Who's Got Next?
In what amounted to an American Idol for dunkers and dribblers, 141 players took their best shots last week in Boise at earning an NBA contract
Posted: Tuesday January 22, 2008 11:09AM; Updated: Thursday January 24, 2008 5:13PM
The scouts wore blasť expressions even as they cataloged every pick, roll and box-out. The home team's coyote mascot momentarily got stuck in the rim while climbing down from the backboard, before delicately extricating himself. The 5,300 seats were mainly empty, the videos shown on the scoreboard looked as if they'd been produced at a cable-access studio, and the music thumped as gratingly and monotonously as in, well, an NBA arena.
Welcome to the D-League Showcase, a four-day event held last week at Qwest Arena in downtown Boise, Idaho, that gave 141 minor leaguers a chance to make their cases for promotion. Each of the 14 NBA Development League's teams played two regular-season games -- with matchups staged one after another, starting as early as 11 a.m. and concluding after nine each night -- in one location, as more than 60 NBA executives and scouts sought a fill-in in case of an injury or trade. (In the D-League's 6 1/2 years, 68 players have received NBA contracts, including 10 this season.) Think of the Showcase as American Idol for role players. For as much as the scouts were interested in prolific scorers and rebounders, they also coveted players who could fill a specific defensive need or make the extra pass. More than anything, they were looking for reliability.
The Showcase performances, like Idol auditions, were largely uneven. Which is no surprise given that every player in the D-League is there for a reason: Some are too small or too slow for their position; others have flaws in their character or holes in their game. Nine draft picks were on assignment from their NBA clubs, and two had their moments. JamesOn Curry, a 6' 3" guard selected by the Chicago Bulls out of Oklahoma State in the second round of the 2007 draft, erupted for 34 points in the Iowa Energy's opener -- but two nights later he was held to six, and his team lost both games. Shannon Brown, an '06 first-rounder from Michigan State, delivered a pair of impressive performances for the Rio Grande Valley (Texas) Vipers, scoring a combined 63 points in his two games, and was almost immediately recalled by the Cleveland Cavaliers. But scouts were quick to point out that his jump shot remained inconsistent, a red flag for a 6' 4" shooting guard.
Most of the prospects, however, were free agents who could be signed by anyone -- like point guard Mike Taylor of the hometown Idaho Stampede. A week short of his 22nd birthday, he practically leaped over the shoulder of a defender in an opening win over Rio Grande Valley on Jan. 15. Yet that's not what had NBA scouts talking; instead they were perplexed to see that the roster listed Taylor as having played at UCLA. "I know everybody from UCLA," said one Eastern Conference executive, "and I don't remember any Mike Taylor."
After helping Idaho to a win over the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants last Thursday, Taylor was asked about the discrepancy. "I don't know how they came up with UCLA," he said. "I'm from Iowa State."
"Actually, it helps you," a reporter told him. "They're all out there talking about you, trying to figure out who you are."
The showcase offered a range of players with disparate backgrounds -- journeymen desperate for another chance in the NBA and youngsters waiting for a spot in their parent club's rotation; those who had failed to live up to expectations and others who had never endured such burdens. The roster of the Stampede alone had a little of everything. Center Lance Allred, 26, played two years at Utah and two at Weber State, then divided a season among four European teams. Shooting guard Roberto Bergersen is a 32-year-old Boise State alum who after a six-year career overseas returned to live year-round in the city with his wife and three young boys. Forward Brent Petway, 22, played four years at Michigan but didn't develop much beyond his dunking ability. Puerto Rico native Ricky Sanchez, a 20-year-old forward, was an '05 second-round pick by the Portland Trail Blazers out of the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla; he is now property of the Philadelphia 76ers, the third NBA team to hold his rights.
Center Mouhamed Sene, 21, was assigned to the Stampede on Dec. 26 by the Seattle SuperSonics, who after taking him with the No. 10 pick in the 2006 draft had realized little return for his two-year, $3.3 million contract. (Sene played 28 games as a rookie and only nine this season before being assigned.) Thanks in part to NBA commissioner David Stern's 2005 agreement with the players' association that seldom-used rookies and sophomores like Sene could be dispatched to minor league affiliates, D-League attendance and sponsorships have increased significantly. But few prospects needed as much refining as Sene, a long-armed 7-footer from Senegal who had been selected after blocking nine shots at the Nike Hoop Summit 11 weeks before the draft.