Bryce Dejean-Jones wouldn’t allow himself the moment.
The 6-foot-6 guard — playing with the New Orleans Pelicans on a 10-day contract — had learned not long before Thursday’s game against Sacramento that he would make his first NBA start. But with so much at stake, he barely had time to consider it.
So Dejean-Jones didn’t pause, didn’t reflect on the journey when he heard his name announced among New Orleans’ starters.
“Just being in the situation that this team’s in, so close to the playoffs, it was kind of hard to even think about it,” Dejean-Jones said. “I’m focused all in on the game and trying to get a ‘W.’ But after, now, it was a great opportunity, a great experience that I had.”
It was a pretty great performance, too.
Playing in his fourth NBA game — all since signing a 10-day contract Jan. 21 — Dejean-Jones had career highs in points (14), field goals made and attempted (5-for-12, including 3-for-6 on 3-pointers), assists (two), steals (two) and minutes (35).
“If he was nervous, I couldn’t have told you that,” teammate Ryan Anderson said. “It’s great to see. I’ve been around for a while to see that there’s not a lot of young guys that can come out and just do that on any given night. He’s a special player.”
The Pelicans are giving Dejean-Jones a chance to prove it.
Undrafted out of Iowa State, he impressed the organization playing for its summer league team, averaging 12.8 points on 61.9 percent shooting in Las Vegas. He spent training camp with New Orleans and appeared in seven preseason games, averaging 8.9 points, before he was waived Oct. 24.
“Through training camp, he was one of those guys that just would surprise you every day,” Anderson said. “He’d come in, work hard. He just has a natural feel for the game.”
Dejean-Jones played nine games this season with the Idaho Stampede of the NBA Development League, averaging 19.2 points and 4.7 rebounds, before signing with the Pelicans after guard Eric Gordon fractured the ring finger on his right hand. His return was a welcome sight to New Orleans’ veterans.
“He really puts in his work,” guard Jrue Holiday said. “When he got called up and we walked in and saw him, y’all don’t understand how excited he was, and how ready he was to be here. To see his face back is great.”
Though he’s unlikely to be a long-term starter — Dejean-Jones started Thursday for Tyreke Evans, who was sidelined with tendinitis in his right knee and whose status for Saturday’s game against Brooklyn is uncertain — he likely will have a chance to extend his stay with the Pelicans.
Gordon is expected to miss four to six weeks, but coach Alvin Gentry has been a Dejean-Jones fan since training camp, saying he’s “very familiar with what we’re trying to do, despite the fact that we’ve added some things.”
The chance to hang around drives Dejean-Jones, who’s aware he has had doubters despite a strong college career at Southern California, UNLV and Iowa State.
Not that Dejean-Jones is focused on his naysayers. He has people to point them out.
“My dad’s the first one to heckle me about people saying I can’t play at this level (or) I’m not ready mentally, physically,” Dejean-Jones said. “I just look to come out here and show people that I’ve been working at this for all my life, to get to this opportunity. I’m going to make the most of it.”