Over the past three years, the D-League national tryout has proven to be a springboard, not only for potential minor leaguers to shine, but also former NBA players hoping to break into coaching.
There have been prime examples of this. Two-time champion James Posey can be seen on the sidelines during the NBA Finals this year. He's a player development assistant for the Cavaliers, a role that came his way after working for the affiliated Canton Charge. He coached the national tryout mere months before joining Canton. Though Zendon Hamilton spent last season with St. John's University, the year before that he was an assistant for the Idaho Stampede. He, too, started at the tryout, as did Sean Rooks, who is now with the 76ers by way of the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
The proof is in the pudding. This strategy has proven to work again and again. With that in mind, could the likes of Stanley Roberts and Tremaine Fowlkes be next in line?
Both former players were among those coaching the hopeful next generation of D-League players at the national tryout.
"I wanted to give back. I started coaching a couple years ago. I just did my first year of high school basketball. A friend recommended this, and I felt like this was a chance to have some fun," Roberts told RidiculousUpside.com.
As far as what kind of advice he can offer, the former LSU and NBA big man continued, "I tell these guys they have to work hard. Stay vigilant. You never know who is watching. This is fun game. They have to remember to enjoy it." Roberts averaged 8.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks through parts of nine seasons in The Association.
"Never stop playing. I tell them to listen to their peers, much like I was told. As coaches, we're all working with these players and while we can't necessarily treat them all the same way, we can give them all the same information and put them in the best position to make a living off of this game," Fowlkes added to his coaching counterpart's sentiments.
Breaking into coaching remains a goal for Fowlkes, who said, "There's a connection that you can have with a player. It's about sharing information, and then seeing how a player responds to it. It feels good. This is a natural high in itself. A lot of these kids want to reach a dream. I was fortunate to reach mine, so hopefully I can share things and then these kids will run with it. "
Despite also playing parts of four NBA seasons, Fowlkes knows what it means to be on the grind. He graced hardwoods in the D-League and overseas as well. This gives him an opportunity to better relate to the players.
"It wasn't as simple as going from college to the NBA. I was drafted, but it was a long ride. I went the overseas route. A lot of these kids are capable of playing internationally or in the D-League," he pointed out. "I've been there. They see me. They respect me, and I take this as an opportunity to stay involved in the game of basketball."
The trend of former players breaking into D-League coaching is a growing one, as the tryout hosted not only Roberts and Fowlkes, but other former NBA, D-League, and WNBA athletes as well. National tryout director Bob MacKinnon was also hand-selected to lead a coaching seminar by the National Basketball Players' Association the day before, taking advantage of having everyone in one place at one time.
"Through the NBPA, I worked with former NBA and WNBA players who are looking to transition into coaching. We did a six hour clinic on how to coach, develop game & practice plans, and the difference between coaching in the NBA, NCAA, and the D-League," MacKinnon discussed. "We covered a variety of topics and had great participation. Seven of our coaches from the tryout were there. We spent six hours there, but because of how well it went, it felt like we were only there for an hour."
Talking highly of coaches like Roberts, Fowlkes, and others, MacKinnon added, "Everyone sacrificed their time, energy, and talents. They do this on a volunteer basis, and some people travel great lengths to be here. We had a great group and are very thankful. There was a high level of coaching going on."
And while Roberts didn't spend time in the D-League as a player like Fowlkes, he clearly sees the value in it.
"The D-League is great fun. It helps the NBA see and develop the kind of talent that is coming up. It ensures that when the players finally make it to the NBA, they're ready," he conveyed. "If a team drafts a kid who isn't necessarily ready to contribute on day one, the D-League gives them a chance to play and further fine-tune their skills. That way, we don't lose kids to overseas. We keep them home. We can develop and watch them."