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Byron Mullens may match up with Hasheem Thabeet in opener

By Darnell Mayberry, Staff Writer Published: October 7, 2009
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Veteran forward Nick Collison pulled rookie center Byron Mullens aside over the weekend and gave the 24th overall pick a crash course in defending the paint.

The lesson wasn’t complicated. In fact it was one of the most fundamental rules of post defense.

Collison schooled Mullens about the NBA’s hand-checking rules in the post, teaching the rookie that a forearm to the back of an offensive player is allowed but an extended arm with an open palm is a foul.

"That’s something I didn’t know until he told me,” Mullens said.

On one hand, Mullens is no different from any other rookie entering the league and learning the rules. On the other hand, that small point of emphasis illustrates how far Mullens has to go.

His journey begins tonight, as the Thunder opens its preseason schedule at Memphis at 7 p.m. Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he didn’t know how much Mullens would play tonight against the Grizzlies. But during a month-long exhibition season, newcomers like Mullens typically get the bulk of the minutes.

And tonight’s matchup could pit the only two centers drafted in the first round against each other, provided Mullens does see action. Hasheem Thabeet, the 7-foot-3 inch center out of Connecticut who was taken with the No. 2 overall pick, could give Mullens a tough test early.

"It’s going to be real nice,” Mullens said. "It’s our first preseason game, my first NBA game. We’ll see what happens. I’m just going to go out there and play my hardest and we’ll see.”

Mullens, the 7-footer from Ohio State, met up with Thabeet in the Thunder’s opening game in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. It was a forgettable performance from a team standpoint and for both players. Mullens scored five points and failed to pull down a rebound in 13 minutes. Thabeet scored nine points with two rebounds in 20 minutes. The Thunder lost 86-57.

Mullens, who once was projected as a lottery pick, downplayed the potential matchup and said his individual goals are much more basic and personal.