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Former OKC Blue Forward Antonius Cleveland Starring in NBL

The Oklahoma City Blue have become the proving grounds for a bevy of NBA prospects.

The Oklahoma City Blue have been loaded with success stories.

Since the 2015-2016 season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have produced eight NBA standard contracts, with four players staying in-house and four inking deals elsewhere. With this strong lineage of success, the Blue have become a pipeline organization for a multitude of G League prospects – and as showcased this season – their outreach comes without borders.

In the 2020-21 season, the Oklahoma City Blue fielded one of the best rosters to grace the G League level. With the ongoing COVID pandemic forcing teams to the Orlando Bubble, the Blue emerged as one of the biggest title contenders. With centers Moses Brown and Omer Yurtseven at the helm, a plethora of NBA assignments, and a collection of highly-touted scorers, they dominated to enter the season.

Following a 7-1 start, the Blue sputtered, losing their last 6-of-7 to go from the league’s top dog to the first team to miss the playoffs with an 8-7 record.

From this season, the main storylines emerged in the outputs of Moses Brown and Jaylen Hoard at the next level. This season, the blossoming of Omer Yurtseven in Miami struck a chord in Blue circles. However, arguably the biggest breakthrough from that roster has just surfaced, and it came completely off of the NBA radar.

That breakthrough rests in small forward Antonius Cleveland.

Starting all 15 games with the Oklahoma City Blue in 2020-21, Cleveland stood as one of Oklahoma City’s most consistent contributors. With averages of 15.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.1 assists, the 27-year-old had made an impactful mark in the G League circuit. But with no call-up offers – he made his way out of the states – signing with the Illawarra Hawks of the NBL.

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With the Hawks, Cleveland showed zero signs of jetlag this season. He continued his iron man status from the states, playing in all 28 games for Illawarra across a 29.1-minute sample size. To bode with this, his all-around game carried right over, leading the Hawks with averages of 14.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists.

In his 15-game stint with the Blue, Cleveland provided a masterclass on the offensive side of the ball, continually hitting corner threes and face-up jumpers to the tune of a 38-percent clip from distance. In Illawarra, this part of his game faltered, shooting a mere 22.2% on triples. However, on the other side of the ball, he completely transformed his game.

As the face of Illawarra’s frontcourt, Cleveland was the only member in the NBL to place top 10 in both blocks (1.9 per game) and steals (1.4 per game) on the season, finishing in fourth and ninth place, respectively. Due to his hyperactivity on defense, he became the top defender in the entire league – netting the NBL Best Defensive Player Award as a newcomer.

Cleveland’s efforts strung to both sides of the floor, as outside of being named the NBL’s top defender, he also donned the title of being the top forward in the league – netting himself an All-NBL First Team nod.

To tie up Cleveland’s monumental season, the 6-foot-5 forward led the Hawks to a 19-9 record and an NBL Finals berth as the second seed, subsequently being swept 2-0 against the Sydney Kings.

As an import signee, Cleveland’s one-year contract with the Hawks has expired, making him one of the hottest prospects in the international market. With the 27-year-old fresh off of joining Steinberg Sports Agency, he’ll be looking for his next shot, and if all goes well, he may get his break back in NBA ranks.

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