If anyone is wondering, Lakers legend and NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West has still got it.
The minority Golden State Warriors' owner met with a select few media members prior to Friday night's D-League matchup between the Delaware 87ers and Santa Cruz Warriors. Coincidentally enough, I'm in Santa Cruz this weekend as well.
As we spoke with West, our backs were turned to to the court, with the Hall of Famer facing forward. During pre-game warmups, a ball ended up bouncing high in our general direction. Unable to see the ball coming, I heard screams of "watch out!" I ducked my head, and West palmed the ball and caught it with one hand -- mid high bounce.
Pretty good reflexes for a guy who's 75 years old, right?
Santa Cruz Warriors basketball is a big part of what their parent club (Golden State) is all about. The organization is invested, the overall culture is continuously embraced, and the minor league squad has had great success. What's more, Golden State is utilizing the D-League in all the right ways; developing players by assigning them down, calling other youngsters up to the NBA, as well as stressing community involvement from top to bottom.
Prior to taking in the game, West praised the use of the D-League by NBA teams, saying, "The thing about a finished product is, nowadays, these kids have problems. They need a lot of work. This is where they can get it."
Last month, West criticized the state of the NBA, the upcoming draft class, and wasn't exactly sold on the "one and done" concept, as it relates to NBA teams depending on such youngsters to step in and play "savior" following a year of post high school life.
Needless to say, the NBADL is a league that could certainly stand to help such a transition. Following in the footsteps of Wizards' rookie swingman Glen Rice Jr., many prospects are opting for stints in the D-League en route and/or prior to declaring for the NBA Draft.
Of course, players have the opportunity to venture aboard and play overseas for a year before declaring as well. It's an option which some youngsters choose to utilize. There's no denying that. Still, flocking overseas just like that can't be the easiest adjustment for an 18 year old to make, fresh out of high school.
Asked by RidiculousUpside.com to evaluate the D-League as a more likely alternative, West said, "I think if kids are good enough and it's well thought out -- there are those who make it. Brandon Jennings played in Europe right after high school. Jeremy Tyler, someone who we had out here in Santa Cruz, did something similar."
He continued, "[The D-League] is about a different competition level. I think it's something we're going to see a lot more of. It's about how kids react to playing [overseas]. When you go out there, you don't speak the language. You can get homesick. But plenty of guys go out there for many years and make some money."
The NBA legend continued to praise the job the organization as a whole is doing with Santa Cruz. In their first year in town, the Warriors reached the D-League Finals. This season, they've only continued to grow organically. They've also provided Golden State with a couple of assists along the way. The NBA team has assigned a handful of players to the minor league team over the course of this season, and has even called up the likes of Hilton Armstrong (now back in Santa Cruz) and Dewayne Dedmon (now with the Orlando Magic) for short stints in time of need.
West added, "I think Coach (Casey) Hill does a really great job. It's important these kids develop. This is a different atmosphere. It's a bit tougher. When you're in the NBA, you're used to having breakfast made for you. It's about maturation, because you learn how to care for yourself. When you get into the NBA, you don't have to do it as much."
The D-League life isn't as glamorous or luxurious as an NBA one. There's no doubt about that. Still, it's interesting to see West note how that very fact can actually go on to aid in the development of such minor league players. In a sense, it's almost an advantage they have over NBA athletes, because of the exposure they've been given to the alternative, and what they must do to carry on in the meantime.
Such observations came quite astutely from West, an NBA legend who clearly sees the benefits of having a minor league like the D-League in place.