College Park Skyhawks starting G League regular season strong

The Atlanta Hawks are not the only hoopers making noise in the Peach State. The College Park Skyhawks have put the G League on notice.

Hawks rookie Kobe Bufkin in action
Hawks rookie Kobe Bufkin in action / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages
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The College Park Skyhawks turned some heads in the recent NBA G League Winter Showcase. From Nov. 12 to Dec. 21, Atlanta’s G League squad put together a top-five record in the league across 16 preseason showcase contests.

On Dec. 27, the Skyhawks began their regular season with a road loss to the Greensboro Swarm (the Charlotte Hornets’ G League affiliate). Since then, College Park has rattled off four wins in their last five outings. The Skyhawks put their elite defense on full display when they hosted the Raptors 905 on Jan. 4 and Jan. 6 in their first two home games of the campaign.

College Park allowed a total of 190 points across two impressive wins. The Raptors shot 40.1% from the field during the two-game stand, only sinking 67 out of 167 shot attempts. 

In the first game, the Skyhawks throttled the Raptors 109-89. Hawks rookie Kobe Bufkin led the way with 27 points, six rebounds, and six assists on 6-of-12 shooting from three. Toronto lottery pick Grady Dick played for the Raps, but College Park held the 20-year-old to just 1-of-7 shooting from downtown.

College Park’s defensive culture is helping Hawks rookie Kobe Bufkin

Over the last few months, the Skyhawks have built a tenacious defensive foundation. Head coach Ryan Schmidt and his coaching staff have developed a culture dedicated to two-way excellence. This defensive-minded message has gotten through to everyone on the team, including Bufkin.

After his big night in the first Raptors win, Bufkin was averaging 30.8 points through his first four G League appearances. However, the No. 15 pick out of Michigan has learned a lot about what it takes to thrive at the professional level – particularly as an all-around contributor and defender.

In his postgame press conference, Bufkin spoke to Soaring Down South about the importance of having a well-rounded skill set.

"It’s huge. Being able to be versatile. Being able to affect the game in a bunch of different ways is going to help me in the future and here. It’s something that we need right now."

Kobe Bufkin

In their second game against the Raptors, the Skyhawks needed to dig a lot deeper to secure an exciting 105-101 victory. College Park fans packed the stadium for a Saturday night showdown as the crowd favorites pulled off their closest victory of the young season.

Unfortunately, Bufkin went down with a back injury midway through the third quarter. He got up and tried to keep going for a few plays, but the No. 15 pick ultimately had to watch the rest of the game from the bench.

Despite the loss of their No. 1 scoring option, the Skyhawks stayed composed and fought through a topsy-turvy battle. Bench players like Trey McGowens and Jarkel Joiner stepped up in extended minutes, while the team collectively forced 19 turnovers with 11 total steals. McGowens scored a team-high 24 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three in just his second game as a Skyhawk.

Schmidt praised his team for the level of determination and grit they showed in securing an important win. The Skyhawks’ relatively young roster still has room to grow as an offensive unit, but this team plays with the kind of defensive intensity that Atlanta could seriously benefit from. 

Following his squad’s second straight win over the Raptors, Schmidt talked to Soaring Down South about the passion College Park demonstrates on defense.

"Sometimes the game gets sloppy, especially offensively, because of how hard they play. It’s not an excuse, it’s more to recognize the effort and passion they play with on the defensive end … You’re asking them and demanding them to play lockdown defense and fly around. Then as soon as you get a stop, all of a sudden you need poise. That’s not easy to do, it’s really tough. Sometimes you’ve got to take the good with the bad as far as some of the mistakes you’re gonna make."

Ryan Schmidt