This past weekend, General Manager Allan Houston and the Westchester Knicks were on the prowl for potential diamonds in the rough as they observed local prospects at the House of Sports facility in Ardsley, New York.
Approximately 75 basketball hopefuls hit the hardwood with an ambition to prove they have what it takes to compete in the NBA D-League. From this group of prospects, the Knicks have an opportunity to invite a very select few to compete for a spot on the team during training camp later this fall.
Needless to say, it's an uphill battle for those hoping to get noticed once and for all.
But alas, the journey began this past Saturday. Knickerbocker officials (including executives, scouts, and player development coaches from the big league club) led the group through different drills over the course of the day. Following some competition, the group was narrowed down to just thirty as team officials set their sights on some of the more talented players.
For many of these young guns, the opportunity to be seen is one to potentially begin making a name for themselves. The dream of becoming a household name (a la Danny Green and/or Jeremy Lin) while finding one's niche in The Association, is what the D-League is all about.
It's important to remember that all of these prospects happen to come from a wide array of basketball backgrounds. Some played valuable minutes in the NCAA. Others sat on the benches of some of the best programs of the country, only to never receive their chance. Some players are hoping to earn a living playing closer to home rather than overseas. But ironically enough, there are plenty others who pay the $150 admission fee simply to live the dream (albeit, how brief it may truly be) of strutting their stuff in front of big league officials, let alone those who work for the Knicks.
It's up to Westchester officials to sift through the talent, assess accordingly, and pluck out those who may warrant another look in the near future. That can done by watching those who display good instincts and/or a strong feel for basketball fundamentals. But more importantly, those who truly have a knack for playing professional basketball should, without a doubt, be able to absolutely dominate the rest of the competition.
How many stood out, for good reason in Ardsley, is debatable.
In any event, there were still some interesting players to see. God's Gift Achiuwa, a local product at St. John's University last season (alongside recent New York Knicks training camp invitee Orlando Sanchez) was one of the more notable participants. Former Delaware 87ers' big man JR Inman also took the court. The Rutgers' alum averaged 9.6 points and 6.3 rebounds through sixteen games (fourteen starts) in the minor league last season.
Despite Inman's previous D-League experience (and subsequent success), perhaps the most intriguing prospect putting his talents on display was Dami Sapara. After getting drafted by the Los Angeles D-Fenders last season, Sapara went on to play in the NBL of Canada, where he was coached by former Bulls' guard Craig Hodges. Though Westchester is yet to have formally announced their new head coach, Hodges is said to be a leading candidate for the job.
In addition to the familiarity the potential future Westchester coach has with Sapara, Knicks' brass knows him quite well, too. He was among the standouts at the Erie BayHawks' open tryout in New York City last season. New York was previously affiliated with the aforementioned squad.
See below for our notes on Sapara from then:
A freakishly athletic specimen, Sapara might have more raw talent than Ellis, as good as they both performed this weekend. In competition, the swingman displayed versatility, running the ball up the court and keeping up with his man at all times and swarming him on defense. But pretty soon Sapara was able to separate himself from the pack completely by throwing down double clutch dunks, slamming it in, over and literally on top, of defenders, etc. Even his competitors were in awe.