It was a surprisingly warm October weekend in sunny Atlanta, but that didn't stop over 100 basketball young guns from packing themselves into an otherwise stuffy gym for a chance to compete for a spot in training camp with the Bakersfield Jam.
Some players with respectable backgrounds overseas emerged over the course of the session, while a few without a prayer gave things a try as well. But as things slowed down and one could separate the men from the boys rather quickly, a firecracker of a point guard charged towards the hoop on a fast break, laying the ball in the basket off the glass, before getting knocked down and crashing to the floor.
After a hard fall, the day's respective trainers and coaches jogged to the corner to see if the player was ok. As if his fast break bucket wasn't enough, the way he hopped up as if getting knocked down was nothing told you this player was special.
At the end of the two day tryout, the guard had emerged from the larger group, recognized as one of the top twenty participants. And wouldn't you know it, he was able to stand out by doing that signature move again and again: finishing aggressively at the basket, getting knocked down hard, but then getting right back up with ease.
Fast-forward to December, and that same player, Akeem Scott, has not only earned a spot with the Jam, but is also proving rather quickly why he deserved it in the first place.
Though it's perhaps a little soon to make comparisons, Scott has been able to so far fill a Jerel McNeal-like role for Bakersfield off the bench. Through five games, he's already averaging 10.4 points (on 65% from the field and 40% from downtown), 3 assists, and 1 steal per contest.
"I'm a spark off the bench. I can't focus on who the starting guard is or who I'm going up against. It's about being a defensive spark first, and then offensively. I like to attack the basket and then create for others when I get there," the guard said in an interview with RidiculousUpside.com. "As long as I'm a spark off the bench, something like that will never show up on the stat sheet. You'll never see something that says 'Akeem has seven sparks today.'"
Scott is a refreshing new face in the D-League this season, but he's in no way an inexperienced player. Following a respectable career of his own that has already included multiple stops overseas (the guard has also played for the Jamaican National Team), he opted to give the NBA's minor league a try.
"I was just thankful for the opportunity, because it was a good one. I wanted to go after my dream by any means necessary," Scott said when asked about October's open tryout. "Sometimes you have to take a step back. I was playing basketball overseas and for the Jamaican National Team, so I've always faced good competition every year and each summer. I wanted to go after my dream before I put the ball down and it's all over."
While the money one earns in the NBADL may not be much to brag home about, Scott certainly has no trouble staying motivated. He added. "I don't think I could be a good husband, father, boyfriend, or even a coach in the future to anyone if I didn't go after my dream, regardless of whether I failed or succeeded. I wanted to make sure that I went after my dream to see if I could make it possible. At the end of the day, if it didn't work out, then it's okay. At least I tried. I'll never look back and say I have any regrets."
Despite his early success, Bakersfield's new resident spark appears as humble as they come. Still, even he couldn't deny that extra swagger he carried himself with against the tryout's other competition. It was clear Scott was in a league of his own (though actually, swingman Jordan DeMercy also made the team from the same tryout) as he proved his talent level.
The guard said, "Yeah, I was feeling good. Especially during the tryout, because we were playing my type of basketball. But like I said, I have to give the credit to my conditioning, because some of these guys are younger and/or stronger than me. But I outwork them constantly. I'm used to taking hits like that, because I played football. I'm one of the youngest in my family, so I'm used to taking hits from older brothers or things like that.
"I like playing physical," added Scott. "I like physical basketball. I think the day I stop being physical is the day I stop playing basketball, because I can't see myself as a finesse guy."
An east coast kid, the Harlem, New York native grew up idolizing quite the floor general. "I loved Isiah Thomas," said Scott. "He was everywhere. For a little guy to get into the paint like that, he had a lot of heart. I always liked physical players."
As positive as of all of this early success is, his vast experience overseas has helped Scott mature and naturally play like a proven veteran. What such time abroad also means is that the guard is a bit older than most. Still, something tells the firecracker his age won't be the thing that slows him down.
The floor general asserted, "I'm 30 years old, but when most people see me play, they think I'm only about 22 or 23. That's always a positive for me. I'm able to keep my body in shape and that I'm always playing well. I'm consistent at what I do well, which is playing defense and attacking the rim. I'm always driven by the fact that I can outlast players, whether they are older or younger than me. I have to give God the glory about that, because I have a very durable body. I can take anything."
And as Scott continues to stay level headed and keep his eyes on the ultimate dream, he understands one of the best things about staying stateside. He said, "When you're in the D-League, you always feel as though somebody is watching. If a certain someone is watching, they could end up changing your life. You get set to participate in every practice or game, and you never know who might end up walking into the gym. The day you happen to do something especially well, someone may be there on their good foot and say they want to give you a try."
But regardless of how long Scott stays in the D-League (in favor of a potential NBA call-up, of course), there's no reason why the Jamaican National Team member won't be impressing the local crowd while he's in town.
Scott said with a certain positivity in his voice, "I like when the crowd sees me take a couple hits or get a couple steals or a charge, because they get excited. I do as well. I like my role off the bench and being a spark. If I get twenty minutes, I'm giving it all I've got."
30 years old or not, there's no doubt Scott is already making an impact for the Jam, and his journey of sorts has only just begun. The guard concluded by saying, "I'm never going to wake up and complain that I'm too old. I'm just going to get up and do what I do. It'll not only make me a better player, but it'll help me be the player my team needs me to be."