This past weekend at the Hoops facility in east Louisville, 264 athletes from all around the world came together to take part in tryouts for the NBA's Development League.
The tryouts had an international appeal. Nine countries were represented at the tryouts: Congo, Ecuador, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Niger, Puerto Rico, Romania, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Sweden.
For most taking part, the trip to Louisville was just another step towards reaching their personal goals and dreams of playing professional basketball. For others it was all about the experience of auditioning and seeing where they measured up against solid competition. Most of the athletes on the court could obviously play basketball at a high level. In fact, most said the talent was the strongest in the 5 years of development league tryouts, and the 264 athletes participating made it the largest group ever for a development league tryout. The tryouts weren't just for the basketball players, as the officials were also trying out for the D-League in hopes that they too could one day be a part of the NBA or WNBA.
Chris Lauten, the Senior NBA Development League Coordinator of Basketball Operations, was overly impressed with the facility and the number of tryout participants. This was the fifth year of D-League tryouts, and the first that the tryouts have been open to the public. The increased interest in the tryout led Lauten and his team to increase the number of teams participating from 20 to 26.
Lauten said the location, size and operational capacity of the Hoops facility was instrumental in bringing the most athletes ever to a D-League tryout.
“For our needs, we need multiple courts. This place provides that. It is in a really strong location regionally and nationally. It's drivable from a number of metropolitan areas," Lauten said.
"Last year for example, we were in the Washington D.C. area, so for the west coast that's a challenge. The year before that we were in L.A., so for the east coast, that was a challenge. And the fact that it’s a state of the art facility. It's high tech and has 90 thousand square feet. With 6 courts we can utilize four courts for games and two for warm up and practice."
For the players and referees trying out, many come from a smaller market or league that didn’t get much exposure said Texas Legends Assistant Scott Flemming. So the tryouts are an awesome opportunity as a player or referee to be in front of coaches, referee supervisors, and scouts (NBA included).
Flemming said, "What we are looking for are the sleeper guys from overseas or smaller markets who didn’t have the exposure that they needed to showcase their skills."
Impressing the guys with the clipboards isn’t good enough, making a team is not easy and some say that the competition for a roster spot is greater in the D-League than the NBA.
Former Louisville Cardinal and D-League player Perrin Johnson was attending the tryouts as a spectator and saw a lot of talent, but reinforced the idea of how competitive the D-League actually is.
Perrin said, "The D-League is tough. There are only 16 teams, and with roughly ten guys on a team, there's only 160 spots. The numbers are against you and the odds are against you. [A player] would probably have an easier time getting a job overseas, but it's much easier to get to the NBA from the Development League than playing overseas."
For the 84 referees attending the tryouts, a similar path was in store for them, and they were being observed and evaluated by one of the best ever. George Toliver, a veteran of NBA officiating, has officiated many of the most prestigious of professional basketball events in his 15 year tenure. Toliver is the NBA/D-League Supervisor of Officials.
Toliver said he was looking at three things that would ultimately determine whether or not they would become a candidate for the D-League, which could then potentially make the candidate eligible for the NBA or WNBA.
Toliver said, “First of all we are looking for fitness; if you’re athletic and can cover the court for the entire game. This is a very rapid pace so you have to be in shape in order to do that. The second thing is their court presence; how they carry themselves; their command, their signals and general presentation. And then the most important part is the third which is play calling or call accuracy, and they’re judged on how they judicate plays.”
For the players, they had two days to make their mark. 24-year-old Chicagoan Oladapo Akindele was disappointed with his first day in front of scouts.
Akindele said, “It’s my first time trying out. I think I did bad the first game, the second game I did decent, but I could have played much better. I’m kind of disappointed in myself though. ”
Oladapo, said he was looking forward to coming back the next day and starting fresh.
Hall of Famer, and two-time Olympian Nancy Lieberman who is widely considered one of the most influential figures in women’s basketball history, was at Hoops checking out the tryout talent and facility. As the Texas Legends Head Coach, Lieberman is the first female head coach to lead an NBA or NBA D-League team.
Lieberman loves the event because for the participants, it truly is a chance to chase a personal dream.
“It is about the dream and making each other better and that’s what I love about it. There are some guys that are gonna be in the D-League, and possibly the NBA, and they’re guys who are gonna never forget this moment,” Lieberman said.
Twenty percent of those on a D-League team will see time on an NBA floor at some point in a season says Lieberman.
Lieberman also said that overall, the talent present at the Hoops D-League tryout was packed with talent.
“To me it’s just a tremendous amount of talent out here. The numbers are very strong. You’re seeing that these guys believe in themselves, and what is it? If you build it they will come . . .You know it’s the field of dreams or in this case the court of dreams," Lieberman said. And everybody gets a chance to show what they can do. They get a chance to see what their level of play is. And how they can get better. It’ll expose your weaknesses and highlight your strengths. ”
The Hoops facility also received accolades from Lieberman, who says it would easily provide an NBA or D-League team with the facilities needed to run a team.
Lieberman said, “This is beautiful, we have a lot of facilities in Dallas, and I go around the country but I like this because the courts, you have the bleachers which is fun. You have the practice courts. I like everything about the layout. [For an NBA team] this facility would be a no-brainer. This would be as nice a facility as anybody has; this is over the top. ”
Photo: Chas S. Kuhn