Nate Darling is determined to prove the basketball scouts wrong.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound, Canadian from Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been doing that for most of his life. When he was eight years old, he told his father, Jason, he was going to play Division I college basketball. At the time, Darling could hardly shoot a 3-pointer, he’d heave it from his hips just to get the ball near the rim. His father looked at him and laughed.
“You don’t even know what D1 is,” Jason remembers saying.
“Yeah dad, it’s March Madness and I’ll be playing in it,” a young Darling responded.
When Darling left his hometown and moved to Maryland to play at DeMatha Catholic High School he was a role player on the team led by future NBA #1 pick Markelle Fultz. 247Sports ranked Darling the 441 player in the 2016 class, a two-star prospect who committed to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
In Birmingham, he started his career as a role player averaging just 2.5 points per game. When he returned the following year as a sophomore, his scoring jumped all the way to 10.1 points per game. Then, after a year off, transferring to Delaware, the Canadian afterthought broke out, averaging 21 points per game on 44.6% shooting and 39.9% 3-point shooting while leading the Fightin' Blue Hens to their best season in six years.
“Every level he’s played at he’s had team success,” Jason said. “He hasn’t always been the star of the team, but he’s been a contributing factor and seems to be on teams that win.”
It’s that 3-point shooting number, nearly 40% on 8.4 3-point attempts per game usually with defences draped all over him that has piqued the interest of some NBA scouts.
“He’s highly underrated,” said Canadian basketball scout Wesley Brown. “I think there’s very few players that in general, even in the NBA, that hunt their shot, that have the mentality to shoot with any space they get and are able to focus with the confidence to trigger and make shots at a really high clip. I think he’s shown that he can be that.”
Darling is considered a bubble guy in this year’s NBA draft. He’s someone who could fall toward the end of the second round or be scooped up on a two-way deal when the draft finishes. That’s a spot he’s relatively comfortable with having seen so many other undrafted free agents succeed in recent years including Canadian Luguentz Dort and Toronto Raptors guards Terence Davis II and Fred VanVleet.
“I think for a guy like me who doesn’t have crazy athleticism potential and such it’s all about me finding the right fit and that route seems to have a good indication of finding the right fit,” Darling said. “But also, whatever happens, I’d love to get drafted, I’d love to find a team being undrafted, I’m kind of just going with the flow.”
The Raptors have been one of the teams that has shown interest in Darling who said he had a really great interview with the organization. They were impressed by his shooting, he said, and wanted to do their due diligence on the 22-year-old Canadian prospect.
If Darling makes it to the NBA, becoming the first Nova Scotian to play in the league, it’s going to be as a role player and 3-point specialist to start. He has a quick release and is able to get his shot off from any distance, Brown said. In today’s game, especially having seen the success of Miami’s Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro have had in the playoffs, that kind of 3-point shooting is so valuable. But Darling doesn’t want to be perceived as just a shooting specialist.
“I had the ball in my hands a lot [at Delaware] and when the game was on the line my team looked at me to make plays off the dribble,” he said. “I think I showed that I do have an NBA level shot, but I’m not pigeonholed to just being a shooter.”
That’s why he’s spent much of the past few months working on improving his body, trying to get ready for the men he’ll be playing against in the NBA who are much bigger and stronger than his competition in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Now, it’s just a waiting game for Darling, who was not invited to the NBA combined and is hoping his at-home workouts and interviews will be enough to impress an NBA team or two. To Brown, he’s a “clear draft pick,” but even if he slips out of the draft, Darling will certainly have a chance to prove he can hang at the NBA level.
“He’s never been the sure thing,” Jason said. “He just continues to bet on himself and he knows his work ethic will take him a long ways.”