There's deja vu during the NBA D-League Finals right about now. The Fort Wayne Mad Ants and Santa Cruz Warriors are facing off for the second straight game. As is the case with most minor league teams from year to year, continuity is difficult to find and there are plenty of moving (aka absent) parts from last season to this one.
For the Mad Ants, one of these key components is obviously last season's M.V.P. and well known veteran Ron Howard. The guard and now D-League champion did turn up for game one to support his former team, however.
"Ron's the man. When I joined the team last season, he was one of the first ones to welcome me with open arms. The fact that he's still around supporting us shows what a great guy he is," fellow D-League veteran Matt Bouldin told RidiculousUpside.com. "I still text him and we stay in touch. He's a great guy."
And while the Mad Ants' roster is highlighted by newcomers like Jordan Crawford and CJ Fair, Bouldin is notably filling that leadership role left by the void of Howard.
After completing some recent rehab, Bouldin re-joined Fort Wayne midway through this season, providing somewhat of a necessary boost towards the end of this campaign. He continued by reflecting upon the past few weeks, as it related to last season's big accomplishment.
"We won a championship last year, and that was great. We grinded it out," the guard said. "This season, we had to fight our way into the playoffs. We were on the fringe. Being here [at The Finals] is special."
Playing in the D-League, plenty of individuals strut their stuff in hopes of receiving an eventual NBA call-up. Winning on the minor league level still matters, however, and the smarter players understand what kind of a role winning big on the smaller stage plays into potential later success.
"I'm hungry for another championship," Bouldin confirmed. "I'm a firm believer that if you win, the personal accomplishments, the contracts, the NBA call-ups, and all that other stuff, will follow."
Despite being 27 years old, Bouldin is yet to have graced the NBA stage. That isn't due to a lack of talent, effort, or motivation, according to these who watch him closely. Instead, the guard's big league hopes have been derailed by some recent injuries. Nevertheless, the veteran is one of the most versatile players in all of the NBA D-League. He can hit opponents in a number of different ways and do a variety of things on the court. Opposing front office staffers know this. They're afraid of it he plays against their respective teams, but perhaps even more importantly, are in awe of his abilities when it comes to scouting him.
Asked to discuss some of his bigger strengths and how he could make an impact on the NBA level, the D-League swiss army knife added, "Pretty much everything. I can play the one and create for others. I can knock down shots. I like initiating the offense and being a good defender. A little bit of everything."
Bouldin is a veteran, but there's no doubt that other "older" players before him have paved the way for potential subsequent success. After all, such experience could be asset, as such a player is more prepared to make an immediate impact while providing a rather mature presence. The Mad Ant can look at a player like Chris Copeland, who broke into the NBA at age 30 following time abroad and in the D-League, for inspiration.
"I actually know Copeland pretty well. I'm a Denver guy and he went to CU (University of Colorado). He's great. He has a great story. It's one that everyone wants," Bouldin said. "He just kept fighting and then got got that opportunity. He made the most of it, and that's what it's all about. Some of us just need that same opportunity."
If an NBA team takes a chance on Bouldin this coming offseason, it's likely he'll follow suit with Copeland's example as a model for success.