In recent weeks, the likes of NBA D-League All-Stars Manny Harris and Kevin Jones have opted to venture off overseas with just weeks to go in the D-League and NBA seasons. With time running out to earn a gig with an NBA team this year, many young guns choose to play international ball the rest of the way so that they can cash in a more lucrative deal before time runs out.
Whereas Harris and Jones were undoubtedly two of the more notable players to do so, Jerel McNeal opted to go about things in the reverse order this season. Breaking into the NBADL in 2010-11 with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the guard spent the beginning of last season backing up Suns' assignee Kendall Marshall on the Bakersfield Jam. As time went on, however, he emerged at first as the team's stud sixth man, and later, their star. He earned an NBA call-up to the Utah Jazz towards the end of the season.
Waived by the Jazz last fall, McNeal opted not to wait around for his shot to catch on with another NBA team. Instead, he signed in China, made some money, and amassed even more international experience to add to his resume.
In doing so, he may have sacrificed an opportunity to get called up to the NBA again midseason. That said, McNeal seemingly picked up right where he left off after returning to the Jam late last month.
Proving to find even more of a balance between creating one's offense, while also still managing to create for others (something many combo guards like McNeal struggle with constantly), the Marquette product has returned as offensively assertive and confident as ever. He was averaging 18 points and 6.3 assists entering this past Monday's contest.
With McNeal leading the way again, the previously struggling Jam have surged as of late. They've won six in a row, and eight of their last ten. Currently four and a half games out of the D-League's final playoff spot, Bakersfield will have to remain nearly perfect the rest of the way, while hoping a team like the Reno Bighorns happens to falter. The team has six games remaining this season.
But if the team's recent progress proves anything, it's that McNeal is a winner. The 26 year old has only gotten better in recent months, and thus, is likely deserving of a chance to prove his worth with an NBA team next season. If given the opportunity to play all the way through training camp and continue to strut his stuff through in-season practices, McNeal may be able to develop a rhythm and finally pay dividends for a team in The Association once and for all.