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Why NBA Veteran Hilton Armstrong is Proving to Be Perfect Role Model in the D-League

NBA veteran Hilton Armstrong is excelling in Santa Cruz and the Golden State Warriors continue to take notice. He's proving to be a perfect role model in the D-League.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Hilton Armstrong's story is, admittedly, different than most.

Of course, he, like all players in the NBA D-League, strut their stuff in hopes of making it to The Association. Many young guns opt for the D-League after not getting drafted straight out of college. For others, playing in the league is about being able to stay close to home following a year or two abroad.

Still, many of the D-League's athletes are there because they believe it's the fastest track to the NBA. Breaking into The Association for the first time and getting even just a taste of what big league life is like is something an array of youngsters strive for. It's something they've dreamed about all along, and do what they can to hopefully achieve such a dream someday....once and for all.

Armstrong's been there and (has) done that. A former lottery pick of the 2006 NBA Draft, the big man has appeared in 285 games over a span of six seasons in The Association. After going back and forth, failing to stick, Armstrong attempted to play overseas from 2011-2013. Most players in his situation end up just fine, making a comfortable enough living while playing internationally. It's not the NBA, but at the very least, such athletes are utilizing their talents properly to make money.

So, alas, players like Armstrong can easily fade into the background. Continuing to chase the NBA dream often leaves such athletes with little to no guarantees, so the alternative often provides a more comfortable lifestyle.

It would have been easy for fans to never heard from (or of) Armstrong again. But instead, the UConn product turned to the D-League. Of course, that NBA dream is still there. But what's more, he's embraced Santa Cruz full heartedly. As fate would have it, the team and city have embraced right back with open arms. He has a home, for as ever long as he might need it.

Unlike most players in the D-League, Armstrong has others to think about. He has a family to support, see, and commit to. This obviously weighs heavily on the 29 year old's mind.

"[My family] was my first priority. I spoke to my wife to see how she felt about it," Armstrong told "I wanted to stay as close as possible. The time zones are only a couple hours different, as opposed to it being night and day. It's kind of tough when you're on the other side of the world."

Armstrong will turn 30 towards the end of this year, but he's not one to get discouraged over time spent in the D-League. Instead, he has the most fun he can. He rides his bike to the arena each day and always wears a smile. The fans love him and the team appreciates his talent and veteran presence.

Now in his second season with the Warriors, Armstrong's impact is well respected, and has been recognized by Golden State (Santa Cruz's NBA affiliate) time and time again. The veteran spent much of December in the NBA after signing with the big league Warriors, and recently returned to play out a ten-day contract as February ended and March began.

Having since arrived back in Santa Cruz, no one can praise Armstrong enough. "Hilton just gets it," is a phrase unknowingly used by people all around, from coaches, to front office members, and even the audio/video guys in the arena.

What might that mean, exactly? Armstrong has an idea.

"I think they know that I accept the fact that I'm here. I want to make the best out of this opportunity. I know that, if we do well as a team, that everyone [benefits] as well. I'm a not selfish player," he said. "I don't worry about trying to score or making myself look good. I am a total team player. I just want to do what's best for the team from top to bottom -- whether that's in the community, while I'm on the floor, or on the bench. I try and help out where I can."

Armstrong is enjoying a very solid season, currently averaging 12.1 points (on 56% from the field), 7.3 rebounds, and 2 blocks per contest. Such numbers qualify him as one of the best centers in all of the minor league. He's been great on the court, but even more terrific off of it, as noted. As NBA teams scour the D-League for potential fits to help fill out their squads, positive locker guys and generally easy-going people are more likely to get extra looks, assumedly. Doesn't that mean Armstrong's friendly involvement in the community as an exuberant fan-favorite stand to help his cause?

That may be true, but Armstrong insists that's not why he does what he does.

"Honestly? I don't really know. It's just who I am. I love being out in the community. Seeing people smile obviously makes me smile, because I enjoy doing it," the big man added. "On the court, I try and play my game. I do what I can. Often times, I don't think about trying to get a call-up or getting to the NBA. I just love the game. I enjoy playing it with passion. Whatever else comes from it is God's blessing."

When looking for additions via the D-League, NBA teams often hope that such youngsters can seamlessly step right in, stay quiet, and soak up whatever they can throughout their time. This is where Armstrong's case differs somewhat yet again.

Instead, players (be it on the NBA or D-League level) probably stand to learn a thing or two from Armstrong. In fact, his leadership in Santa Cruz likely helps him stand out even more to NBA teams. Given his experience, the 29 year old says it's key for him to play such a role with the Warriors.

"It's really important. I have the years and the experience. I've been through a lot of situations. I try and help guys through those same situations," Armstrong concluded. "A lot of these guys on this team are young, so I try and be that voice to guide them. I want to make sure we're all on the same page."

Armstrong's older age (as it relates to the D-League) shouldn't make him a stale commodity to NBA teams. Have no fear; instead, his experience over the years should stand to be a huge plus. If and when he makes it back to The Association yet again, such a promotion will likely be a reflection of everything he does both on and off the court.