Estonian star Henri Drell has NBA aspirations with Bulls in Summer League

Henri Drell, Chicago Bulls, 2022 NBA Summer League (Photo by Roberto Finizio/Getty Images)
Henri Drell, Chicago Bulls, 2022 NBA Summer League (Photo by Roberto Finizio/Getty Images) /

As the Chicago Bulls power through their slate of Summer League games, things have gone surprisingly well for the team. Although only two members of the main roster have joined the Summer League roster, the Bulls have emerged victorious in two of their three games thus far. With no true star on the team, everyone has had to chip in and help, including Henri Drell.

Drell has paved his way to Las Vegas after initially rising to fame in Estonia. Making a name for himself playing for the Estonian national team, Drell carried on to play in several basketball leagues all across Europe before ultimately traveling overseas to join the Windy City Bulls G League team.

Accepting an offer to join up with the Summer League roster was a smooth transition from there, as he looks to ultimately find a spot on an NBA roster. Although the Knicks obliterated the Bulls 101-69 in Chicago’s second Summer League contest, Drell proved to be one of few bright spots. He scored 11 points and contributed 3 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists in a futile effort to make a late-game comeback.

Not all of his effort was wasted, however, as Drell caught our attention as we pulled him aside to ask a few questions about his NBA aspirations and time spent with the Chicago Bulls in Las Vegas.

I spoke to Chicago Bulls forward Henri Drell about his offseason training with the Summer League team and what’s in store for the Estonian star.

In Estonia, Drell is a basketball name. His father was a professional basketball player. His mother was a professional basketball player. His sister was a professional basketball player. And now, Henri looks to make the biggest splash of all and hopefully one day play in the NBA.

Growing up, Henri says his favorite player to watch was by far Kevin Durant. He also mentions Chicago Bulls legend Toni Kukoc, as he saw commonalities between the two as “tall wings with guard skills”.

It’s easy to see where Drell has found his inspiration then, as he says he’s been focusing on certain aspects of his game, “Ball-handling and shooting, every day when I go to the gym, I make sure my routine starts with ball-handling and finishes with a lot of catch and shoot and coming off shots”. If he can consistently do these things, he has as good of a shot to make the NBA as any currently unsigned member of the roster.

Drell believes his calling card is his defensive ability, “A few years ago I was kind of struggling guarding smaller and quicker opponents, but now I love to guard smaller opponents and make their day hard,” Henri says, “Over the years I developed an understanding of how to use my length and quickness and now I can say I could guard any position on the floor, whether it be a small and quick guard or a 6’11 big man on the low post.”

Although he possesses several traits that teams are looking for on the wing, adjusting to the American way of things hasn’t always been easy for Henri. Euro-based leagues often have a team-first style of play and several rule changes when compared to the NBA.

“Coming from Europe and being 40% three-point shooter, the hardest part at the beginning was the three-point line in America. It’s a bit further and you need more legs for the shot,” Drell says, “My first two weeks in the G-League, I remember all of my shots were short, so with the best coaches in the Windy City team, we started to drill the ark of my shot and got it consistent.”

But that doesn’t mean he needed to leave everything behind. Henri tells me one of the biggest pieces of advice he ever received was from a coach in Germany. Just be simple. Allowing the game to just come naturally and not force things was a concept that was difficult to understand at first for Henri, but over time he came to realize just what his coach was talking about.

“Of course, you watch Kevin Durant and you think, ‘Why am I not allowed to do the same things on the court?’ Being professional all those years, I started to hear it more often, and I finally realized that I don’t need to be Kevin Durant on the floor, my tasks are different. Being simple and smart on the floor is the key to all of that.”

Drell’s maturity and understanding of the game shine through brighter than anything else. There is a role for Henri in this league, and he seems to know it. It’s now just a matter of proving to a team that he can consistently fill that role for them.

“The main goal has always been to be a part of an NBA program,” Drell tells me, “I still have that goal in the back of my head.” As he suits up for the Chicago Bulls’ final two Summer League contests, perhaps we’ll get a better glimpse of the player Drell could become at the NBA level.

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