When I was five years old, my dream was to make it to the NBA and becoming the next transcendent superstar. I had great handles, a sweet jumper, and my dunks were on par with Vince Carter circa 2000. Sure I was shooting on a hoop in my living room that was five feet tall and using one of those cheap plastic bouncy balls you buy at a supermarket, but dreams always have to start somewhere, right? For those with more realistic dreams of making it to the NBA, the path to get there is almost impossible and requires a solid combination of hard work, skill, and winning the genetic lottery. With only about 500 jobs available, even those who possess all three aren’t guaranteed a shot in the big show.
The addition of the NBA Development League back in 2001 gave those with aspirations of someday playing in the NBA a new avenue to get there. While it still may be a longshot for those in the D-League to actually make it to the pros and have sustained success, the opportunity to be in the D-League is an honor in itself.
The Warriors moved their D-League affiliate this season from the bright lights of North Dakota to the beautiful beaches of Santa Cruz. While the new 2,700 seat stadium is still under construction in Santa Cruz, management has also begun the process of reconstructing the team. Open tryouts were held yesterday at the Warriors’ practice facility in downtown Oakalnd with a second set of tryouts to be held on October 14th in Santa Cruz.
About 40 players filled the gym coming from all different parts of the country and some even coming from different parts of the world (like Japeth Aguilar from the Philippines). All of them had the exact same goal: impress general manager Kirk Lacob and head coach Nate Bjorkgren.
But with so many different types of players and various ranges of experience the question arises of how exactly you evaluate who is simply a good player and who would fit in well with your team?
“As guys [signed] up over the last couple of months and we know who’s here, we do a lot of research on them before they even get here. I’m looking for guys that can really, really play” said Bjorkgren who is entering his second year at the helm. “Would someone from this [tryout] probably just fill a role on my team, yes, but [in] basketball, you gotta be able to score it, be able to play defense [and be] a very well-rounded player who does everything and wants to get better.”
Lacob echoed those sentiments also adding that while going through the evaluation process, they aren’t simply looking to fill out their roster in Santa Cruz – they’re looking for guys who can play beyond that. “We don’t want guys coming to the D-League that we don’t think can play at the next level. That doesn’t always mean NBA – sometimes that means Europe. But we don’t really have any intention of bringing in guys to just play at the D-League level. We’re interested in helping guys develop and get to the highest level they can get. Whether it’s over in Europe somewhere or in one of the other leagues in Asia or the NBA.”
Bjorkgren spent last week attending the first few days of Golden State’s training camp and walked away very impressed with the new-look Warriors. “The first thing that I think of is just how hard they’re playing for [Mark] Jackson. The coaches really have their attention, the young guys, the veterans. They’re all playing hard. There’s been a couple of practices over here where they’re really competing. So they’re getting after each other and making each other better.” He went even further saying that his time spent around the coaching staff was very beneficial for himself. “They have a very talented coaching staff from top to bottom. Coach Jackson delegates authority well to his assistants to where they’ll run a drill and coach Jackson will come in, make corrections and do all those kinds of things. But the assistants and coach Jackson himself, they’re getting them to play hard and that’s what’s important.”
The Warriors have been forced to use their D-League teams quite a lot in the past couple of years and have even seen some of their call-ups stay in the NBA (C.J. Watson, Anthony Tolliver). Is it likely that any of the guys I saw on Sunday will ever share a locker room with the likes of Stephen Curry and David Lee? Probably not. But the opportunity for the small chance of making it to the best basketball league in the world was enough to inspire them to leave everything they had on the court.
Golden State general manager Bob Myers may have D-League dreams too. He suited up for the second half of the tryouts to participate in the 5-on-5 games. When I noticed Myers was dressed in the same jersey as the rest of the hopefuls, I immediately asked him if he was trying out.
His response – “Yes. If I make it, I’m quitting my other job.”
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