Book in hand, Siler keeps the faith

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ATLANTA --- Inside the oversized room, ESPN is blaring from the television. Outside on the balcony, Garret Siler grabs a quiet moment, the lone noise being people milling about the food court hundreds of feet away.

He walks back inside to iron a shirt. It's three hours before the first Atlanta Hawks preseason game, and Siler wants to look respectable for his coaches and teammates before he enters Philips Arena.

Before he leaves, he talks about the aged item on the nightstand to the right of the bed. There rests a worn Bible with ruffled pages, a book that's barely bound together from all the wear and tear. As Siler seeks his dream NBA job, two Bible verses guide the 7-foot gentle giant from Augusta: Psalms 56 and Colossians 4:13.

"I have trust in the Lord," Siler said.

The former Augusta State All-American center is trying to pull off a rare feat -- make the large leap from NCAA Division II to the highest level of basketball. Add in the fact Siler only began playing school basketball his junior year at Richmond Academy. He was a lightly-played backup center his senior season.

Siler has several things going for him, though. At 7-foot, 275 pounds, he is the largest player in the Atlanta Hawks training camp. He also brings with him a strong work ethic and a desire to improve.

"He's intriguing because of his size and because he moves around fairly well," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "If he's going to stick with our team or anybody's team, he's going to have to continue to play."

"He's a big fellow," rookie guard Jeff Teague said. "He's been playing real hard."

Less than seven months ago, Siler wrapped up his collegiate career at Augusta State when the Jaguars lost in the Final Four. Siler finished as the NCAA record holder for career field-goal percentage (75 percent).

Siler kept working toward his dream. He played well in the prestigious seniors-only Portsmouth Invitational. Siler then attended some NBA workouts in advance of the draft. Though he didn't get selected, Siler found interest from some teams, including Atlanta.

After posting an impressive outing in the NBA Summer League, Siler returned for another workout with the Hawks. Woodson saw a different player the second time around.

"He struggled," Woodson said of the first time he saw Siler play. "Then we brought him back in later in the summer and he had improved.

"He's not NBA ready. We just have to continue to work with him and see where he is."

Atlanta plays host to Indiana, Oct. 28, in its season opener. The team's roster likely will be set the week beforehand. The Hawks have 13 players under contract for the upcoming season. Seven other players, including Siler, are vying for one of the two remaining spots -- Atlanta also might keep just one player and leave the other spot vacant.

Siler remains optimistic about his chances of latching on with the Hawks and securing a minimum rookie salary of $457,588.

"Coach likes me. He's always talking to me after practice. He's giving me good vibes," he said. "It gets to me not knowing, but I'm also here for a reason. They like me for something. Suck it up, Buttercup."

If Siler gets cut, he's got options. The NBA Developmental League is Plan B, but not a bad alternative -- his agent believes if he goes that route, Siler will get snapped up by another NBA team.

Playing in Europe is also an option. But Siler would have to weigh the choice of making more across the Atlantic Ocean against getting more exposure playing stateside.

"If you're money hungry, you need to go overseas," he said. "If you're money hungry, D-League's not what you want. But you could get be in the D-League for two weeks and get picked up by a team for the rest of the season."

For now, Siler is enjoying life as an NBA player, even if he's finding out the tribulations of being a rookie. After joining the team in September, Siler thought he was going to wear No. 34. After eight-year veteran center Jason Collins signed with the team, Siler was assigned No. 35.

Siler also found out rookies have to buy doughnuts for the entire team on gamedays.

He also has to carry the projector to nightly team dinner presentations.

It's a small price to pay for someone who's becoming popular among his teammates. Forward Josh Smith calls him "Big G Silas." Siler's teammates also call him "Glacier," because he once sweat profusely after a practice.

His teammates are pulling for him to make the squad.

"He just needs to keep doing what he's doing," said fourth-year forward Marvin Williams, whose locker is next to Siler's. "He's here early every day, He's putting in his work, getting up his shots. He's here after practice.

Siler played almost six minutes Wednesday in the Hawks' preseason opener against New Orleans. It wasn't a breakout performance, but it was a start -- he scored one point and committed two fouls and two turnovers. Siler will get another chance to impress his coaches tonight when Atlanta plays at Detroit.

For now, he keeps faith that the next opportunity will be the one that helps him lock up his NBA dream.

"Give me some time," he said, "and I'll play."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.


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