The D-League is Perfect
‘Development’ isn’t so bad at all.
by Kevin Owens / @Waiting4Godunk
I thought this week I would discuss the answer to a question I have been asked quite a few times. The dialogue usually goes something like this:
Inquisitor: Did you enjoy playing in the D-League?
Myself: Yes! (Emphatic)
Inquisitor: Really? (Also emphatic) I know a ton of guys who hated it.
I’m never surprised by the abundance of former D-Leaguers who look down on those experiences. The pay is lousy, the towns are small, and the travel is rigorous. But as a young player coming out of college, the D-League was the most influential period of my life.
Take a trip down memory lane with me…I was an under developed player, coming out of a small school and looking to try my hand at pro basketball. My brother was then a center for the Roanoke Dazzle, a D-League team located in Roanoke, VA. My agent, shockingly (sarcasm), could not find a foreign team that would take a chance on a tall drink of water like myself. I ended up playing in an exposure camp (the very same one I again attended this summer, since this problem has found a way of repeating itself) in hopes of catching the eye of a D-League scout.
I apparently proved myself enough to get drafted late in the 2003 D-League Draft. I remember sitting in a hotel room with my brother praying that I ended up in Roanoke. When the call came in that I would be joining him in training camp, we were both ecstatic. Little did I know that I was beyond a long shot of making the final roster.
I walked into a small high school gym in Roanoke, VA with nothing to lose and everything to gain. I walked out two weeks later with my first professional contract. My coach Kent Davison informed me that when he called my brother that fateful draft day, he told him that I would most likely be cut. My brother hung up the phone, smiled at me and told me to “dominate.” I obliged.
My first year in the D-League was a learning experience. I spent the better part of the year under the tutelage of two notable NBA veterans in Cory Alexander and Mikki Moore. I perfected how to spin off a defender in the post from Josh Asselin. I gained a great deal of basketball knowledge from my coach Kent Davison. (K.D. was an amazing coach. He brought in guys who not only could play, but were also professionals off the court.) I learned that upsetting a 7-foot, 300-pound assistant coach will likely get you choked out on the bus from Mike King. And most importantly, I learned how to be a professional from my brother Geoff.
The following summer, I committed another year to the D-League. Although I had learned a great deal, I knew I still had a long way to go. I arrived at training camp the first day officially a “veteran.” In the offseason, I had bulked up quite a bit (steroid free!). I knew that in order for me to start, I needed to be stronger. Again I walked into that small high school gym with a chip on my shoulder. I walked out the starting center for an extremely talented Roanoke Dazzle. We had several Gatorade Call Ups that year, including my roommate Matt Carroll, who still holds an NBA contract.
The following summer, I decided that, although I loved the D-League and appreciated every aspect, it was time to make some money off this game. The money was necessary, as I had just walked my girlfriend up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum and, after a few tears and a couple thousand dollars, she was my fiancée… As you could imagine, funds were low. I received a contract from a team in Poland and stayed there for a short while ’til the money dried up. Upon returning home, I received a call from my Dazzle teammate and good friend, Seth Doliboa. He convinced me to come back to Roanoke for one more year.
Unfortunately for me, this was the first year that NBA players could be assigned to D-League teams. And as luck would have it, both players sent down from the Wizards played my position. I was forced to the bench. I made the most of my demotion and continued to work hard. I still needed to prepare for the following year, when I would finally turn a profit.
Now maybe it’s just me…but I’m a simple man (not unlike the Lynyrd Skynyrd song). I don’t need the flashy things or the expensive home. That is why the D-League was so appealing to me. The apartments were small and shared with a fellow teammate. The bus rides were long and cramped and the money is, in some cases, less than a teacher’s salary. These factors can quickly bring a potential NBA player back down to earth.
Indulge me if you will…Imagine being an NBA rookie. You are told how amazing you are throughout your life. You are a superstar at a high-end Division I university where you are given everything you need prior to declaring for the Draft. You’re then drafted, sign a lucrative contract and enjoy all the bells and whistles that go along with it. Suddenly your coach and GM appear, sit you down in their office and say that you will be sent down to the minors to “develop.” You are then shipped to a small town whose idea of a fun Saturday evening is a bar named “Corned Beef” (it’s true…I swear). As you can imagine after living the NBA life, it’s a bit of a culture shock.
But for the rest of us ham-and-eggers, the D-League is perfect. It’s a chance to show off our skills in front of a horde of NBA scouts. It’s a chance to develop our skills against some amazing competition. And finally it’s an opportunity to truly appreciate professional basketball. Now I know a lot of prima donnas think the D-League is below them. The majority of them think that 12-hour trips from small town America to small town America may be a waste of their time, but the way I see it …even Jordan rode the bus.