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No Regrets: Back to Long Island but Creek has made his mark

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Russell goes off on Nuggets in Nets' win (1:24)

D'Angelo Russell puts up 27 points as the Nets get past the Nuggets 135-130. (1:24)

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. - There his is. You can clearly see him.

Mitch Creek is not in the game, but his presence is felt. Leaping out of his seat when his teammates make a play; clapping and shouting words of encouragement when they need it.

When the Denver Nuggets' All-Star center Nikola Jokic is called for an offensive foul, Creek mimics the referee's hand signal for a charge. When D'Angelo Russell hits a three-pointer, he plays air guitar on the baseline in celebration.

For Creek, at the time midway through his second 10-day contract after being called up from the G-League, this is just part and parcel of his life as an NBA player.

"Regardless of what my role is - tonight (Tuesday) I was just supporting the boys and riding the wave and trying to keep that up - I embrace it wholeheartedly," Creek says.

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They say you can't reach your ultimate destination without encountering a few bumps along the road while on your journey. Nothing worth having ever came easy.

By now, Creek's journey from the NBL to the NBA is well known. We also know that his path hasn't been linear; it's been littered with obstacles and adversity that he's had to overcome.

The NBA dream almost didn't materialize when his former NBL team, the Adelaide 36ers, tried to block his path to America unless they received due compensation. Luckily, logic prevailed, and Creek joined the Brooklyn Nets G-League affiliate, the Long Island Nets.

Playing under Australian national team assistant Will Weaver in Long Island, Creek put up some impressive numbers - in 27 games in the G-League, Creek is averaging 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Then, just as is prone to happening in the NBA, a rash of injuries to the Brooklyn Nets meant that Creek's opportunity arose - the first Long Island player this season to be called up to the NBA, and just the fourth overall. He signed a 10-day contract with the team in late January.

Creek remembers the day he got the news vividly.

"I was like [Long Island] are f--ing pulling my leg here," he tells ESPN. "You just don't believe that it's true. I called my agent and tried to reiterate to him like, 'are you f--ing with me right now?' If you're lying to me I'm actually going to kill you! It took an hour before it really hit me.

"The emotions ... the time and effort, the amount of unseen hours you put in, that one phone call makes every single second, sacrifice, every missed family event, it makes it all worthwhile. The last thirteen days now has felt like eternity, but at the same time it's gone quick."

Given the adversity he'd faced to that point, Creek would be forgiven for thinking that perhaps the NBA dream might not happen this season. He admits that some feelings of doubt had crept into his mind while in the G-League.

"You wake up every day and you're like 'Am I good enough, am I not good enough?' Then you gotta try and tell yourself that you are, and you gotta try tell yourself that your persistence and effort every single day, and perfect effort every single day and perfect intention of making yourself and the team better each day - that's a thought that goes through [your mind] every day," he says.

"You're always reevaluating every single situation. If you don't, you're not a perfectionist and you're not striving for perfect effort. For me, it's not about being perfect, it's about giving perfect effort. I try to do that every single day."

Creek knew that his opportunities would be limited during his 10-day stint with Brooklyn, but he was determined to make the most of what he could. It's that mindset that has endeared him to the Nets coaching staff. After scoring his first NBA point on free-throws late in a win against the Knicks, Creek was given 19 minutes to showcase his ability in the team's next game against Boston.

He didn't disappoint, finishing with 6 points, and playing some hard-nosed defense - traits the Nets are looking for as to what they want the definition of their ball club to be.

"He adds culture to our locker room; he adds toughness, smarts," says Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson. "I have no qualms about putting him in there. I trust him."

Once his initial 10-day contract was up, the team had no hesitation in offering him another deal, allowing Creek to continue the pursuit of the ultimate dream.

"I love what he represents," adds Atkinson. "His performance in the G-League so far has been fantastic, and we talked about giving him a second 10-day [contract] and I was like, yes, definitely. It was so great to have him continue with us."

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The Brooklyn Nets are building a new culture under New Zealand-born GM Sean Marks.

Since taking over the position in February 2016, Marks has used minimal resources to build a team for long term success. Marks has signed, and brought in overlooked, high character and high upside players, such as D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert, who are bringing some excitement back to Atlantic Avenue, and are shaping the future of the franchise. With Atkinson at the helm - one of Mark's first moves as GM - the GM is, for the lack of a better comparison, trying to emulate the highly successful San Antonio Spurs model he cut his teeth on prior to Brooklyn.

To do this, each team needs a certain type of leadership, and although Creek is an NBA rookie, on the current Nets roster, only DeMarre Carroll, Ed Davis and Jared Dudley have more experience as professional basketball players.

It's some of that knowledge that Creek has accrued in almost 10 years of professional basketball that he wants to impart to his teammates. Things like staying positive at all times, no matter the situation.

"Sometimes it's as simple as trying to keep that feeling upbeat, like, 'We're alright. They made a little run, now let's get our run,'" he tells ESPN. "It's identifying a situation - positive or negative - and reflecting on it quickly and thinking, okay, has someone said anything? Does something need to be said, or is this a moment where you need to leave it be? You just try and do your part here-and-there."

Theo Pinson, one of the Nets two-way players that was also called up to Brooklyn, calls Creek "one of the best teammates I've ever had." The two have played with each other all season and Pinson understands how important Creek's professional basketball experience is to this young Nets squad.

"Huge," he tells ESPN. "He understands the physicality of the game, he understands how to outsmart other players, and not to make anything hard on himself. When you play with guys that know how to simplify the game and not make it hard, it makes the whole game easier.

"To have this opportunity to show himself, be a part of a great organization: he's earned it. Every single day he's been a great guy in the locker room, so you can't go down to Long Island and be like, 'How's Mitch? Oh, he's an asshole.' You won't ever hear something that that."

Creek's career-high game came against the Milwaukee Bucks at home this past Monday, and while nice, he says that wasn't validation for him that he belonged in the NBA, rather it was the faith placed in him by the Nets hierarchy in giving him another contract days earlier.

"Anytime you get an opportunity it shows and proves to you, that when a head coach of an NBA team, and the GM and owners, give you that 10-day contract and then the second one so quickly, that's validation in itself," he says.

Pinson tells ESPN that Creek is 100 percent deserving of being on an NBA roster.

"Definitely," he told ESPN. "Everyone thinks for you to be an NBA player you gotta be a great scorer. You see dudes all the time getting paid just because they're great locker room guys; great practice guys that just go out there and play well.

"When you put Mitch in the game, or Mitch in the locker room, you know what you're gonna get from him. He's a hard working guy and he's gonna give you everything he has."

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Creek's second 10-day contract came to an abrupt end on trade deadline day. Back to Long Island and back to the grind, his NBA future uncertain. Whatever happens from here on out, the gamble Creek took on himself, the faith he had in his own ability to reach his dreams, ensures that this season will be considered a success, even if it means finishing out the rest of the 2018-19 season in the G-League.

"I'm having a blast," he says. "I feel like you go out and water that garden every day - sometimes it's just dirt, and you put a bit of top soil in there and water it and one day it starts to grow. Something grew here [Brooklyn]. It's a pretty f--ing cool feeling to call yourself an NBA player and run up-and-down and play against Giannis [Antetokounmpo], play against Jaylen Brown, play against Al Horford, [Jayson] Tatum. I had a lot of people say, 'you're not good enough' and still to this day, but at the end of the day, I trusted myself and I can go home with my head held high and my hands in my pockets whistling away going 'it's a pretty f--ing sweet ride.'"