Bulls. Familiar names such as Derrick Favors and Dalen Terry stood alongside numerous newer faces like Adama Sanogo and Onuralp Bitim. From the long-time veterans to the up-and-coming rookies, the Windy City Bulls have a lot of moving parts originating from all over. But make no mistake about it – this squad is hungry to get the season rolling.
Let’s take a deeper look at this roster, which is led by returning head coach and Chicago native Henry Domercant.
Two-Way players: Adama Sanogo, Onuralp Bitim, Justin Lewis
Starting this year, NBA teams can now have three two-way contracts on their roster rather than just 2. For the Bulls, the three men signed to these two-way deals this year are Adama Sanogo, Onuralp Bitim, and Justin Lewis.
Sanogo’s name will ring a bell for those who tuned into the most recent edition of March Madness. The 6-foot 9-inch forward from Mali led the UConn Huskies to a title, earning the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player honor in the process. Process is a great buzzword to describe Sanogo’s mindset heading into his rookie season. Sanogo beamed with pride when asked about his personal goals heading into this year.
“The only thing I can do is work on my game in the G League and win,” Sanogo mentioned. “I’m a basketball player that’s here to get better, it’s a process.”
Sanogo also looks forward to being a part of both the NBA Bulls and the G League Bulls, leaning into the notion that he could be on either roster at any given time.
“I’m ready for anything… One day, it’s with the Bulls; the next day, I could be here. It’s something I’m ready for, and I’m thankful for since I know how many guys want to be in my spot.” Sanogo said. It’ll be hard for fans (especially UConn haters) to not want to root for Sanogo in his rookie year.
Onuralp Bitim is likely a new name for many basketball fans, but he’s by no means one to overlook. The 24-year-old sharpshooter from Turkey has made quite the name for himself over in Europe. Bitim, or “OB,” was named to the All-EuroCup second team this past year, where he also added a pair of Turkish league Slam Dunk Contest titles. OB sounded unfazed when I asked him if he’d faced any difficulty adjusting to hoops across the pond.
“Of course, things are different here. But at the end of the day, it’s basketball, which is international. It’s a new team with new teammates, but it’s still basketball.” Bitim said.
OB appeared for three minutes in the Bulls’ loss to the Denver Nuggets on November 4th, so it’s no secret that Bulls head coach Billy Donovan holds him in high regard. Perhaps we’ll all be treated to some more NBA action soon from Turkey’s finest.
The third two-way guy on the Bulls’ roster is 21-year-old Justin Lewis out of Marquette University. After going undrafted in 2022, Lewis signed with the Bulls on a two-way deal and impressed early in the Summer League before tearing his ACL shortly thereafter. It’s been a long and arduous rehab for Lewis, in which he impressed Billy Donovan with his efforts.
“We all face adversity in our life,” said Lewis. “That’s not the last adverse thing I’ll face in my career. But I can use that experience and adversity to become something better down the line.”
Lewis also spoke about needing to get some in-game action under his belt after his absence. “My goal this year is to just play. I just want to get out there and be great and show the growth I’ve experienced over the last year… it’s all about growth for me right now.”
The Vet: Derrick Favors
There could not be a more perfect piece to the puzzle for this youthful Windy City Bulls team than the big man Derrick Favors himself. Coming out of Georgia Tech, the Nets selected D-Fave third overall in the 2010 NBA Draft. Since then, he’s also netted minutes for the Utah Jazz, New Orleans Pelicans, and Oklahoma City Thunder. At 6 feet 9 inches and 265 pounds, Favors has made himself a household name by defending the paint and scoring efficiently throughout his time in the league. Add in some quality playoff experience, and you have the ideal veteran to not only win tough matchups throughout the year but also to mentor a locker room containing a bunch of early 20-somethings.
“Just feels good to play basketball after sitting out last year,” Favors said. He added that it’s not just the young guys but benefiting both ways.
“Being around these guys has really given me that youthful energy back. I’m enjoying it so far, being around a bunch of guys who work hard and are willing to learn and just want to get better.” Favors remarked. “This is a good opportunity to get back into basketball and into the NBA.”
Favors, who turned 32 this summer, certainly still has a lot of good basketball in the tank. It’s sure to be a joy seeing him take the court once again.
Returning Players: Chris Clemons, Ben Coupet Jr., Henri Drell
Three players from last year’s team will return to the court this year: Chris Clemons, Ben Coupet Jr., and Henri Drell. Any sort of retention on a G League team is great, especially for key contributors like this trio. Clemons only played in five games last year but averaged 21.2 points on 44.5% shooting. Coupet Jr. and Drell appeared in a majority of the team’s matchups, averaging 5.5 and 11.7 points a game, respectively. Their presence in the locker room will hope to boost team morale at first as the team gets settled into the G League season.
Another familiar face that may be with the team for stretches is Dalen Terry, the 2022 first-round selection for the Bulls. Terry, who is still on his rookie deal, has been designated for assignment with the WCB a few times. He’s played 42 games at the NBA level so far and is likely to spend most of his time on that side of things. However, any opportunity to see the 6-foot 7-inch guard ball out is sure to be a delight, no matter what arena he’s located in.
New Faces: Jalen Harris, Max Heidegger, Evan Gilyard, Quenton Jackson, Isaih Moore, Kahlil Whitney
Rounding out the roster are all the new additions to the Bulls organization. There are quite a few of them, but all are sure to impress in their inaugural seasons in the Windy City threads. First up is Jalen Harris, the second-round pick of the Toronto Raptors in 2020. His first stint in the NBA may have been brief, but Harris is determined to use that experience to propel himself and this team to new heights.
“I hope to use any experience I have to make myself better. Trying to use whatever I have to contribute (to the team),” Harris said.
When asked about aspects of his game he is pinpointing as areas for improvement, Harris responded: “I do a lot of things. Yeah, I can score, but I take a lot of pride in my ability to create for others, defend different positions, & have a high IQ. Just wanna put myself out there and lead the team.”
Max Heidegger was a 4-year player at UC Santa Barbara who took his talents to Europe in 2020. He’s looking to emphasize the less tangible things this year, like taking care of the ball and defending ball screens properly.
“Everybody here wants to get to the next stage. When you get there, you aren’t necessarily going to have the ball all that much. You have to stand out with your defense, playing the game the right way, and just knocking down those open looks… Gotta show you’re capable of those things on top of being able to score, pass, and all that.” Heidegger said.
Evan Gilyard is a 5’10’’ scorer who last played in the Czech pro league last season. The 25-year-old is a Chicago native who scored 17 points per game in his senior year with UMKC. He’ll be accompanied in the backcourt by Quenton Jackson, a 6-foot 5-inch alum of Texas A&M who netted 6.2 points per game in 9 contests as a member of the Washington Wizards last season. The remaining roster spots belong to a pair of 23-year-olds in Isaih Moore and Kahlil Whitney. Moore was a standout at Fresno State last year, whose 6’10’’ frame is sure to make an impact on both ends of the floor. Whitney is another Chicago native entering his 4th season in the G League. He had the chance to play in the 2019 McDonald’s All-American game.
The 2023-24 Windy City Bulls schedule kicks off their season tomorrow, paying a visit to the Iowa Wolves. The tip-off is at 8 PM EST. Be sure to stay tuned to BSP for updates on the Windy City Bulls and the entire Bulls organization!
Andy Diederich is a contributor on Back Sports Page. He received a degree from The Ohio State University and now resides in Chicago, covering the Bulls and all things NBA. You can find Andy on Instagram at @tryspellingdiederich and on Twitter at @ndyDiederich.