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Sixers president challenges rookie

Shortly before he drafted Marreese Speights with the 16th overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft, Philadelphia 76ers president and general manager Ed Stefanski decided it was time to make a pact with the 6-foot-10-inch forward from the University of Florida.

Not a financial deal but a philosophical one.

It was fairly simple: Speights would play hard every time he stepped onto the court, then come over to Stefanski, look him in the eye, shake his hand and let him know he gave his best effort.

That might sound corny. But Stefanski’s point was to let Speights know he can be a great player if he’s willing to work at it.

“I used to do the same thing in New Jersey with our young kids who had perceived issues,” Stefanski said. “I look them in the eye and ask them to play hard.”

Speights has done that, averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds, in four games at the NBA Summer League.

He continued his dominating play Wednesday with 24 points and 12 rebounds in the 76ers’ 86-72 victory over Washington at Cox Pavilion.

“I just want to show my teammates that I’m not afraid to compete at this level,” Speights said. “I’ve been playing with a lot of confidence.

“I know I’m a good player. I’m just trying to go out there and make things happen.”

A member of Florida’s 2007 national championship team, Speights has performed on the big stage before. But there were some questions about his work ethic in college.

The summer league has helped dispel those notions, and he has made a positive impression on Sixers management.

“He’s been great so far,” Stefanski said. “He’s a wonderful young man.”

“My experience at Florida did help me get ready for this level,” Speights said. “All the players we had at Florida, coach (Billy) Donovan, they helped me a lot.”

Philadelphia recently added free-agent forward Elton Brand to a team that was one of the league’s most improved over the second half of last season. Suddenly, Speights has a chance to be a contributor with a winning organization for a long time.

“When we drafted him, we said there’s no reason to force anything with him,” Stefanski said. “Nothing’s changed in that regard after we signed Elton. Marreese is a hell of a kid, and he’s going to help us.”

As far as their pact goes, Speights said he’ll continue to hold up his end of the deal.

“He’s the head man,” Speights said. “Of course I’m going to listen to him.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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