LAS VEGAS -- Daniel Gafford made his pro debut Friday night, when the Chicago Bulls opened the NBA Summer League against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The former El Dorado High and Arkansas star savored the moment so much he didn't even notice the league's biggest set of eyes glued to the action from the baseline.
“Wait hold up, LeBron (James) was here?" said Gafford, who had a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds in leading the Bulls to a 96-74 win. "I didn't even see him. I didn't see him at all. That lets you know I really wasn't paying any attention.”
It also let those in attendance know - from the moment he slammed home an alley-oop from first-round pick Coby White - the 6-foot-11 center is more than ready to make an impact at the next level.
"First game, you always have butterflies going in your stomach," Gafford said. "After the first couple of minutes of the game they were gone, I was locked in. I was ready to play after the first two minutes. It was a great atmosphere, I loved playing because the crowd reaction was great. I feel like I was the loudest one out there when I was screaming. It was a real good first game for me, I loved it a lot.
Gafford's athleticism emerged several times, along with his physicality while banging bodies with Lakers big man Nick Perkins. Whether he was rattling the rim, racing back to defend a 2-on-1 break, or sprawling into the corner near the team tunnel to save a loose ball - Gafford made his presence felt.
“That's what he's been doing all week in practice," Bulls summer league coach Nate Loenser said. "I was just very pleased and proud of his effort throughout the whole thing. He did so many little things tonight. He played all of his minutes as hard as possible. And he impacted the game in so many ways.”
Gafford, who led Arkansas in scoring with 16.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore, said his decision to return to Arkansas after his freshman campaign helped him prepare for the next level immensely.
“Coming back for an extra year helped me do things that I just did on the court," he said. "It helped learn how to run the floor more or being able to keep my conditioning game-wise, keep it to where I can stay in game shape, play more physical around the basket and just being able to play with guards.”
The Bulls were already a team with a lot of length and athleticism in the frontcourt. But being Gafford is a good role player who can make an immediate impact - something difficult to find midway through the second round - Chicago's post play is suddenly diversified.
“My athleticism is crazy to even me, because sometimes I do stuff that surprises myself," Gafford said. "Just being able to come out, being able to jump like I can and being able to do the things that I want to do with my athleticism, it's a big thing for me.”
(W.G. Ramirez is a freelance reporter in Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez)