On a chilly Sunday morning in October, 18 basketball players showed up to pursue a dream. The setting was an open tryout for the NBA Developmental League Champion Iowa Energy, the Wizards D-League affiliate, held on Oct. 16 at the Northern Virginia Sportsplex.
The tryout was a six-hour process of drills, running, and three games of two 20-minute halves. Players who show promise will have their names submitted to the league office, and will become eligible to be drafted. The Energy will invite 17 players to training camp, which starts in mid-November. The team’s final roster has 10 spots.
But for players looking to impress the Energy coaches and general manager, the criteria for making a D-League team might not be what you’d expect.
“You’re not going to find a superstar at an open tryout for a D-League team,” said Energy general manager Chris Makris.
“Guys think if they make it to the D-League and score 25 points a game, an NBA general manager will notice them. NBA GM’s are smarter than that. NBA teams already have scorers. They’re looking for the same thing we are, guys who can transfer their game to what we need at this level, guys who have a high basketball IQ.”
In other words, the team is looking for role players, and good ones.
The 32-year old Makris knows something about D-League success. In four years as the general manager of the Energy, the team finished two straight seasons with the best record in league history at 37-17. Last year, the Energy won the championship despite losing both Othyus Jeffers, who was called up by the Wizards, and Marqus Blakely, who went to the Rockets.
The independently-owned Iowa Energy have three NBA affiliates — the Wizards, the Bulls and the Hornets. The 16-team league plays a 50-game season, generally starting the day after Thanksgiving, and ending in April. Eight teams make the playoffs, which have a best-of-three format.
“I’m looking for guys that know how to play; guys who are smart players,” said first-year Iowa Energy head coach Kevin Young. Young was hired away from the Utah Flash, the team the Energy defeated to win the D-League championship.
“The main thing I’m looking for in a player is, can he defend his position, and can he make open shots. A lot of guys come here with good resumes, but can they put it on the floor.” Young said he likes to make guys run, to see who’s in shape, and put in a few plays, to see who can pick things up quickly.
One of the tryouts top prospects, Jawan Carter, 24, a 5-foot-11 point guard from Delaware, had job lined up in Poland, but it fell through at the last minute. Right now, Carter says he’s just looking for an opportunity. Carter was second team all-CAA in 2010, and 3rd team in 2011 with the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens.
“You couldn’t ask a single guy who plays basketball who wouldn’t tell you he wants to play in the NBA,” Carter said.
“I would love to make it to the NBA someday, but the chances to play anywhere are slim. The market abroad for players like me is shrinking, because of the lockout. So right now, it’s about being patient and realistic, and just looking for a place to play. I think I have a good chance to make a D-League team.”
For Chris Mathews, 26, a 6-foot-4 combo guard, the tryout is another opportunity to showcase a varied skill set. Matthews, a graduate of St. Bonaventure, has played in France and China.
“I’m here to try and make the D-League. My best ability is making my teammates better, playing solid defense and just being a good team player. It would be the chance of a lifetime to play for a great team like the Iowa Energy.”
After Sunday’s tryouts in Virginia, coach Young plans to send five names to the league office. The team will also hold tryouts in their affiliate cities, as well as their home city of Des Moines, Iowa.
“It would be a great accomplishment to make this team,” said 6-foot-10 forward/center Ben Strong. A graduate of Guilford College in North Carolina, Strong spent three years playing in Israel, but would prefer to play at home.
“I think you grow as a person when you leave your comfort zone, and live in another country, but if the opportunity is there to come back home and play, I’d like to do that,” Strong said.
“I’ve dreamed about playing in the NBA since I was a kid playing in my backyard. Making this team is one step closer to that dream.”