Where are they now? Former UMass forward Raphiael Putney

By Zak Borrelli

(Daily Collegian Photo Archive)
(Daily Collegian Photo Archive)

Since the start of the basketball season, former Massachusetts forward Raphiael Putney has been lighting up the NBA Developmental League (D-League) for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

For those unfamiliar with Putney, the 6-foot-9, 185-pound swingman played for the Minutemen from 2009-2010  until his final year of eligibility during the 2013-2014 season. His best season statistically came during the 2011-2012 campaign when he averaged 10.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.4 blocks and one steal per game. Putney was also a key starter on the 2014 team that made the NCAA Tournament.

After leaving UMass, Putney was offered a tryout for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, a D-League affiliate of the Houston Rockets, where he stuck. In his first season with the Vipers, Putney averaged only 10 minutes per game behind NBA talents Clint Capela and Glen Rice Jr. Although he did not see a lot of time on the court, Putney made the most of his minutes, shooting a respectable 48 percent from the field while scoring 6.25 points and grabbing 2.5 rebounds per game

This season, Putney has broken out. He is now the Vipers starting power forward, and he has used this opportunity to showcase his talent and work ethic. In 34.4 minutes per game, the former Minuteman is averaging 19.4 points (11th in the D-League), 9.1 rebounds (sixth) and 2.6 blocks per game, which tied for second in the league. Putney is also showing off his improved jumper, as he’s now a 39.4 percent 3-point shooter in his D-League career after shooting just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc at UMass. With his improved shooting to complement his length and athleticism, Putney has lead the Vipers to a 13-12 record midway through the season.

Putney is not one to takeover games with his play, however he plays his role very well and has become a definite difference maker for Rio Grande Valley, something that NBA teams look for when calling players up from the D-League. A lot of players are great scorers, but teams look for players who do the little things that help their team win. The main drawback of Putney is his thin frame, which allows bigger, stronger opponents to bully him in the post and for rebounding positioning. If he wishes to play in the NBA eventually, this is something he will have to work on, but it’s not something that he thinks will hold him back.

“I’ve been considered an underdog all of my life, wherever I’ve been,” Putney said in an interview with Keith Schlosser of RidiculousUpside.com. “Coming out of UMass, people don’t necessarily expect you to be an overseas or NBA player. People talk about my build, but I just want to show them that I love to compete and play the game of basketball.”

In his 25 games this season Putney, the D-League’s No. 8 ranked prospect, has scored 20 or more points 12 times, including three games where he’s scored at least 30. He had 30 points and 12 rebounds Dec. 9 against the Reno Bighorns and a whopping 33 points and 21 boards the next time the Vipers faced off against the Bighorns on Jan. 4.

In the D-League’s annual showcase, a series of games where NBA coaches, scouts and General Managers are present to scout talent, Putney showed up huge. In his Jan. 7 game against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, he posted a career high 38 points, shooting 6-of-11 from downtown, along with 18 rebounds in the Vipers big win.

“I think people were definitely surprised,” Putney said. “They didn’t know I can shoot, but I’ve been working on my offense, and defense. I’m considered one of the skinnier guys, but I’m one of the league’s leading shot blockers.”

With the way the NBA is trending toward versatile and athletic forwards, it likely won’t be long until we see Putney in an NBA uniform. His combination of three-point shooting and shot blocking make him a unique prospect that NBA teams will have to keep an eye on.


Zachary Borrelli can be reached at [email protected]