by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford
Last Saturday, the Attack Athletics gym was filled with over one hundred guys hoping to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing professional basketball as the NBA D-League held it’s annual open tryout event. Players from all over the Midwest, East Coast and even the South converged in the Windy City with the mindset of impressing scouts and coaches in order to land themselves a professional contract to play basketball in the D-League.
Yes, even despite the uncertainty with its more established big brother, games will be played in the D-League this year. Because of its NBA affiliation, the league isn’t totally unaffected by the lockout, but the teams will still have an opportunity to compete with each other and the open tryout presented an opportunity to try and find that hidden gem.
4 of Attack’s 5 basketball courts were filled with players ranging in age from as young as 18 to as old as 38. All began the day receiving instruction from coaches across varying basketball backgrounds before the highlight of the event which was the actual games.
One of those coaches was former Bob Knight disciple, University of Indiana standout and pride of Peoria, IL, AJ Guyton. He took his group through an intense situational basketball session and his passion was evident which he says stems from the path his professional career took after he left Indiana.
“On a professional level, in my career, I always had to make a team. So my mindset was different,” says Guyton. “I didn’t come in with a guaranteed contract, so that’s similar to these guys in that nothing is guaranteed. You can be cut any day or you can be released. So that sense of urgency, coming out and playing hard every possession and being in shape when you get here is the key to succeeding in an event like this.”
Guyton was also keenly aware that the tryout was about individuality, but he tried to stress the importance of team play with his group because he knows that individual talent isn’t the only thing impressive to coaches and scouts.
“I’m just trying to get these guys to, number one, play together. I know that’s a difficult thing when you’re out for yourself – trying to get yourself a position in the D-League – but one thing these guys have to realize is once you get to this level, you’re probably not going to be the man on your team. So you might was well show the coaches and the personnel here that you can play team basketball and still stand out as a basketball player.”
Another coach was12-year NBA veteran, Corie Blount.
Blount, who started his career in Chicago after being drafted by the Bulls in 1993, initially wasn’t there to coach but to bring two guys to try out. But when asked if he wanted to participate when another coach didn’t show, he took the opportunity very seriously which was evident by the beads of perspiration that formed on his forehead while working with his group.
As you may have heard, Blount was sentenced to 1 year in prison (out of a maximum of 10) back in 2009 on two felony counts of marijuana possession. Since then, Blount has been working hard to repair his image and he used the D-League tryout as an opportunity to do just that.
“My whole experience has been like this [tryouts]. My whole NBA career and college career was all about getting an opportunity to play, so I would love to get back into the game [as a coach]. You know, I had some adversity, I ended up getting in trouble, so I’m on the rebound now. And for a lot of these guys, this is their rebound right here. They’re trying to make it to this D-League, so I’m big on the opportunity but they key thing is to have yourself in position to take advantage of it.”
And in terms of what he wanted to impart on his group to help them maximize their opportunity, Blount’s approach was simple.
“I know that a lot of these guys out here are antsy, so the first thing I want to do is to try and keep them as composed as possible. I want them to look good in front of these coaches. I don’t want them to be thinking out there and playing like robots, I want them to understand the opportunity and that’s what it all is. The opportunity to just come out here and play. And you can only do two things: you can look good or you can look bad. But you dictate that. So what I’ve tried to do is get them to relax and then try and get them to learn as much as they possibly can and hopefully that’ll get them through it.”
As for the other side of the event which involved D-League coaches and scouts, it was an opportunity to identify players who could potentially help their teams. The tryout was a “meat market” in every sense of the word, so coaches tried to keep their approaches to evaluating players as simple as possible.
Said Gene Cross, assistant coach of the Maine Red Claws, “Basically I’m just looking for guys who are going to come out here and play hard and who understand the little nuances of the game. I’m not looking for guys who are going to come out and jack up every shot because that’s not what we’re looking for as a team. We’re looking for guys who can play and who understand the team concept as it relates to being a basketball player. Truth be told, you’ll find a guy or two out here that will sign a D-League contract and then there will be a few guys who will make a roster.”
Signing a contract and making a roster was the goal of every player at the tryout and hopefully a few will have a chance to live out their dreams. But for those who don’t (and this goes for players at all levels), hopefully they have a better idea of what professional tryouts are like, what it takes to make it at that level, and hopefully they’ll use this event as an opportunity to work hard and improve as players and give themselves the best chance possible to play pro basketball.