NBA training camp will get underway this week, meaning stars will once again set their sights on championships, and a bevy of notable D-League alumni will go through the motions of impressing teams in hopes of securing a roster spot.
There's no doubt teams in the NBADL take pride in watching their prospects develop and move on to greener pastures. That's what the league is all about. Still, even so, there's still plenty of business to always be handled at the minor league level.
Though the D-League season won't begin until November, now is still a key time for such franchises. In addition to keeping an eye on which young guns their parent affiliates let go of in the weeks ahead, D-League staffs are working together to evaluate talent via a plethora of open tryout sessions.
This past Sunday, the Erie BayHawks and the affiliated Knicks organization aimed to do just that. Approximately 100 basketball hopefuls took part in this past Sunday's open tryout at Baruch College in New York City. Though some simply showed up to play ball for a couple hours and then get a picture with (BayHawks General Manager and Knicks legend) Allan Houston, others came in hopes of strutting their stuff for Coach Gene Cross and company.
As Erie looks to improve upon last season's 26-24 finish (they just narrowly missed the playoffs) and the Knicks aim to strengthen their minor league system, there's no doubt such a tryout session can prove to be helpful.
"I just wanted guys to come out here, play hard, and demonstrate they know how to play the game," Coach Cross told RidiculousUpside.com as the session came to a close. "I wanted to see if there were some people here who had the potential to play for us, so that we can continue what we're doing. The purpose of the BayHawks is to develop talent."
"Ultimately, we want to put the best product out on the floor," he continued. "So it's about seeing which of these guys can assimilate to what our culture is and what we're trying to emulate, which is the culture of the New York Knicks."
Through a full day of competitions, such aspiring players weren't just let loose to play five-on-five all afternoon. Instead, in addition to games, the BayHawks' staff put the young guns through a mix of strength, conditioning, and fundamental drills as well.
Coach Cross went on to explain the purpose of such drills, adding, "You start to learn what the guys know. You figure out how much they know, how much they've been coached, and how much natural ability they have. You see who knows how to play the game the right way. This is about putting them into a situation where they're around NBA type players."
The coach and his staff may have things to take care of in Erie, but there's no doubt whatever they do is a reflection upon the Knicks and what they hope to accomplish long term. With that in mind, the organization kept Coach Cross quite involved over the past year. From participating in NBA postseason practices, to taking part in important draft discussions, and even serving as an assistant coach during NBA Summer League, he certainly stayed in the mix quite a bit.
Last season, New York was heavily criticized for being an older squad and not being able to get the job done through the postseason. This summer, the team's efforts were aimed towards balancing things out and bringing in younger talent. With the likes of Tim Hardaway Jr., C.J. Leslie, Jeremy Tyler, and other intriguing young guns in town, the team is sure to lean on Coach Cross even more this season to help such players progress.
"I know that our scouting staff did a tremendous job in making sure they got talent on that roster this year," he said. "Whoever comes to our roster, I'll do my best to work with them and make sure they get better. That's my job. Whomever comes from the Knicks, I'll be happy. We'll do our best to make we're doing our part to develop them as players and as people."
Through his first year as head coach in Erie, Coach Cross not only gained the trust of guys like Houston and Knicks' Director of Scouting Kristian Petesic (both of whom attended the tryout session), but also developed quite the relationship with Knicks' coach Mike Woodson. He added, "It's been phenomenal. Coach Woodson is a terrific coach, but he's an even better man. He's embraced me and what we're trying to do. All I want is to take what he does, and learn as much as I can to make the BayHawks as equally as successful as the Knicks have been. If I can have half as much success as he has, I'll be okay."
"Coach Woodson and his whole staff has been very open with us," the Erie coach said. "They've embraced us because they do run the basketball operations side of things for us. Whether it's Coach Woodson, Allan Houston, Herb Williams, or Jim Todd, everyone's been very helpful in making sure we're successful."
If the way the Knicks' older squad burned out towards last postseason is any indication, it's clear the Knicks should lean on Coach Cross and the BayHawks throughout this coming year to help ensure their younger players are prepared to compete at a higher level as well.