From pancakes to ping pong, Suns rookies build bond as season begins

Oct 26, 2016, 6:24 PM

PHOENIX – Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ulis and Dragan Bender have a lot more in common than opening night jitters against the Sacramento Kings Wednesday. The Suns’ rookies step onto the Talking Stick Resort Arena court for their first NBA regular season game.

All three live in the same Tempe complex, along with second-year veteran Devin Booker, making it easier for them to bond on a level other than basketball.

“It’s fun,” said Chriss, a 6-foot-10 forward. “We always hang out. It’s easy for us to talk to each other and kind of grow as young players.”

And friends. “(We play) pingpong; Devin’s really good at that. ‘Quese (Marquese) is alright,” said Ulis, a 5-foot-9 guard. “We have a little competitive thing going.”

Their competitive spirit also includes video game tournaments. Chriss shared a secret of playing himself in NBA 2K.

“When me and Book (Booker) play, we’re both the Suns sometimes,” Chriss said.

They also bond over pancakes, waffles, wings and burgers. Their local favorites on Mill Avenue include Zipps and Ncounter.

“We go to Ncounter to eat a lot after practice,” Ulis said. “We will probably go there today.”

The rookies’ families will all be watching when they make their NBA debuts against the Kings. For Chriss and Ulis, the support will be in Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“My two brothers are out here with me,” Ulis said. “My mom is coming in town for it, too.”

Bender, a native of Croatia, will feel support from overseas when tipoff is at 4 a.m. in Croatia.

“I definitely have a lot of family that’s going to watch,” said Bender, a 7-foot-1 center. “I know they had some problems with streaming and stuff like that during preseason but I hope (they’ll watch).”

Chriss will have his family and friends at the game – and fans in the Valley who already recognize him at grocery stores.

“I used to joke around with people that would ask me if I’m Marquese. I’d be like, ‘Nah,’ and they’d be like, ‘You look just like him,’ and I’ll be like, ‘Yeah that’s me,’ ” Chriss said. “It makes them happy and smile and that’s cool.”

Chriss, Ulis and Bender will all check one thing off their bucket list Wednesday: their first NBA game.

They are experiencing it at a ripe young age. Chriss, the No. 8 pick in the draft out of Washington, is 19. Ulis, a second-rounder from Kentucky, is 20. And Bender, the Suns’ first pick in the 2016 draft at No. 4, is 18.

None will start but Chriss is expected to see time as a backup forward and Bender is expected to share minutes with P.J. Tucker off the bench.

In preseason, Chriss started two games and averaged 12.2 points. Ulis played in five games and averaged 7.2 points. Bender played in six games and averaged 3.8 points and 4.0 rebounds.

“It’s my first official NBA game and I’m just looking forward to help my team win,” Bender said. “It’s a dream come true.”

Ulis echoed that.

“We’ve dreamed about this our whole life,” he said. “And for it to be my first NBA game is a dream come true. I can’t wait.”

For all three, the wait is over.

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From pancakes to ping pong, Suns rookies build bond as season begins