Editor's Note: This is the third and final edition of a three-story series detailing Emporium native Nate Sestina’s basketball journey from Cameron County High School to the NBA G-League’s Long Island Nets.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic brought Nate Sestina’s final collegiate season at Kentucky to an abrupt end, the former Cameron County star began preparations for the NBA Draft.
For about a month, Sestina said he went searching for an agent to sign with and represent him. He described the process as similar to making a college decision.
“You want to find the best fit professionally and personally,” Sestina said. “You want to go somewhere you’re going to be treated well because at the end of the day your agent works for you and that’s something that I still every once in a while I’m asking them questions like, ‘Should I do this?’ or ‘Should I do that?’ and they’re like, ‘Man, this is your career, we’re here to give you advice, but ultimately it’s up to you.’”
After discussions with a couple of different agents, Sestina signed with Calvin Andrews and Omar Samhan (a former college basketball player for Saint Mary’s) of Klutch Sports Group around April.
According to its Twitter account and Forbes, Klutch Sports Group represents numerous professional NBA stars such as LeBron James, Anthony Davis Ben Simmons, John Wall and others.
“Calvin has been around in the NBA for a really long time, has represented a lot of good NBA players, a lot of good pros, so having his guidance and his knowledge of contracts and the right situation to be in is something that I’m really grateful for,” Sestina said.
Sestina then went to Northern California to train right outside of Sacramento.
According to Sestina, his former Bucknell teammate, Matt O’Reilly, has a boss who owns a vineyard with a full-court basketball gym and other amenities such as a weight room, gym, pool, etc.
O’Reilly asked his boss if Sestina could work out there and was given the green light.
“I got tested and everything when I got there, was Covid-free, which I was very happy about and then we were just isolated from everybody and it was just every day wake up, get better, wake up, work out, eat right, exercise, all that stuff and just take care of yourself,” Sestina said.
After a stop in San Francisco, he then went to train in Las Vegas for about two and a half to three months at Impact Basketball and Joe Abunassar. There he worked out with fellow pre-draft players three future first round draft picks in Tyrese Haliburton, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji.
“(Abunassar’s) worked out with so many Hall of Fame guys in the NBA. My growth and development in the time that I was there is something that… was so big for me to be able to put the ball on the floor and guard guards,” Sestina said.
Sestina eventually signed a professional contract to go play in Russia. He was there for about a month starting in October, practiced for five days and then they had to quarantine for about three weeks. After the five practice days, he said he didn’t want to lose the progress he gained over the past four months, so he was able to get out of his contract and return to Las Vegas to continue training.
“The coach over there was incredible,” Sestina said. “The coaching staff over there was incredible, the players were awesome. The front office and the team over there were awesome and they told me, ‘Hey, if you ever need to come back over here please, we’d love to sign you,’ so everything over there was great, we ended on a good note so then I came back here.”
Sestina didn’t hear his name called during the 2020 NBA Draft that took place on Nov. 18, but not long after the final selection, he received the call that he had been working his entire career to get.
“I was on the phone with the Brooklyn Nets,” Sestina said. “My contract had been set up and all I had to do was sign it the next day, so it was an absolutely perfect moment. I was surrounded by family and friends, my girlfriend was there and my agent was there and it was just a special moment for me. It was a dream come true just to be able to have that.”
Sestina signed an Exhibit 10 contract, which is a summer contract in the NBA world. It can be converted to a regular-season contract or a two-way deal (where a player splits time between the NBA and G-League), or it can expire at the conclusion of camp and a player becomes a free agent.
Training camp was held at the franchise’s training facility, which overlooked New York City.
“At first, I didn’t want to be that kid, that young guy walking through taking pictures, but I waited until everybody left and I walked out on the court and took a picture of it and sent it to my mom and I was like, ‘Hey this is my office view,” Sestina said.
“I try to give (my parents) all the credit in the world. I have never been so blessed to have people support me. They’ve given up a lot, they’ve sacrificed a lot for me to be here and they could’ve retired five or six years ago and because I played AAU, my brother played AAU, all the travel stuff adds up, so they couldn’t retire and that was because of me and my brother so I got to give them all the credit in the world.
“They have been nothing short of incredible, nothing short of perfect for me and my journey. So Mom and Dad, they deserve the world so the goal is to give it to them.”
Sestina said that due to COVID-19, the number of people allowed on the court at the same time was diminished, but he was still able to work out and play 4-on-4s, 3-on-3s, etc. About two days from being able to play 5-on-5, Sestina was waived, but it had nothing to do with his performance.
“My energy level, my effort level, all that stuff was exactly where they wanted it to be,” Sestina said. “It was just kind of COVID-related that I was waived. But it didn’t crush my confidence and that’s something that I was happy about.”
However, Sestina received a new opportunity and his agents had another contract set up for him to play for the Long Island Nets of the NBA G-League about 25 minutes after he was waived.
“If there’s one thing I can tell you, it is a fast business, Sestina said. “That Friday I got waived. I literally packed up my stuff in my hotel room, I went home. I was home for a little bit and I went right back to Long Island probably mid-January. Now I’m down in Orlando practicing.”
Sestina’s overall impression of the franchise from the Brooklyn Nets to the Long Island Nets has been nothing but positive, as everyone has been very welcoming to him.
Led by head coach and NBA legend Steve Nash, the Brooklyn Nets have three of the league’s top players in James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Tyler Johnson, who Sestina is close friends with, is also on the team.
Sestina recalled a moment where after getting a haircut, he was hugged by DeAndre Jordan in the practice facility who acknowledged his “fresh cut.”
“The franchise is amazing. The people they have, the staff that they have, the health staff, the trainers, the massage therapist, the coaching staff, the strength coach, high-level people, high-quality people,” Sestina said. “Steve Nash, obviously, he’s an amazing coach. He’s a basketball junkie; he’s incredibly intelligent. The staff that he put together was amazing.”
“The thing that I’ll tell people, in all seriousness, is they’re people just like us. They get paid a lot of money to put a ball in a hoop, but they are people just like us. They’re big, they’re goofy, they tell jokes,” Sestina later added. “The amount of detail, the attention to detail they have when they work out is truly, I think, is unmatched.”
Sestina is currently in the G-League bubble at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando. The Long Island Nets are playing a 15-game schedule that started Wednesday and will end on March 6.
In his G-League debut on Wednesday, Sestina scored 12 points in 18 minutes on the floor with three rebounds and four assists in a 131-128 win over the Iowa Wolves.
Among Sestina’s goals are to move up and eventually play in the NBA, but in the short-term, he wants to be a good teammate and, with a chip on that never leaves his shoulder, prove he belongs. He wants to play to the best of his ability during this season in the bubble and help the Long Island Nets win it all.
“We’re here to win,” Sestina said. “We have playoffs. There are incentives behind that and I think that’s just something, being able to come in as a rookie and say hey I’m a G-league champion, put that on my resume because that’s what NBA organizations want.”
In the long-term, Sestina wants to play basketball as long as he can physically and mentally, as well as set his family up well financially.
But the most important thing for Sestina is maintaining the happiness that playing basketball has brought him his entire life.
“I think that’s something a lot of people get caught up in, not happy doing what they love and having the job that they have they’re not happy with it and I don’t want to ever let that happen to me,” Sestina said. “If I’m not happy playing then I got to retire and I think that’s when I’ll know.”
Through it all, Sestina hasn’t forgotten about the smalltown he came from or the people of Emporium, which all hold a big part of his heart. He hopes to give back to the town through clinics or assisting the high school basketball team.
“A lot of my teammates are from big cities. They talk about being from Dallas or Atlanta, Philly and New York. I’m like, ‘Man, I got 1,900 people back home fighting for me,’ and it’s just so incredible and I wish that I could thank each and every person individually for whether they were watching games or going to games, messaging me, whatever it was,” Sestina said. ”My ultimate dream is hopefully someday when I’m old and gray have the No. 23 hanging up in the gym somewhere.”
And when that happens one day, it will further solidify that no matter where you come from, hard work, determination and persistence will take you wherever you want to go.
“At the end of the day I am still a professional basketball player, I’m a part of the Brooklyn Nets organization and I’m playing for the Long Island Nets,” Sestina said. “I get to wake up and I get to take care of my body, play basketball and get paid to do it and that’s what I wanted to do since I was a little kid.”