(Photo by Otto Kitsinger/NBAE/Getty Images)
This is the second part of my story about JamesOn Curry. The rest can be read over at SB Nation -- Scott
The NBA Development League has become my focus over the past couple of years, but that isn't because I love watching players just a step below the NBA play basketball in front of arenas filled with anywhere from 400 to 4,000 people on a nightly basis. I've grown to enjoy covering the D-League because it's become a league of second chances -- a league of opportunity, if you will -- and the great stories aren't hard to find.
One story I've neglected over the past several years is that of JamesOn Curry, the dynamic guard for the Springfield Armor. I'd heard about his problems in the past -- the incident in high school and the incident at the D-League Showcase, to be specific -- and never gave him much of a chance as I all but ignored what he was able to do on the court (he's averaging 18.9 points, 5.8 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 2.4 steals and shooting an impressive 40 percent from behind the three-point arc this season).
The Springfield Armor happened upon my homebase of balmy Bismarck, North Dakota a couple weekends ago, though, and I decided to reach out to head coach Bob MacKinnnon to see if I could do a feature on one of his players while his team was in town for the weekend. I haven't written kindly about Curry in the past, but Coach Mac said his guard is a great guy if you give him a chance -- and I decided to take him up on that opportunity.
I ambushed Curry at a Thursday morning shootaround -- Hey JamesOn, I'm Scott Schroeder from Ridiculous Upside? Would you have time to get together for an interview this weekend? -- and figured he'd reply with a simple 'yes' or 'no,' but he replied with "So you're the guy that writes that stuff about me on that site, huh?"
Alright ... so we weren't off to a great start, but I explained I was interested in getting his side of the story since he was in town and fresh off his training camp invite with the New Jersey Nets and he agreed to do an interview on Friday afternoon.
I met Curry in the lobby of the Ramkota Hotel and we sat there as he opened up about everything: the Boise pee incident, how much he enjoys giving back to the Springfield community and even the time he was brought to tears after learning he was going to be cut by the Nets (which I included in a separate story over at SB Nation).
The next 2,500 words or so cover some of the topics Curry and I talked about as he continues down the path toward an NBA comeback. It was easy to tell that not all of the topics were his favorite things to talk about, but he was forthcoming and seemingly honest about everything I asked and sold your's truly on his NBA return coming sooner rather than later.
Curry on giving back to the Springfield community:
I love the D-League, honestly. I love Springfield, I love the community, I like playing basketball here. I have a youth center I always go to -- I don't have much money at all ... I'm basically broke, but I got a little money from the Nets -- and when I came back I'd grown close with a less-fortunate family and bought their three kids' gifts. My girl was like ‘well we ain't rich,' but I said ‘well, you know what? We got way more than they do.'
The family I was trying to meet had two little boys and a little girl so I bought a doll set where you could do the little girls hair and two Nerf guns and I knew the family was gonna be really excited. I had met them the year before and gave them tickets, but I couldn't get over it -- these little kids were really struggling. It's crazy because my kids are doing okay: they have a roof over their head, food in their mouth, all of the necessities they need so when I saw people in that situation, it touched me.
So I went out and bought gifts for the whole family. I don't have much, you know, but I have more than a lot of people and wanted to do my part. I went to drop them off, but the family wasn't home so what I did was call the lady from the youth center and asked the lady if she had any kids that needed toys. She was confused, but I explained that I'd bought some toys for that less-fortunate family and they weren't around so I want to make sure they'll go somewhere where they'll still be appreciated.
These kids are so young and helpless, but it's not their fault. One day I hope I can be an inspiration to them and be able to talk to them about how I never gave up so you should never give up regardless of what's going on -- don't give up. Just fight, fight, fight ... if you get knocked down, get up and that's what I continuously do.
Curry on playing for head coach Bob MacKinnon this season:
It's been a great experience so far this year just because of the positivity around the team. You've got Coach Mac and his positivity has just rubbed off. When you enjoy playing for your boss, it's fun. The proof is in the pudding -- He's effective at getting guys to the next level. We had a good relationship because he was an assistant coach with Matt Doherty when UNC was recruiting me. He came in and outright told us that he has goals so we should have goals.
We all have a same common goal -- we all want to get to the next level. A through Z on the team, everybody wants to get to the next level, whether it's overseas or in the NBA. My personal goal is to get to the NBA, and even though everybody doesn't have the same goal, our goal in the D-League is to get better and become more than what we already are.
All of the plays and sets we run, since we're direct affiliates, me, Jerry (Smith) and Dennis (Horner) did not miss a beat. It was the same calls, it was unbelievable. I can understand how owning your own minor league system can become very big because they have guys that can be called up and Boom! Fit right in. That's one of the big reasons I came back here, because of the direct affiliate, and so far everything's been great.
Guys in the D-League play hard and Bob has us playing to win. The year I played the point here in Springfield, I was second in the league in assists, but we were losing. ‘Who wants a loser?' I'm not a loser, but that's the way I looked. My numbers were good, but if they're not helping the D-League team win, how are they going to help an NBA team win? Winning is important.
Curry on his preparations for the season this summer:
This whole entire summer, I didn't have a professional trainer, I didn't get in all of those 5-on-5 games, it was just me and a basketball. I did pushups, I used the YMCA's weight room and I ran with my dog. He couldn't come to the Y and rebound with me -- unfortunately he's not Air Bud -- so I would go to the lake and run with him, go to the Y and get in there twice a day and just work out by myself.
When I was in high school, I heard Kevin Garnett made it to the gym for 365 straight days so I wanted to see if I could do that this summer. Some days I wanted to take the day off, but I didn't because I thought to myself ‘my competition ain't taking the day off' and I'd head to the gym.
I'd be at the gym every day. They have cameras all over the place and I'm sure the workers just kept wondering who this crazy guy was coming in the gym at all hours. People started to figure out who I was and would start watching me. I wanted to be myself but instead of being like ‘why are these kids bothering me,' I just said well let's pretend this is NBA people watching me so there's pressure to make every shot. I didn't want these kids to start talking like ‘he played in the NBA but he's missing all these shots?' I treated them as an audience instead of a distraction.
Curry on the repercussions if his high school arrest:
Timeout. Before you even get into that, before we even talk about coming out of high school, do you know how many times I've heard what could have been if I went to North Carolina? ‘You could have done this, you could've been a lottery pick, everything could have been different.' Well I didn't go there and now I'm on this path. I went from planning on being 20 minutes away from home for college to 20 hours. The difference was huge.
Not that many people realize this, but throughout all three years of college, I was on probation. I had to get travel permits for every road game -- every time we left the state of Oklahoma, I had to go and get a travel permit.
In my first two years of college, they couldn't transfer my intensive probation so I did my 200 hours of community service faster than everybody just so I could go to school. Every time I'd fly home, I had to be home by seven o'clock ... while I'm in college, as a freshman and a sophomore, I gotta be home by seven o'clock. I only got a few weeks to be home, but I couldn't really enjoy my time at because I had to check in every week, get drug tested every week and then when I got back to Oklahoma, I was still on intensive probation or supervised probation.
Once I got freedom, I was happy ... but that right there, going through the repercussions of my problems, that made me grow as a person. At the same time, though, I think it also set me back because I was so ready to be free -- I was so ready to be be over that. When you're balancing being a Division I athlete at a big time school, being a student while trying to keep a solid GPA, having a tough coach in Coach Sutton, my parents ... there was just so many things -- the court system -- there was just so many things pulling me that I feel like it made me grow faster than what people realize.
Curry on the incident in Boise:
When I got in trouble in Boise for peeing, I was like ‘okay, I peed outside. What's the big deal about peeing outside? I mean, how many people don't pee outside?' But that hurt me ... that hurt me big time because I guess, within the Chicago organization, that gave me a bad reputation. At the end of the day though, you can't point any fingers. It was me. I made those decisions. When you make decisions, you can control that -- but you can't control the consequences and unfortunately those consequences are going to follow me.
It's been extremely difficult. My girl was pregnant in Chicago when the peeing incident happened. I had friends and teammates in Chicago hitting up the clubs, but I didn't go out while I was with Chicago because I was going home to my girl every night. When that happened at the Showcase, when I went out that one night, I was with my agent and some other guys from the D-League and we were just talking.
It just so happened that I went home and I had to be as bad as I-don't-know-what and then I saw blue lights and took off running. I said ‘Wait a sec, why am I running?' so I stopped and got tackled and the rest is history. It was crazy. I was running and they were yelling ‘Stop! Stop!' and I just kept asking myself why I started running ... I guess I just saw blue lights and ran.
I got tackled and took to jail, but I figured it was alright because I didn't really do anything wrong. It's not that bad -- I just peed. It was bad, though, because it wasn't my first rodeo. I had got in trouble in high school so people looked at that and were like "ah, he's a bad kid. He's a nuisance. He's not worth the trouble. He's a bad seed. He's not someone that we can trust to be professional and represent our team the right way." That's not me, but people don't care.
I look at the news and the first thing I see is violence and arrests. If you look at the news, you're not going to see things about the charity events and things like that ... when you turn to the news, it's typically going to be negative because that's what people want to hear and that's what travels further and faster.
This is the hand I was dealt. I've never blamed anybody ... it was JamesOn. I made a mistake so I have to step up to the plate. Don't be afraid, don't get scared, don't hide yourself overseas -- You can't run away from your dreams.
Curry on his NBA dreams:
To this point, I turned down $200,000 to play in South America. I had some good looks in Italy, too. I actually flew to South America, but I needed my visa and when I came back, I talked to Coach MacKinnon about coming back to the team. I was like ‘$25,000 or $200,000? Big dreams or big money?' I want to be an NBA player though. Whatever the situation is, I want to work my tail off and do what other guys are not doing. I'm going to work on becoming more consistent, I want to be great.
Curry on what he believes he needs to do to get to the next level:
My dad told me to act like there's a camera everywhere you go. Act like they're following you everywhere. Act like they can see your darkest moments and all of the good things you do so that's how I've started to carry myself.
Honestly, over the past few years, I've just decided I need to play like JamesOn. You know? Stop trying to imitate that star player or be this spot-up three-pointer or be a pass-first point guard and just play the game to win. There's a time to pass and there's a time to shoot, but I just want to win. I'm just a basketball player. When Coach K recruited me, he said ‘I don't recruit positions, I just recruit players.'
A guy that reminds me of myself is Jason Terry. We are different, but there's a lot of similarities and he's highly successful. I feel like I can run a team and I feel like I can be a two-guard, too. At the same time, though, I just want to play ball and do whatever my team needs. I really believe I can get there. I don't want to go overseas because I know I can help an NBA team. If it's hitting shots or creating or whatever, I just want to help a team playing basketball.
I just keep continuing to push, continuing to buy into that system and using the resources available. Coach Mac is going back and getting feedback from New Jersey -- that's the NBA, that's the highest level. With him going back and getting that feedback, we're being given the tools that can make us successful as long as we buy into it.
I'm trying to make people tell me I'm not good enough. If we're in a gym playing pick-up, I want guys to say ‘I want this guy, I want that guy.' I'm going to keep coming, though, until one of these guys pick me to play on their team. I guess those guys picking, the captains, are the NBA guys. I don't care when they pick me, I'm doing everything I can to get picked and be one of those guys.
Curry on seeing the bright side:
At New Jersey, I just wanted to play 10 minutes. It was just so hard to be watching, but it was a great opportunity. I can't look at the negative of not making the team so I'm looking at the positives. These guys saw I was a professional and that I showed up early and stayed late, so if a team calls them to ask about me, they'll hopefully have good things to say about me.
That negative light came through for a second, but I knew I needed to stay positive. I had a footstep in the door and I was there for a reason so I know I just need to stay positive and it'll all hopefully work out in the end.