Following a collegiate career at Rutgers, J.R. Iman's professional basketball career has taken him all over the world, both overseas, and most recently, the D-League. Through two minor league seasons, Inman has averaged a productive near 8 points and 5.5 rebounds through just 21.6 minutes per contest. Also shooting 47% from the field, he's rather efficient, too. At 6'10" and 225 pounds, he stands rather tall and should obviously represent somewhat of a hot and rare commodity in the D-League. But he's had to continue fighting for ample opportunities.
After spending 2013-14 with the 87ers, Inman attended an open tryout for the Westchester Knicks that following fall. He impressed enough to get retained for training camp, and although he ended up starting and finishing the season in Westchester, what happened in between would take its toll on anyone.
After getting cut following camp, Inman remained in Westchester for quite a while. serving as a practice player, pushing and competing with his (at that point, former) teammates on the practice floor, but also supporting them from the sidelines during games. Inman was a staple during Westchester home games throughout the year.
Such perseverance paid off, as he ended up getting added to the roster once again in late February.
"The deeper hole I got myself into with the organization, the more it motivated me. At the end of the day, I'm a competitor and I still believe I'm capable of being an NBA player --- to play at the highest level," he explained to RidiculousUpside.com. "Of course it was frustrating when I was getting activated and deactivated, but the grace of God gave me the discipline to stick it out and stay the course. I was literally the first guy to arrive and the last one to leave the gym, without getting paid."
D-League salaries are difficult enough to live on, but for someone to work at something for four months without being on payroll shows how hungry he truly was.
Discussing his work ethic and respective regiment during the season, Inman said, "We'd have noon practices, and I'd be there at 9AM, stretching, lifting, and going on the treadmill. The anticipation for the break was what I was waiting for. I knew it'd be my opportunity to rise. That motivated me to stick around, and it paid off. I went on to have uncanny numbers for someone who was not even believed to be an average player at best."
Inman went on to have multiple double-digit scoring performances, appearing in seven games despite getting activated and deactivated two more times after re-joining the Knicks.
Because the game has taken him all over, Inman boasts unique experience at a rather young age with regard to working professionals. Such a journey has motivated him to become a published author with the release of When the Air Comes Out of the Ball, something he actually began writing while at Rutgers.
"When I first started it, I was a senior in college. I was looking forward to playing on a professional level, so it started off as a doodling project --- something that I was working on and that I would use to vent when I was a young collegiate athlete," he said. "At a very young age, I was exposed to the concept of what I would be doing after my playing career. What will I be doing when the air comes out of the ball? When I was in college, I was expecting to play another ten years or so. Still, I was exposed to the fact that at some point, everyone plays their last game."
Such a realization often becomes a much quicker reality for D-League and respective aspiring NBA athletes alike than they'd hope. But it didn't take hitting the minor league hardwood for Inman to be exposed to such a concept. Instead, he understood it much earlier in life.
"My dad [is my inspiration]. He was a professional football player, but then he got injured. He went on to work on Wall Street. We're talking about a guy who was an All-American coming out of Maryland," Inman shared. "When his career got stripped from him, his ambition allowed him to work through it. At a young age, I was exposed to a real life example of when the air comes out of the ball. My dad used it as his stepping stone to other areas of life."
A youth basketball coach during the offseason, Inman is very prevalent in the lives of youngsters who are coming up in search of a role model. That said, he insists the demographic for his book is very wide-spread, hoping that kids, as well as up and coming professionals can draw inspiration from his story as they look to embrace their next step in life.
And while Inman's maturity and awareness is preparing him for what may be next (he says off the court opportunities present themselves constantly and he'll welcome them when the time is right), he still has short-term goals in the form of unfinished business on the basketball court.
"I have an opportunity to play an integral role with Westchester. I can't help but compare myself with other guys in the D-League when it comes to efficiency ratings. With the same opportunity and the same minutes, where I'm not looking over my shoulder or wondering if I'm going to get cut or not, I could definitely produce," Inman conveyed. "The comfort I'd have in that situation, combined with the exposure the Westchester community provides in the media capital of the world, would help me prove that I'm still an NBA guy. It would remind people of what they saw from me in college."
Big men are scarce in the D-League. Each and every season, this forces stronger athletes to play out of position as a result. Inman has fallen victim to this, as have countless others. It's nothing new, and sometimes, it's just par for the course. It has to be done as teams adjust. Still, playing the five so often prevents Inman from serving as what he considers to be his more natural position: small forward.
"I have a combination of size and strength that allows me to play multiple positions. I can play the three, four, and the five. In the NBA, I'm probably a more natural three. But in the D-League, I've always been one of the tallest and strongest guys on my team," he asserted. "What happens is, I'm getting branded as a back to the basket center, because that's what I've been playing. When you compare me to other centers around the league and the world, I'm average at best. Where my talents are able to be reviewed, is when I'm recognized as that hybrid forward. I can play the NBA three, take my man off the dribble, and have the ability to post up and play inside."
If one thing is for sure, it's that such versatility would undoubtedly create mismatches in Inman's favor. D-League teams, however, don't always have that same flexibility to play around with lineups.
As the season approaches, Inman is looking forward to this next opportunity, even if it means proving himself yet again. Still, for those looking to learn more about this D-League athlete turned author, Inman says the book provides "a better understanding of the sport, the institution of college basketball, and of me as a professional and a person." Click here to learn more.