Exclusive: Sixers’ Covington received, accepted challenge

Small forward Robert Covington has emerged as one of the 76ers' key contributors.

INDIANAPOLIS — Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown gave Robert Covington a goal: To be someone who could stay in the NBA.

Covington wasn’t supposed to be an NBA star. He didn’t go to Kentucky or Duke, and he definitely wasn’t a one-and-done college player. Instead, he played at Tennessee State for four years and went undrafted in 2013.

The Houston Rockets took a flyer on him, but he was eventually cut. Most players in his shoes back in 2014? They would be overseas by now. Not Covington. The 6-foot-9 small forward is in the middle of a $62 million contract and widely regarded as an important piece on one of the league’s elite teams.

He is averaging 11.7 points and 5.3 rebounds so far this year.

“It’s a mentality of never giving up,” Covington told Amico Hoops after the 76ers’ 100-94 win over the Indiana Pacers. “Just because something didn’t work out with one situation, doesn’t mean it can’t work out for the next. A lot of guys … they thrive when they get the right opportunity.”

NBA stars are typically graded on how well they perform on the offensive side of the ball, but Covington takes the defensive end just as seriously. Last season he earned All-Defensive first-team honors, averaging nearly two steals per game over the last two seasons.

Doesn’t sound like a four-year college player that went undrafted, does he?

“Coach gave me a challenge years ago to be someone that can stick in this league,” he said. “I basically had to work for everything. He gave me a challenge and I abided by it.”

Being one of the leaders on a still-fairly-young Sixers team, Convington was encouraged by the bounce-back win. After getting blown out in Brooklyn on Sunday, the Sixers came into Bankers Life Fieldhouse and set the tone from the beginning. Playing an elite Eastern Conference team, the Sixers jumped out to a 19-4 lead in the first quarter and carried as much as a 17-point lead with just more than 6 minutes left.

“We had a different mentality from the minute we stepped on the court and it showed,” Covington said. “Tonight was just a redemption game for us.”

The Sixers are now 7-5 on the young season and now have their first road win after enjoying a successful playoff run that ended in the second round.

How far can they go this season?

“The sky is the limit,” Covington said. “As far as I know, this team can be as great as we want to be. As long as we go out and we do exactly what we’re capable of.”

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