Joe Chealey had just finished a tough workout at TD Arena, walked back to his downtown apartment and was planning on a long nap when his cell phone chirped.
Chealey looked at the caller ID and saw it was College of Charleston coach Earl Grant.
The NBA’s Charlotte Hornets had called Grant looking for Chealey and wanted to know how quickly the former Cougars guard could get to the Queen City. The Hornets needed Chealey at practice that afternoon in preparation for the team’s departure to Las Vegas to take part in the NBA’s Summer League, which was set to start later in the week.
Chealey looked at his watch and knew he didn’t have enough time to make the three-hour drive to Charlotte, so the Hornets suggested that he hop on plane for the 45-minute flight. The only problem was the plane was going to be wheels up from the Charleston airport in less than an hour.
Chealey looked around his room, threw some things into a bag, and getting a ride from his roommate Cameron Johnson, hustled to the airport, just in time to make the flight.
“It was a crazy couple of hours, but I’m so thankful I got the call,” Chealey said. “I went up for that practice, we had another practice the next day and then we flew out to Las Vegas for the start of the summer league. It was a whirlwind.”
When Chealey checked his bag before the team left for Las Vegas, he realized he had forgotten a couple of essential items.
“I had like 10 minutes to pack and I left some clothes in Charleston,” Chealey said. “I had to go to the store and pick some things up before we left for Las Vegas.”
Chealey played in four of the five games for the Hornets, averaging 6.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists while shooting 42 percent from the field.
“It was an unbelievable experience for me. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot,” Chealey said. “Fortunately, some shots fell for me during the two weeks I was out there. Hopefully, I did enough to impress some teams to get invited to a training camp.”
And that’s the end game for Chealey. As an undrafted free agent, the 6-3 point guard who finished his career with more than 1,800 points with the Cougars is just hoping to get invitation to an NBA training camp. It doesn’t even have to come from the Hornets, although that would be best because they are already familiar with his skill set.
“The thing about the Summer League is that all 30 teams are out there watching you,” Chealey said. “It’s not just the team you’re playing for that’s evaluating you. You end up getting calls from teams you had no idea where looking at you. All the feedback I’ve gotten back so far has been positive.”
The Hornets' Summer League head coach, Jay Hernandez, was impressed with Chealey’s poise and intelligence during the two-week period.
“Starting with our mini-camp in Charlotte and throughout the Las Vegas Summer League, Joe demonstrated his work ethic as well as his ability to learn and organize an offense,” Hernandez said. “Joe became more comfortable as Summer League went on. I thought he played really well in our last couple games, including our final game against Toronto. It was a pleasure having him on our team.”
Because Chealey was a late addition to the Hornets’ roster, he didn’t play in their first game, sitting out against Oklahoma City.
“The Hornets did a great job of keeping all of us in the loop and knowing what to expect,” Chealey said. “I kind of knew I wasn’t going to get a chance to play in that first game, but I didn’t let it discourage me. I just stayed positive and supported my teammates. I couldn’t pout about it. I just tried to stay ready.”
The next game against Chicago, he came off the bench and scored seven points and handed out six assists in 12 minutes of action.
“The pace of the game is a lot faster than what people might think,” Chealey said. “The 24-second shot clock forces you to get up and down the floor. Obviously, you’ve got better athletes across the board, but the talent wasn’t overwhelming. I played against some of these guys in college and against them in pre-draft workouts, so I knew what to expect.”
Then Devonte Graham – the former Kansas star the Hornets acquired in a trade from Atlanta during June's draft - injured his knee and Chealey was thrust into the starting lineup for Charlotte’s final game against Toronto.
“I knew my opportunity would come, and I had to be ready when it did,” Chealey said.
Chealey turned in his best performance of the Summer League, scoring 14 points, hauling down nine rebounds and handing out four assists. He shot 5 of 10 from the floor.
“I felt a lot more comfortable out there running the offense,” Chealey said. “I got into a pretty good rhythm and my shots were falling for me. I hate it that Devonte got hurt, you don’t ever want to get on the floor because of an injury, but the coaches kept telling us, ‘next man up’ and to be ready.' ”
Back in the Lowcountry, Chealey said he’ll continue to work out and hopes his phone will ring again. NBA training camps are set to open at the end of September. Until then, the Orlando, Fla., native will keep hitting the gym, honing his craft.
“This is kind of a dead period for me, just playing the waiting game,” Chealey said. “Hopefully, I get an invite to someone’s training camp. I think that’s realistic. Then we’ll see what happens after that.”
The odds of making an NBA roster as an undrafted free agent are long. Playing in the NBA’s G-League – their minor league – or overseas are also options for Chealey.
“Once I get some official offers on the table, I’ll make a decision then,” Chealey said. “I’m going to keep all my options open. Obviously, my first choice would be to play in the NBA, but the G-League or playing overseas are still on the table.”
Former Stall High School star Anthony Johnson and Drew Goudelock – the program’s all-time leading scorer – are the last two former College of Charleston players to get a chance in the NBA.