How does a 5' 9" NBA editor land on a fast break defended by a former McDonald’s All-American and UNC standout?
This is the scene from last weekend, when I tried out for the Long Island Nets, the G League affiliate of the Brooklyn Nets. I found myself attempting a layup alongside former Tar Heel star Baden Jaxen.
Two weeks ago I received an email from a PR rep from the Nets that read:
Hey Jarrel, reaching out on behalf of the Brooklyn Nets G League affiliate, the Long Island Nets. We’re having our local player tryouts next week and wanted to gauge your interest in trying out for the team. Know you’re a big basketball fan and think this would be a great story opportunity.
Most G League teams hold local tryouts to give basketball hopefuls a chance to earn an invitation to the team’s training camp. Most of these players are professionals looking for another opportunity, former college basketball standouts, overlooked talent that never got a shot and guys who simply paid $200 to get a workout in. I was the one media exception on a court of 75 participants.
A record 45% of players on NBA rosters at the start of the 2020–21 season had G League experience. So why not give it a shot to boost that percentage?
O.K., so I understood I was there for a story assignment and did not have any chance of actually making the team, but I come from the Michael Jordan tree of people who are just too competitive. I hate losing. Put me up against anyone in any competition and I am going to go in thinking I have a shot. A shooting contest with Stephen Curry? I have that in the bag. Usain Bolt wants to race me? I hope he likes the back of my shoes. Twelve rounds in the ring with Mike Tyson? O.K., I have some limits. But who am I to say no to a G League tryout?
My basketball claim to fame is winning two intramural championships in back-to-back years at Siena College. I have played on the same court as Chris Paul, have played numerous times at Madison Square Garden, but in terms of organizational basketball? I never really had that experience. But I am not a scrub by any means. Let this highlight video speak for itself.
The Nets were hosting two tryouts during the weekend. The first one took place at LIU in Brooklyn on Saturday with the second tryout at LIU Post in Long Island on Sunday. I opted to attend the one in Brooklyn due to proximity. I also host my own basketball run every Sunday, so I didn’t want to miss that.
All tryout participants had to pre-register online, be eligible to play in the NBA G League and be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend.
The tryout was conducted by the Nets’ basketball operations personnel, who evaluated each of us in a variety of drills and scrimmages. I arrived a tad bit late after some unexpected traffic. I was handed a No. 81 Long Island Nets practice jersey. In my mind it was a sign of Mamba Mentality, just an extra boost of confidence I needed. I snuck in when players started to stretch and was greeted by the team’s general manager as well as the director of scouting operations for the Brooklyn Nets, Matt Riccardi, who expressed that he was really excited for me to be there. I was worried that this might put a target on my back after everyone noticed I was talking to the guy who has the power to hand them a contract.
One of the first faces I noticed among the crowd of participants was former Duke point guard Trevon Duval. There was also Jaxen, who had been training since February to show teams that he is ready to play in the U.S. after globetrotting through several countries such as France, Greece and Russia in recent years.
There are some success stories when it comes to local player tryouts. Four guys from Long Island’s last local player tryouts in 2019—Joe Cremo, Jonathan Kasibabu, Angel Nunez and Ash Yacoubou—made their way onto the Long Island Nets roster at various points during the 2019–20 season.
“More than anything we are looking for individuals who can improve the intensity of our team and our practices,” says Riccardi. “There are a lot of success stories, especially in our area in New York. We have some pretty good basketball players, so if we can find anyone in this setting that can help our roster that can make our team, come to training camp and compete, we would love it. I know we mentioned it earlier, but we are looking for unselfish play, high-character guys, good teammates, high IQ and competitors.”
The tryout began with us split in groups at four different rotational stations. The first drill was a shuffle drill where we each took turns passing the ball while defenders tried to steal it. In one instance I tried to throw the ball across to another player and it clanked the rim, which led to an assistant coach addressing everyone: “If you don’t know a drill, please kindly tell us and watch from the sidelines, and we will show you how it is done.”
Welp, bombed my first impression.
In the second drill we had to do a combo of dribbling moves and score. Sounds simple, but as coaches and trainers demonstrated various moves it got kind of confusing to keep up. But this was a successful rotation for me.
The third drill was a heartbreaker. It was a shooting drill, which I excel at. We had to shoot 10 times while rotating to the opposite corners of the free throw line. But when it was finally my turn to shoot, the coaches whistled to change stations.
Damn it. Another missed opportunity.
The fourth and final drill focused on ballhandling. We had to do a series of moves with two basketballs. There were five different sets. My arms were burnt out after having to pound the rock consistently for 30 seconds.
Then came time for the scrimmages. They told everyone to line up from shortest to tallest. I instantly moved toward the front of the line, hoping I wasn’t the shortest, but felt some pride to learn there were two smaller guys in front of me. We had to then count off: If you’re a 1, go here; if you’re a 2, go there, etc. I landed with Group 3, which featured former Division 1 leading scorer Antonie Mason, the son of late NBA All-Star Anthony Mason.
I did not receive that much playing time in the five games that we scrimmaged. I played in spurts and would be subbed out quickly in each game. My one potential highlight was an attempt to end the game on a fast break, but I was fouled by a defender. No call! Sudden death. We lose. I finished the day going 0–2 shooting with probably an assist or two.
The coaches rounded everyone up and told everybody that they were inviting a select number of guys to stay for a private scrimmage. If a coach did not invite you to stay while games were played, you were instructed to leave the gym. Mason, Jaxen and Duval were all invited for the private workout. While I, the lone media member, sat on the sidelines and gathered my things, I heard a voice coming my way.
“Hey Jarrel. I am sorry we had to cut you,” Riccardi laughs.
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