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Elijah Stewart ‘Hungry’ After G League Experience

Fort Wayne Mad Ants vs Sioux Falls Skyforce Photo by Dave Eggen/NBAE via Getty Images

As the talent level in the G League continues to grow, it’s rare nowadays to find a player in the league who doesn’t have some kind of NBA experience. NBA teams are increasingly using G League players to fill out training camp rosters and to evaluate during summer league.

Elijah Stewart is one of those players, having played with the Indiana Pacers at the 2018 Las Vegas Summer League and earning a spot in training camp with them prior to the 2018-19 season.

Stewart had a solid summer league that year, but he only managed to play in two preseason games for the Pacers before they ended up cutting him. Despite not making it to the NBA regular season, Stewart managed to pick up a lot of things that he knows will help him throughout his basketball career.

”It was just learning the ins and outs, the politics, and how everything operates really. It was a learning experience. Throughout the year I learned a lot,” Stewart told Ridiculous Upside. “I was up in the vets camp with the Pacers. I learned from Victor [Oladipo], Darren [Collison], and Cory Joseph and all the other vets. They just showed love and gave me tips and tricks on how to have longevity in the league.”

After being cut by the Pacers, Stewart was immediately acquired by the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Indiana’s G League affiliate. He suited up in 16 games for the Mad Ants while averaging 4.1 points per game and shooting 38.7 percent from the field, before he was traded to the Wisconsin Herd in January.

His stay with the Herd was only two months and 12 games before they cut him a little bit before the G League season ended in March. He ended up signing with the Stockton Kings, the Sacramento Kings affiliate just in time for the end of the G League regular season.

He played in only three games for Stockton and put up 8.3 points per game and 3.7 rebounds, but only shot 36 percent from the field. His brief stint in Stockton included a season-high 15 points against the Greensboro Swarm. After having experienced a year in the G League, Stewart was definitely impressed by the level of talent he competed against.

“The level of talent is pretty good. You’ll see people who are really skilled, but something is missing and that’s why they’re in the development league,” Stewart said. “Every game you’re playing against a two-way, or a guy that’s been called down who has an NBA contract. It’s just competitive every day, really good runs. As long as you put in the work, you can always hang with them.”

Stewart spent four years at the University of Southern California (USC) where he emerged as one of the team’s top wing defenders and dependable outside shooters. When he left campus, he left as USC’s all-time leader in made three-pointers. During his senior year back during the 2017-18 season, he averaged 11.7 points per game and shot 39.1 percent from downtown.

He knew that he had the talent to make it in the NBA, but what he learned that really opened his eyes was the level of training required to maintain your position in the NBA. As he noticed in the G League, the increasing talent pool makes it so that many more players are gunning for a coveted NBA roster spot.

”It’s just the intensity that you have to bring every day,” Stewart said. “You have to take care of your body, the eating, sleeping, high management and just working with the coaches, using them to make yourself better.”

Stewart spent the majority of the summer playing in the Drew League in Los Angeles where he teamed up with former NBA player Nick Young and current Minnesota Timberwolf Jordan Bell. Each weekend, he went up against other NBA players and overseas pros, and he was consistently on the best players the entire summer.

While he went undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft, he was always confident that he had the talent to translate over to the NBA and to compete against other pro-level players. Although he didn’t end up sticking on an NBA roster for the regular season, he’s still confident that he can bring some value to any team that’s willing to take a chance on him.

“I can bring shooting, athleticism, and defense,” Stewart said. “I feel like I can guard one through three and just be a game-changer. I can be that X-factor.”

Stewart recently signed with the Helsinki Seagulls of the top professional basketball league in Finland. In his season debut, he had 22 points and six rebounds in a win. Many G League players end up going overseas for some time for various reasons. But Stewart is grateful for the time spent in the G League as it taught him a few valuable lessons.

“It helped my game by being able to bring the intensity, bring it every day,” Stewart said. “Everyone’s hungry down there, everyone wants that call-up, everyone wants that opportunity to go to the big club. It just made me more hungry.”