The D-League Tryout, Pt. 1

by June 10, 2012

by Travis Bledsoe

The clock winds down. The buzzer goes off… Let the celebration begin! There was nothing but hugs and handshakes, chest bumps and loud roars as my squad went 2-0 on the day, winning both games convincingly.

We just went through war together, but this moment felt more like a love fest. Words like, “I’m gonna miss you man,” and “I love you fam” flowed so easily out of our mouths. We walked into this gym as strangers—just a bunch of names and numbers. We left as friends, teammates… family.

But how did we come together so close, in less than 24 hours? Why did we play so hard for each other when it would have been so much easier to just look out for ourselves?

Before I tell you the whole story, I need to let you know it didn’t happen by accident. It didn’t happen by luck.

Let’s just say… Some people have that kind of effect on others.

I woke up 6 a.m. To began my not-so-routine, 30-minute drive to downtown Chicago, IL. This time my destination was the Moody Bible Institution for the Boost Mobile NBA D-League National Tryout.

As I stepped out of the car (and said my goodbyes), I proceed to a line that stretched around the corner of the city block. But this was no ordinary line, it was filled with well over 150 players of all shapes, heights, lengths and styles—some young, some old, some good players and some… just good people.

For most, the site of so many competitors might be a little intimidating. But the only thought that was going through my head was, “He’s not scoring on me, he’s not score on me, he’s not scoring on me.” And after I went down the line, repeating the words in my head, I realized I was bouncing up and down. I was ready. Then I had to remember it was only 7:30 a.m.; the day had just begun, and who knew what it had in store.

I finally got into the doors. After handing over my ID and waiver form, I was led to a room full of Gatorade products on tables and black adidas bags on the floor with numbers attached. I stepped up and handed over my ID once more. What number could I be?

“Travis Bledsoe number 61.”

The answer caught me off guard, but at least it almost matched my 612-numbered headband I was wearing. I got it from a camper I coached at one of the Clyde Turner Basketball Camps in Minnesota a couple summers ago (that’s a story for another day). All that was missing was the 2.

The bags were tagged with the Boost Mobile NBA D-League National Tryout logos. I made sure I grab a couple extra free Gatorade products and drinks before I headed to the locker room. When I opened the bag, there was no better feeling than putting on my new NBA D-League jersey. I know, it was just the tryout. But the last time I put on a jersey this nice was when I threw on the No. 13 in the Czech Republic’s top league.

But instead of playing in front of the drum-beating, horn-blowing, screaming European fans of the Czech, I would have the great pleasure of “lacing ’em up” under the watchful eye of NBA D-League scouts, representatives and even some head coaches. Other scouts from different professional leagues were also in attendance, including a scout for the Chicago Bulls, to whom I introduced myself later.

The host and coaches consultant for the event was Bob Mackinnon. Talking about a watchful eye, Coach Mackinnon is the head coach of the Springfield Armor, the team that drafted Dennis Horner out of the National Tryout and helped him get to the League.

Coach Mackinnon helped Horner, along with Jerry Smith and Jeff Foote, earn NBA call-ups during the ‘11-12 season as well helping LD Williams and Jameson Curry earn invitations to the NBA D-League Elite Mini Camp that he also Hosted at the Moody Bible institute. Three players from the Armor earn 10-day contracts and others made NBA training camps during the ‘11-12 NBA season.

This was the best opportunity I’ve ever had to play in front of so many basketball decision-makers affiliated with the NBA. When Coach Mackinnon (needing no microphone) told the whole gym, “It’s time to go! Line up in your team lines,” I finally got to meet my teammates.

With so many people here, you never truly know what your team is going to look like until you meet everyone. “Team 16 right here.” Keegan Bell, Travis Bledsoe, Austin Chisolm, Timothy Green, Randall Hampton, Robert Pinsonneault, Linwood Smith, Malick Valliani and last but not least (standing at 5-3), Chad Walker baby.

Before I get to introduce myself to my teammates, the “mic” is handed over to the 1991 NBA Slam Dunk champion and former member of the Boston Celtics, Dee Brown. Famous for the no-look dunk, Dee Brown brought the energy and creativity in his speech that left everyone feeling like this was our Brave Heart moment.

Dee Brown spoke about how the D-League is a great place to make the NBA dream come true even if it’s through the coaching ranks. Coach Brown is now an assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons after a stint as head coach of the Springfield Armor in 2009.

Mackinnon had some words to say to us players after Dee Brown’s moving speech. I was on the edge of my seat, hanging on every word. If there was ever a time to listen, it was right now.

“You would be surprised with what coaches and scouts look for in the NBA.”

“There’s not that much difference between the 10th, 11th, 12th man on an NBA roster and a D-League player.”

Coach Mackinnon gave everyone (who was “really listening”) the blueprint to being a successful professional basketball player and showing the scouts that you are “ready” to step into an organization and help a team get better and win games.

I won’t give away all the secrets I was told, (I guess you just have to sign up for next year), but after the talk, I knew what I had to do to leave my imprint on this tryout. This was my chance to earn the NBA D-League player contract—something only a select few are able to achieve.

I was ready to go, I was ready to leave everything I had out on that court. Then I had to remember it was only 9:30 a.m.

We (Team 16) don’t play until 1 p.m. What else does the D-League have in store?

To be continued…