Many aspiring NBA athletes often use the D-League as their stage to shine on in hopes of securing a big league gig.
Of course, it's important to make the most out of your opportunity. But what happens if you do just that, and further NBA consideration doesn't follow?
Despite a stellar season in the minors this past year, Courtney Fortson finds himself in that exact boat. The point guard averaged 17.8 points, 7.1 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals through 46 contests for the Los Angeles D-Fenders, but that oh so coveted call-up never came his way.
Speaking to RidiculousUpside.com, Fortson reflected upon his time on the D-League, saying, "I thought I had a great year. Unfortunately, our team's record wasn't as good, so it kind of went unnoticed. But this season was a career-year for me as far as points and steals. I thought it was good year."
Besides an obvious potential call-up, the type of recognition Fortson had perhaps believed he earned was consideration for one of the league's top three "All NBA D-League" teams. There were other point guards with inferior statistics named to the squads, but perhaps what made the difference was team-records. There seemed to be two unspoken standards for making the "All-NBA D-League" teams. The first was that your team had to have won 50% of its games. The only players from losing teams to earn themselves spots were those who earned NBA call-ups this season. The one exception to the "rules" was Fortson's teammate, Jerome Jordan.
Though he stood tall as the league website's number one overall prospects for weeks, Fortson did not prove to be an exception like his D-Fenders' teammate. Clearly upset by such an outcome, the point guard took to Twitter last week to express his frustrations. He was subsequently encouraged and perhaps comforted by a number of fans, as well as fellow Arkansas alum/Oklahoma City Thunder swingman Ronnie Brewer.
Nevertheless, Fortson said he still valued his time in the D-League because of the opportunity given to showcase his skills. The guard continued, "I still think my time there was beneficial. [NBA] teams that were looking at me now know what they'll get out of me, because it's been two seasons in a row that I've averaged 18 and 6. Now it's just about playing the waiting game."
But the guard isn't just sitting around waiting by the phone. He's making the most of his time and ensuring he stays in shape. Immediately following the conclusion of the D-League season, Fortson ventured out to Venezuela to continue playing ball and make some extra cash, too.
"I'm averaging about 23 points and 7 assists, with about 5 rebounds here," he added. "So right now, I'm tearing this league up. My main thing was coming out here to get a feel and understand the way the game is played. I wanted to make sure I stayed in shape this summer, so that's why I came to Venezuela."
Getting a taste of the international game may prove to be a preview of what's to come for Fortson. He told RidiculousUpside.com that his time in the D-League has come to an end as he explores other opportunities. The guard asserted, "I won't be in the D-League again. It's either NBA, Europe, or China for me. But the D-League is not an option right now. I'm waiting until the right offer comes."
Been there, done that. That's the attitude Fortson can now have towards the NBADL. It's not that his time there was a waste, but rather perhaps it's time to move on to bigger and better things. His talents speak for themselves, and it's clear that his skill-set is worthy of helping him cash in on a more lucrative offer overseas. As Fortson noted, his time in the D-League may still stand for something. His two seasons stateside putting up impressive numbers will continue to stand tall as a highlight of his basketball resume. They serve as a testament to what he can do.
Addressing what may have held him back up to this point, the 5'11" Fortson added that his height could be a glaring factor for NBA executives. But he said that his versatility on both ends of the floor should in part outweigh that. The guard also only shot 39% from the field, but again, he's also known for other things on the court. Fortson's quick, is a very steady defender, and rebounds incredibly well for a player his size. There are plenty of guards in the NBA (like J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford) who have become known for bold and/or questionable shot-selection. But what often earns those same players brownie points is the fact that they prove to be fearless in big moments, and can be trusted in the clutch.
Though he's begun to explore overseas options for next season, Fortson insists breaking into the NBA is still his top priority. While he's currently playing international ball, he'll still have the opportunity to catch on with a team in Las Vegas later this year during NBA Summer League if desired. He added, "Of course, I'll be back in time for that. I'm looking forward to it, because I played last season, but I had back spasms. I wasn't as explosive."
It's safe to say Fortson (who played 10 games with the Clippers & Rockets in 2010-11) is doing all he can in hopes of eventually proving to NBA executives he deserves another shot.