D-League Select Squad: Summer League Underdogs

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LAS VEGAS
– They’re the store brand here at the Summer League, to the point that you half-expect to see a bar code on the backs of their jerseys rather than traditional numbers. The D-League Select squad participating against the 21 NBA teams that sent rosters full of young and hopeful players to the desert is the Acme soup or Brand X cereal that allegedly tastes just like the highly marketed, big-label products, only without the big-label price.

No nickname. Just a generic logo from the NBA’s minor league on their shirts. And unmistakable chips on their shoulders.

Compared to other teams’ coaches and even players who have been grumbling about the new tournament format in the Las Vegas Summer League extending their stays and messing with offseason plans, the guys on the D-League Select team are grateful. Grateful for the chance to keep on playing, to keep on winning, to keep on attracting eyeballs.

The 14 teams on Friday’s scheduled of seven games were essentially done – they had dropped into the “consolation round” in the tournament format and, once they completed their fifth and final Vegas game, they were gone. But the D-Leaguers were 4-0 and still plugging, pitted against Charlotte in a quarterfinals game Saturday evening.

So yes, on Friday morning, they were practicing. Other quarterfinals clubs may have been cheerily wishing each other “Bad luck!” – with each loss came a ticket home – but these guys were hoping to stretch their stay through Monday’s championship game.

“We’re playing to win, whereas the NBA teams, it’s more about their one or two draft picks and their young guys,” said Alex Jensen, the D-League’s Coach of the Year in 2013 with the Canton Charge who is overseeing the summer squad. “Really, you can’t blame them.

“But I told [our players], ‘The best thing that can happen for all you guys is for us to win. Because then people will take notice that ‘You’re just as good as guys on any team that we will play. Believe me, it’s the truth.’ “

Jensen is living the dream that his players still are pursuing; he has joined the Utah Jazz staff as director of player development for 2013-14. Few if any of the guys he is coaching have deals for next season anywhere.

“I just hope I get a job somewhere. Either it’s cross-seas or getting invited to training camp or hopefully be with an NBA team,” said forward Darnell Jackson, who played for the Reno Bighorns after stints with Cleveland (2008, 2009), Milwaukee (2010) and Sacramento (2012). He also has played in China and the Ukraine.

“If not, I’m just blessed to be in the situation I’m in now,” said Jackson, a second-round pick by Miami in 2008 after playing four years (with one NCAA title) at Kansas. “I just guess those guys who are saying they’re ready to go home are having a bad experience.

“With us, we’re all here trying to prove ourselves to the coaches and the NBA teams that we’re willing to be here and to keep working. And we’re having fun at the same time. We’re winning games, we’re playing hard together. We’re gonna keep pushing.”

Dominique Sutton, a 6-foot-5 wing player from North Carolina Central, averaged 10.2 points for the Tulsa 66ers last season and won the Slam Dunk contest at the D-League Showcase.

“We all had a goal at the beginning to try to surprise people, take people by storm,” Sutton said. “A lot of people look at the front of our jerseys and see ‘D-League Select’ and think we’re a bunch of guys that really don’t know the game. ‘It’s the D-League, they’re not playing for an NBA team.’ So we come in with a chip on our shoulders, man. We feel, just play harder and we’ll come up a success.”

In their four games, the D-Leaguers have outscored their foes by an average of 5.8 points, while outshooting and outrebounding them too. Stefhon Hannah, a 6-foot-1 guard from Missouri, the Santa Cruz Warriors and assorted teams in Europe, Asia and South America, was their leading scorer (14.8 ppg), and 6-foot-6 guard Elijah Millsap was next at 14.3.

Millsap is familiar – thanks to his brother Paul, the former Jazz and now Hawks forward – with what life in the NBA is like. But guard Kyle Weaver is one of the D-Leaguers who actually knows, having played 73 games in three seasons with Oklahoma City and Utah. He played in Belgium and Germany, too, and was with the D-League’s Austin Toros last season before being traded to Canton in February.

“A lot of guys are curious to try to get up there,” Weaver said after practice Friday. “That’s why you can see on the court how we’re playing. Guys are scrapping, guys just want to get that opportunity. Grinding with these guys has been good. It’s definitely worth it.”

So the D-League Select team keeps grinding toward the Summer League championship. It’s a crown mostly scoffed at by the established NBA teams but something the D-Leaguers are happy to chase, because it keeps them playing. The auditions aren’t over.

7 Comments

  1. SwizzFlo says:

    i like these games and the competition. and to any NBA Team , who thinking like this:
    “Compared to other teams’ coaches and even players who have been grumbling about the new tournament format in the Las Vegas Summer League extending their stays and messing with offseason plans,..”

    … i can tell you that these situation gets more often in the next years. As Sam Hinkie & Daryl Morey often said: you have to use all your resources now with the current CBA!

    I like the new CBA, because with the new Luxury Tax Rule you can see even Big Market Teams (Knicks, Lakers) have to admit to the Cap Space. I think this System will get us Fans a much more balanced League. (ok, ok the Nets are right now a bad compare, but look Prohkorov will spent money only if he got success now, so the window is very small with these old roster and when he don’t get a championship within the next 3 years, he will and have to cut the budget for his roster! Even if you are a billionaire you can’t afford to pay the new luxury Tax System over several years!)

    So drafting young guys from everywhere in the world will be the only way to make significant moves on your roster. Just look at San Antonio, OKC, Memphis, Indiana.

    But if you do, you will have a chance to competing on a high level in the League. So i predict even more Evaluation Games between the Summer Break in recent Years, and i like it because there is more basketball to watch!

  2. dmh says:

    Technically none of these DLS players are college kids and none of the summer league rosters are either. They all have various levels of experience outside of a college campus. Therefore in a lot of ways they are on the same playing field as most at the summer leagues….. trying to make an nba roster. Even 2nd rounders are not guaranteed. It is nice to see with this DLS roster another avenue to get more people exposure to make an nba team and prove themselves.. There is the diamond in the rough scenario that is played out here.

  3. Chris in Cle says:

    I see no problem with having the D-League Select team. A lot of these guys, while not hyped in their time, aren’t that different from the rookies they are playing against. They are the picture of “This is what happens if you don’t make it.” If anything it should push the rooks to work hard and not let it go to their head.

  4. NJ_Nets says:

    Why are they calling them underdogs? It’s an All Star D-League team playing against kids that mostly have never played pro ball before… there would be something wrong if they didn’t win a lot.

  5. Conja52 says:

    These guys should not be playing against college kids with little or no NBA experience

    • Joel says:

      why? This guys weren’t even selected to play in the nba or were waived, now they are trying to win a spot on a team against people that got the luck to be selected

  6. caloyski says:

    dallas should look at these DLS– some of the key positions can be filled up by these players