PHOENIX – Elijah Millsap got the phone call.
It was a call he had been waiting all year to receive; an NBA team wanted him, and they were going to sign him. The Northern Arizona Suns’ parent club, the Phoenix Suns, were the ones wanting Millsap to join the team.
“I was actually at home watching my brother’s game,” Millsap said. “I was just dozing off and my agent called me, asking me a lot of weird questions and I knew something was wrong. I was kind of disoriented, but he was just like, ‘Phoenix is going to sign you for the rest of the year. They really appreciate what you did with the Northern Arizona Suns and they’re going to bring you in. They’re excited to have you.’ So I was just ecstatic. It’s a blessing.”
As ecstatic as Millsap was, he quickly remembered the goal he had set for himself at the start of his season — to honor his late teammate by getting a Call-Up to the NBA.
Millsap’s former teammate and someone he called one of his best friends Cameron Moore died unexpectedly on Oct. 4, 2016, during his first practice with his soon-to-be team, the AV Ohrid in Macedonia. He collapsed in the last 15 minutes of the practice and was rushed to a hospital, but his life couldn’t be saved.
Like Millsap, Moore was a star at Alabama Birmingham. According to UAB, when Moore finished his collegiate career, he was second in school history in double-doubles (28) and blocked shots (137) and fourth in total rebounds (747). He also is one of just three Blazers in school history to achieve 1,000 points and 700 rebounds in his career.
Although they played just one year together (2009-10) in college, their two paths crossed again many times. They would see each other at the Las Vegas Summer League three years in a row as both vied to make an NBA regular season roster. They also played together again in 2014-15 with the Bakersfield Jam.
With Millsap’s yearlong goal realized, he decided to honor him in another way – by wearing Moore’s number he wore for years. Millsap stepped onto the court at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Sunday afternoon wearing Moore’s No. 22.
Sunday was a satisfying moment in the making, and even though it was the last home game of the season for the Phoenix Suns, it’s just the beginning for Millsap.
“(The Call-Up) means a lot. I have some security going into the summer,” Millsap said. “To be able to be with an organization for them to check my progress all summer, to see where I’m at right now and then to check it when I get back from the summer, it’ll be amazing. It’s big for my family.”
First and foremost, Millsap gave the glory to God for getting him where he is today, but he was also sure to thank his head coach Ty Ellis and assistant coaches Bret Burchard, Tyler Gatlin and Brandon Rosenthal.
“The coaching staff, the management, everybody played a huge part, even the players were huge in (Johnny O’Bryant) getting called up twice, Eli’s and (Derrick Jones Jr.’s) development,” Ellis said. “I’m very proud of that. As a fan, you want to make the playoffs and you want to win a championship, but as an organization, we did a fantastic job this season because everybody got better.”
The Phoenix Suns announced Sunday morning that not only were they going to sign Northern Arizona’s leading scorer for the next 10 days, but they were going to sign him to a multi-year contract.
“I’m very proud of Eli. Most importantly, Eli didn’t stop believing,” Ellis said. “He obviously bought into the process, and it goes to show you, I mean his last game was probably one of his best games the whole season. We had nothing to play for as far as playoff contention but he understood that somebody is always watching and he was a professional and it showed.”
Millsap set a NAZ Suns’ record for the most points scored in a single game when he dropped 38 points on 12-of-24 shooting, including 7-of-12 from the three-point line, paired with 11 rebounds. It was his team-leading 13th double-double of the season.
Phoenix Suns’ head coach Earl Watson said they like his aggressiveness, the way he attacks the rim and his professionalism. That April 1 game against the Reno Bighorns might have been the tipping point for why Millsap is in a new uniform in the NBA, because he put on display all three things.
The NAZ Suns finished the season 22-28, but saw success in the most important aspect of what the NBA Development League is all about – getting players better so they can realize their dreams at the highest level.
Three former Prescott Valley roamers are no longer on the NAZ Suns squad, and as hard as that might be for some to accept, it will be gratifying seeing Jones, O’Bryant and Millsap play in the NBA for the coaches.
“I think it’s a testament for us that other teams want to send their guys to us,” Ellis said. “I think we laid down a solid foundation of development, of growth and professionalism, and I think we can only get better. So I’m very proud of what we did, very proud of the fans and the organization. It was a very successful season.”