Chasin’ The Dream: Picking A Camp
A chronicle of Donald Sloan’s journey to make the NBA.
SLAMonline will be checking in throughout the season with Atlanta Hawks point guard Donald Sloan during his journey to make the NBA. Arguably the top player in the D-League this season with averages of 25.4 points, 8.4 assists and 5.2 rebounds, Sloan was invited to NBA Vet Camp with the Atlanta Hawks where he hopes to continue to chase his dream of playing in the League.
Donald Sloan came into Texas A&M as a talent recruit, with Rivals.com ranking him the 55th best player in his HS class of 2006, as well as the 8th best point guard (four of the PGs he was behind were 1st round picks: Lawson, Conley, Augustin, Crittenton). While Rivals was higher on the Dallas native than other recruiting agencies, with some rating him in the 100s, several did not rank Donald at all. This lit the fire.
At Texas A&M, Sloan developed into a very good (but not great) college basketball player, with equal time spent at both the point and shooting guard positions. While Donald was never able to play the point full time or average greater than 3.4 assists per game in a single season, his game continued to improve. His scoring averages went from 5.2 points per game as a freshman to 9.5 as a sophomore, 11.8 as a junior, to 17.8 as a senior and an All Big-12 First Team selection. While Sloan tested the NBA Draft waters after his junior season, the combo guard received little interest and returned to College Station. After his senior season, he was ready. Or so he thought.
“When workouts came, I felt that I was the highest that I had ever been in the last four years as far as my confidence was concerned in the type of the game that I have,” Sloan recanted about his pre-draft experience after his senior season. “I went into the workouts and I think that I did really well. I think that I created a lot of buzz after some of the workouts and was hopeful, that I guess somebody would take a chance. I didn’t have a lot of push and my name wasn’t out there a lot.”
With little buzz and limited workouts, it’s a long shot for any player to make it into the League. It’s even harder for a combo guard with the body of a point guard. Given his limited experience at the point and less-than-household name, it wasn’t a huge surprise that Sloan’s name wasn’t called in the 2010 NBA Draft.
“When my name didn’t get called, it was rough for me just like it was for every guy who didn’t get their name called,” he expressed on his Draft night feelings at the conclusion of his collegiate career. “After that, I just began thinking ‘what’s the next move.’”
Sloan’s next stop was training camp with the Sacramento Kings. With a glut of guards on the Kings roster and an uncertainly over the position returning Rookie Of The Year Tyreke Evans would play, the chips weren’t stacked in Sloan’s favor. Factor in Sloan coming off of an injury and it makes one wonder of whether he even had a shot of making the Kings, or if he was viewed as just another body? Let Donald tell you.
“That’s funny that you ask that [whether or not he had a shot in Sacramento] because I stress to my new agent all of the time that when I was coming into this new situation [with the Atlanta Hawks] that this is nothing like Sacramento. This is a complete 180. I went into and had just broken my left hand 4 weeks before camp started. The doctor said that it would only take four weeks for it to heal properly, so I had a cast on it. I was still running, shooting actually, and doing all the things that I could despite being one hand short. After I hired a new agent, he was straight up with me about how things were going to be. He said ‘if they play Tyreke at the 1, it’s looking like they already have 3 point guards on the roster.’ I told him that I understood that and was thinking ‘maybe they’ll put Tyreke at the 2, and I’ll be the other point guard.’ He told me that he just wanted to let me know that it wasn’t looking good going in because of the numbers. And the NBA is a numbers game.
“So I went in, spirits high. I got there on a Sunday, got my cast taken off on the same day, and then we started camp on Monday. Mind you, my hand had been in a cast for the last month, so it’s hurtin’. I ask the trainer ‘You sure the cast is supposed to be off? I can’t make a fist, let alone dribble a ball.’ The trainer tells me that I’ll feel a little pain here and there and that I’ll be fine. I’m competing to say the least, and I feel I’m looking pretty good. I call my agent after practice and tell him that I practiced and he was really surprised. He goes ‘Are you serious? You just got your cast off and they got you out there practicing without the cast?’ I had to bring myself to the fact that it was a catch-22 situation. If I’m out there with my hand looking bad, they’re going to let me go. If I’m not out there and on the sidelines, they’re going to let me go. I pretty much had to do what I’ve always done, and that’s fight through it. I participated in the first week and by the end of the week, my hand started feeling a little better. Then the day before the first game, they cut me. That made me hungrier than I ever was before.”
After not getting much love in high school, college, and now the league, it was easy to see why Sloan was so motivated to prove everyone wrong. Turning down six-figure deals overseas, Sloan opted to take his game to the NBA Developmental League to play for the Reno Bighorns, under former Warriors coach Eric Musselman. It was in “the biggest little city in the world” that he would have his first opportunity to run point full time, only after learning under the tutelage of another former Warrior, point guard Aaron Miles.
“It was a great experience in Reno. Early on, I learned a lot from watching Aaron Miles. He was the former star at Kansas and I learned so much from him. He really, really helped me out. He was probably the best point guard in the D-League last year before he went down,” Sloan reflected with a sincere amount of appreciation that could be felt through the phone. “While it was very unfortunate when that happened, it created an opportunity for me to step right in and play. For the final 38 games of the season, I was blessed with a coach in Eric Musselman who truly gave me the opportunity to show what I could do. Not only him, but the guys surrounding me like Andre Emmett, Anthony Richardson, Patrick O’Bryant, and the other vets who made things much easier because they were so good that I really didn’t have to score a lot. All I had to do was facilitate. Having all of them around me made me showcase what I could do a lot more.”
Those 38 games of “running the show” were enough to get Sloan invited to training camp to play for the USA in the 2011 Pan-American Games. Of the players competing in Mexico, several were D-Leaguers who were sitting well in terms of making of NBA team, with Sloan being one of them. We’ll go in depth on the Pan-Am Games in another Chasin’ The Dream, but Sloan made enough of an impression by his play in Mexico that the Erie Bayhawks made him a priority on draft night, dealing vet Blake Ahearn and a second rounder to bring him to Erie.
“It’s all about confidence. Once my agent, Brian Elfus of Impact Sports Basketball, told me that I had teams coming to see me in Tulsa, following me down to Mexico, then put me on the phone with Alan Houston on the D-League Draft night and he told me ‘Sloan, we want you in Erie. We think you’re an NBA point guard.’ That was all that I needed to hear. I was stoked,” the elated Sloan reminisced on his memories of his initial phone call with Knicks Assistant GM Alan Houston. All it takes is something like that to light a fire under you to make you realize that you can truly do this on the next level.”
Upon his arrival, Sloan immediately jumped two feet into everything Erie offered. “When I went into Erie, I truly embraced everything. From the coaches, to my new teammates, to the new location that I’ll be playing in. I went in there arms open welcoming everything that Erie had to offer, including Coach Larranaga…and it showed,” explained the newest star in Erie.
While Sloan enjoyed the new lifestyle and city, he never took his eye off the prize; he honed his game after practice, which helped boost his production during the games. “Like you said, I’m a guy who went from averaging 10 points last year to being one of the better players in the D-League. It showed that when somebody is confident in themselves, anything is possible.”