Expectations are always high for the NBA G League’s RGV Vipers.

After the first day of training camp for the upcoming season, there’s no reason to believe those expectations are any different. As Vipers CFO Rene Borrego said a year ago, he’s looking for one more ring – “one for the thumb.”

The four-time NBA G League champions, who made a furious run into the playoffs and all the way to the championship series for a league-best seventh time before falling to Delaware, is returning some of its key components from a year ago. Those players include Jarrett Culver, Darius Days, Jalen Lecque, Trhae Mitchell, Shawn Occeus, Josh Reaves and Ray Spalding.

Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Ray Spalding during Vipers basketball practice at Vipers practice facility on Wednesday, November 1, 2023 in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Culver, Days, Lecque, Mitchell and Spalding all spent a good portion of last season as starters, or came off the bench to play critical minutes.

“We’ve got guys who have been around the system and they know how I coach and I know how they play so it’s easier to get into practices and install things and they can help other guys so they can learn quicker,” second-year head coach Kevin Burleson said. “At the same time, though there are guys who know it and guys who don’t so you are balancing how fast you can speed up the process.

“The hard part for me is I want to throw a lot at them because certain guys know it and certain guys are like, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ It’s a hard balance but a good thing.”

Burleson said he was pleased to see several of his players return, looking as if they spent the offseason pumping a lot of weights.

“It was across the board,” Burleson said. “When JC (Jarrett Culver, from Texas Tech) walked in I had to ask him, ‘What have you been doing? Hitting the weight room and eating that good Southern Texas Food?’ Everybody from Ray to Jalen looked bigger. I think it was an emphasis this summer to get a little bigger and a little stronger and come back with different mindsets. I’m excited about that.”

Rio Grande Valley Vipers head coach, Kevin Burleson during basketball practice at Vipers practice facility on Wednesday, November 1, 2023 in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Ray Spalding, a 6-foot-10 fourth-year player, drafted out of Louisville, returns. He spent last year during training camps mainly running the court while the team practiced, rehabbing from an Achilles injury that hampered him on and off throughout the season.

“I was doing my conditioning last year,  but I’m fully healthy right now, 100%” Spalding said. “This is been a great process and to be back here with this organization I feel like everyone now that was here last year is 100% professional.”

Spalding said his big picture goal is to make a return to the NBA. He was drafted with the 56th overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and traded to the Dallas Mavericks. During the 290-18-19 season with the Phoenix Suns, Spalding started for the first time and recorded 21 points and 13 rebounds in an OT win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

“Obviously, I want to get back to the NBA but  want to get better every day while I’m here,” he said. “I’m blessed to be down here and I enjoy the process. I’ve been working on my jump shot and working on strengthening my body.

“It’s very fulfilling to be back here and have these guys back as well as some of the new guys. It’s kind of weird being around these guys. It’s the longest I’ve been around a group of guys since college. We can relate to one another and it’s an easy transition.  It’s going to be a fun year.”

The Vipers, the G League affiliates of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, open the season at Memphis on Nov. 10 and 11, then travel to the Austin Spurs on Nov. 15. They play their home opener, at Bert Ogden Arena, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 22 against the Osceola Magic and then again at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24 against Osceola before a Saturday, Nov. 25 game at home against Oklahoma City.

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