Sean Banks is considered one of the most talented basketball players that has played in the D-League.
Sean Banks is also considered a headcase.
That's the word I get from players, coaches, and media. A former Conference USA Freshman of the year, a former top NBA prospect, a physical phenom. And a headcase.
He's a 6-8 shooting guard. When I say that, I don't mean, he's 6-8 but doesn't have the muscle mass to play the 3 or the 4. I mean, he's a 6-8 shooting guard. His vertical is nothing spectacular, but that really doesn't come to mind when you see him throwing down a ridiculous dunk on a break away. He's a 6-8 shooting guard. And a headcase.
He absolutely dominated the D-League last year, averaging 22 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists. He was the only player to make the list of all the coaches I interviewed for callup prospects at the end of the season. Headcase.
Terrific runner. Headcase.
Solid defender who's committed to improving. Headcase.
Funny thing, though. When I first talk to him on the phone, and when I first meet him at the Palms hotel for the Vegas Summer League, he doesn't seem unstable. He doesn't seem at all violent, abrasive, or surly. He actually seems like a genuinely nice kid. He just seems worried.
His face, his whole demeanor carries with it an air of concern, as if he's just constantly thinking about his situation and how he ended up here. I ask him what's the most important thing on his mind regarding his career at this moment.
"Taking care of my family. You know, I've done some stupid things, but now, I've got to take care of my family. I've got a four month old son. Things change."
The stupid things part is definitely accurate.
Banks was a highly valued recruit, but came with some serious question marks. He always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was arrested for branding a girl with a cigarette on her ankle as part of a gang initiation ritual. The girl's mother called the police and had Banks brought up on charges.
The charges were dropped.
He's been picked up for reckless driving, but was not the one driving. He was arrested for marijuana possession, but again, was not the one driving nor did he own the vehicle. Whether Sean was directly involved or not is unclear, but what is clear is that he tended to hang around what coaches and older players refer to as "the wrong type of people."
Then came college. A brilliant freshman year, (17.4 points, 6.5 rebounds), Conference USA Freshman of the Year, and draft reports that put him in the high, high lottery.
Then Sean went home for the summer.
It's unclear what exactly happened, but having been a 19 year old sophomore that went home for the summer, even I can piece it together, and I don't have Sean's background. No one knows what really went on that summer. But one thing did happen.
Banks had elected to play for Team USA's under-21 team. Practice day arrived. Banks was nowhere to be found. The practice was held at the Nets' practice facility.
15 minutes from Banks' house.
The trainers were concerned. How could he just not show up? They got in touch with Callipari and told him what had happened. Callipari finally got a hold of Banks, who said, "I don't want to play."
After that it was showing up for camp with the Tigers out of shape, earning him a suspension. Then fighting with a teammate. Suspension. Violation of team rules. Suspension. And then the death blow, academic ineligibility. That's a wrap, folks.
Banks went to the D-League, clearly still believing he could make it back. He played well, was an All-Star, did all the right things. I asked an assistant coach in the league about him.
"That kid's something special, if he could just get his head screwed on right. He's got such athleticism, such great touch, and he's a good defender. He's just got a bad reputation."
His head coach from the D-League the last two seasons, Los Angeles Defenders coach Dan Panaggio says Sean has done what he needs to in order to progress.
"I think when he came in, the first year, we had a lot of problems. He was kind of high maintenance. But the thing is, neither one of us gave up on it. And the second year (last year) was a lot better. He's grown and matured so much. He's a father now. He's getting his priorities together. I'm not giving up on him."
Sean's back at summer league, but either his luck, or his attitude (depending on how you look at it), haven't changed. He's not getting significant minutes, and when he does, he's having a hard time getting involved in the offense. Hassan Adams and Joey Graham are both averaging over 25 minutes per game, which doesn't make much sense, considering the Raptors know what they're getting with them. Iddy biddy John Lucas, at 5-11, is getting 27 minutes. Graham and Adams are constantly playing off of each other, whether its comraderie or a distrust of their teammates, it's not clear. Either way, Banks is not making a good impression. He's frustrated since he was told he'd receive more minutes. His agent is trying to find another Summer League team, but at this point, that's going to be hard to do. His four turnovers in the second game probably didn't help.
I ask him, if he doesn't get an NBA contract out of this, if he'd return to the D-League.
"Not this year. I've got nothing left to accomplish there. I enjoyed the D-League, I really did. And I felt like it helped me. But I've got to get paid. I just can't play for that little money anymore, if I'm not close to an NBA contract."
I ask him if he'd return if a team told him they wanted him just to develop a little more.
"Absolutely. If I feel like there's a solid chance for me to make it to the NBA, I'll play there for ten years if I have to. I loved the D-League. I like my coaches and my teammates. They were all great to me."
He goes on to let me know what he made in the D-League. I offer to keep the information off the record. He declines that offer. "Keep it all on the record. I'll stand by it." This is a good example of how Banks comes off. He has this weird duality of a kid who's genuinely regretful of the mistakes he's made, but also legitimately angry at how things have worked out for him. One one hand you find yourself stunned by the stupidity of his mistakes, and feeling sorry for the fact that he never had a mentor that got through to him to make a big enough difference in his maturity. Either way, he's definitely willing to discuss money, a sensitive issue for D-Leaguers.
Banks was given what is referred to as an "A" contract when he first came into the league, for $32,000. In an effort to cut cost, they said they had to downgrade him to a "C" contract, which is only $13,000. He was upgraded to a "B" finally, at $18,000, pro-rated. All total, in two years in the D-League, he made less than $50,000. This is common for a league that's still trying to get off the ground. But for a lot of guys, it's frustrating when they have offers for overseas.
Banks says there are offers in the middle six figures for him overseas. If he doesn't make the roster, he's got to head over there. But he can't worry about that now. He's got a game tonight, and maybe this is the night when he puts it together and gets to show his talent.
Next, Banks gets some burn, things start to look up, and you see the brighter side of Sean Banks.