RENO, NEVADA - - The outlined path along the casino carpet which forces hotel guests through a maze of black jack, craps, and poker tables all beneath a cloud stale cigarette smoke, was a route I became very familiar with during my stay in Reno, Nevada for the NBA D-League Showcase.
You couldn't help but spectate "players" at the slot machines, and peep in on late night denizens of a tropical themed Karaoke bar while you made your way to and from the games.
After the second night of competition, I searched out food inside my respective casino resort, only to find one place open, an all-encompassing cafe of sorts. I was not alone as I shoveled down my lukewarm turkey melt and side of fries. In fact, to my right were officials studying game tape while imbibing, and to my left were small groups of players grubbing down on late night breakfast menu items. Meanwhile, behind my table, sat a handful of coaches as they winded down from the evening game. Everyone seemed to brush elbows at one point or another within the small radius during the event.
The happenings outside of the Reno Events Center couldn't contrast more than with what was going on inside the home of the NBADL's Reno Bighorns. A seemingly free flowing atmosphere of players, media, fans, executives, and coaches described the scene over my entire stay. For hoop fans of any kind, it truly is a wonderful and unique up-close experience.
While the visually unhealthy lounge lizards occupied their stools for hours on end two blocks away, inside the Events Center were highly talented players on the cusp of achieving, or reliving their NBA dream. Players like Ben Uzoh, who is currently a member of the Brooklyn Nets' NBA D-League affiliate the Springfield Armor, attempted to play their best brand of basketball in front of a very attentive audience.
General managers, directors of basketball operations, scouts, and influential media all were on hand to take in a performance or two from a player like Ben Uzoh, who is regarded as a top prospect in the NBA D-League. Uzoh is no stranger to The Association, and understands the importance of what a solid performance could mean at the Showcase. Uzoh spoke with RidiculousUpside.com after his team won their final game at the Showcase, "You prepare to succeed everyday, when you come to an event like this...the Showcase, you let it all hang out."
Uzoh can provide an NBA team with assured skills at the point guard position. The 24-year-old, and former Tulsa standout speaks like a veteran with the knowledge he's been able to acquire during his career both in the NBA and the D-League. "One of the biggest things that I've been told, that I didn't understand, and that I'm embracing now, is bringing everybody to the party."
Uzoh is averaging 14.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists this season for Springfield. However, Uzoh didn't exactly stuff the stat sheet in either of his contests in Reno. Over the Armor's two games, Uzoh averaged 10.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists in 33.5 minutes. Yet, it was his ability to lead on the floor and command the team while he was in the action, that allowed Uzoh to standout.
It is both an aspect of Uzoh's game that he admittedly is working on now, and also something that Milton Lee, General Manager of Minor League Operations for the Brooklyn Nets, touched on as well. Lee also spoke with RidiculousUpside.com and expressed that Uzoh is "unquestionably our leader." Lee went on to describe Uzoh's game, "(Uzoh) is a tremendous defender, he has great strength for his position. He's got a 6'10" wingspan, can really create havoc, and we encourage him to do that. He can rebound great for his size as well." Lee continued "All we need from him is to get everyone else on the same page, which he's done a great job of."
Interestingly enough, Uzoh also discussed how important it is to get his teammates involved. "I don't want guys to be in their own world, we've got to do things together both on and off the court...it's fun for me to do that." Uzoh further commented, "the biggest thing is to continue to take care of what I can take care of. That's being with my guys here and leading them."
Now that the Armor have regained their health, Uzoh will be able to slide into a more natural point guard role with the team, and be less depended upon to carry the scoring load. With that said, Uzoh's current status with his game and mental approach to his team, will benefit Uzoh and also his teammates as they continue to rebound from their slow start. Another 10-day contract and NBA opportunity may be in Uzoh's future.
Despite the strange and stark contrast between the teams and players of the NBA D-League Showcase with the visitors and inhabitants of the "The Biggest Little City In The World", the end result was just what everyone involved was looking for.
Whether it be a player with a story and background such as Uzoh, or a young gun hoping to leave their mark in the minds of NBA decision makers, the NBA D-League Showcase once again fulfilled it's duty in Reno, Nevada and Uzoh himself will surely benefit from the added exposure.