From D-League to THE League
Follow one player’s ‘Journey to the NBA.’
by Travis Bledsoe
I woke up 6 a.m. to begin my routine, 30-minute drive to downtown Minneapolis, MN.
As I walked into legendary DeLaSalle High School toward the gym, I joined fellow pro basketball players Cameron Rundles (Leicester Riders) of the United Kingdom BBL, Jamar Diggs (Webmoebel Baskets) of Germany’s Pro A League, Joe Scott (Estela) and Teddy Archer (Festival De Cine L’Alfas) of Spain’s EBA division.
I couldn’t help but ask, Why were we all here? In this gym. At 6:30 in the morning. Day after day.
I thought quietly to myself as I laced-up my ankle braces, and I knew the answer immediately. Besides being high school teammates playing under Coach Dave Thorson at DeLaSalle years ago (Classes of 2004 and 2005), we were all working on our game, playing for our shot at the League.
My name is Travis Bledsoe and this is my tryout “Journey to the NBA.”
For some, the journey seems meant to be (McDonald’s All-Americans, high-major Division I offers, big conference TV exposure, first-round Draft picks). For others, the road is long and maybe not as glamorous (ask Horace Jenkins who was the one of the NBA’s oldest rookie at 30 years old).
Unfortunately, not everyone’s journey ends with an NBA jersey and a contract with their name on it. But that has never stopped NBA hopefuls like myself from preparing, practicing and visualizing their dream coming true everyday.
I was an undrafted free agent trying to make it out of the University of North Dakota. Known more for the Fighting Sioux, and hockey more than basketball (I helped change that), I knew I would have to ball overseas to keep my NBA dream alive.
I was sitting on the porch of my mom’s house enjoying the weather, waiting for an email or any good news, when I got a call from my agent. He told me a team was interested in signing me, but I would have to leave in three days if I accepted the contract and join the team for pre-season games.
I said, Of course, I’ll play. I was so grateful to be able to continue my basketball career. The first thing I did was call my wife to tell her the great news—”Baby, we’re going to Europe. But I have to start packing now!”
My professional journey took me to the Czech Republic in September 2010, where I played for a small-town team called Svitavy of the Mattoni NBL. If you are not familiar with “the Czech,” it’s formally known as Czechoslovakia located near Germany (beautiful place). Like many undrafted players and some NBA second-round picks, going overseas is a great opportunity to continue to play the game we love (and make some money doing it).
But I had to ask myself: Was this my overall goal when I started out my basketball career in the fourth grade? I mean, everyone wants to experience the highest level of success at their “dream” job.
So what is the best opportunity for an undrafted free agent to make an NBA roster? What is the best way for me to make an NBA summer league squad? How can I get invited to an NBA training camp? These questions flowed through my brain, like Chris Paul through a defense.
After doing some research by way of the Internet, the overwhelming answer to all of my questions was the D-League.
Yes, the NBA Developmental League. Sure, it’s not as glamorous as the NBA. And maybe you don’t get to travel across the globe as much as professional players overseas (or get paid as much). But you can’t argue with the numbers—42 players were called up to the NBA in ‘11-12, as huge rise from when the D-League began (eight players called up in ‘01-02, and 20 players in ‘10-11).
If you have what it takes to play in the D-League, and you perform at a high level, you will set yourself up for a great opportunity to impress NBA scouts and personnel, possibly earning yourself the coveted NBA 10-day contract. Just ask Dennis Horner of the New Jersey Nets who made himself eligible for the D-League Draft after spending $650 (travel expenses included) to attend the D-League National Tryout in Louisville, KY.
Or maybe we should ask former DeLaSalle Islander Alan Anderson, who also went undrafted and played overseas (after a short stint with the Bobcats), but made it back with the Toronto Raptors. Alan ended up starting double-figure games for Toronto after earning a couple of 10-day contracts because of his strong performance and play in the D-League. Yes, dreams do come true!
I grew up watching my older brother Evan play alongside Alan Anderson at DeLaSalle. One of the reasons I’ve always wanted to play basketball in the NBA was because of my brother. I still remember growing up playing one-on-one in the backyard, watching the NBA Draft and running outside to get shots up during the commercials.
My dream is making the NBA just like Alan Anderson’s and Dennis Horner’s. Even when they were “ballin’” around the globe in foreign countries, they never let the dream go. This was the answer I was looking for; I felt it in my heart. It’s time to give the NBA D-League a tryout.
My name is Travis Bledsoe, and I will be attending the Boost Mobile NBA D-League National Tryout in Chicago on June 2. I know we just met, but I’m here to tell you:
This is our story. This is our tryout. This is our… Journey to the NBA.