John Petrucelli, a 2014 graduate from Molloy (New York), is one of 11 players currently in the NBA G-League who has played for a D-II program. The guard turns 26 years old in October and is hoping to take a major leap forward in his third season after spending the previous two with the the Erie BayHawks and Lakeland Magic.
“I want a huge jump,” Petrucelli told RidiculousUpside.com. “I’m getting a little older, it’s my third year and I’m more of a veteran now. I want to learn to be more of a professional. There’s always room to grow.”
Petrucelli played in 42 games for Lakeland last season, compared to 32 the previous season when the team was in Erie. He finished the year averaging 8.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game while playing tough-nosed defense against opposing guards. He has also shown an uncanny ability to be an aggressive rebounder at his position, despite being just 6-foot-4.
He started several of the Magic’s last few regular season games this past season, including the final win of the regular season. He finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and five steals. This was a promising end to a season for the guard after spending most of his time on the bench and returning to form following offseason surgery.
“I was starting to feel comfortable at the end of the season during the playoff run,” Petrucelli said. “Last year, I had a shoulder surgery so my summer was limited. I wasn’t 100 percent comfortable. This year I am healthy. I’ve had a full summer to kind of perfect my game. But nothing is given.”
He still needs to prove he deserves a spot on Lakeland’s roster during training camp. But just like other former D-II players looking to forge their own path into the NBA, he is used to constantly having to prove his worth on the court.
While Petrucelli was originally looking to continue his career overseas post-graduation from Molloy in 2014, he attempted to try out for the Maine Red Claws. He admits himself that he lacked the preparation to play at that level at the time.
“When I was with Maine, I had a week to pick up everything and I didn’t have enough time. I didn’t prepare myself for the NBA three. I have a high basketball IQ, but it wasn’t that high at that point. I wasn’t ready. I ended up getting waived after the Red Claws my first year.”
Petrucelli signed a deal to play for BK Iskra Svit in Slovakia in January 2015, where he was able to earn consistent minutes and truly grow as a professional. He was not thrilled with the climate in Slovakia, however, having to overcome the near constant state of snowstorms. While his games were played across the street from his apartment, he and his teammates had to rummage over a mile in the snow to go to the nearest restaurant they ate at everyday. A far cry from his living arrangements in Florida while playing for Lakeland last season.
Despite not having the most luxurious or tropical living arrangements in Slovakia, he credits his time with the team as an important stepping stone to becoming ready for G-League competition.
“It helped me start my professional career as far as learning the game at that level,” Petrucelli said. “It’s not the best league in Europe. But it’s a great stepping stone, to get your foot in the door league. They taught me how to space the floor well, rotate defensively, how to run sets that we even use in the G-League, coming off pin downs, etc. I had a full year to kind of experience.”
He averaged 16 points, five rebounds and three assists per game on 46% shooting from the field and 80% from the free-throw line. The chance to play big minutes helped him earn more tryouts with G-League teams the following season. Petrucelli eventually made an impression with the Erie BayHawks who gave him an opportunity at the end of the 2016-17 season. Despite not earning serious minutes with the team until the tail end of the season, Petrucelli demonstrated his toughness before the right eyes.
The Orlando Magic purchased the Erie BayHawks prior to the 2017-18 season, in preparation for moving the team to Lakeland, Florida. Adetunji Adedipe, then a basketball operations assistant for Erie and now the Assistant General Manager of the Lakeland Magic, was watching closely during the Erie BayHawks’ training camp.
At the time, Petrucelli lacked an established role on the team but made a strong impression on Adedipe and the Erie coaching staff in the waning minutes of the final game of training camp vs the 905 Raptors. He did not have many minutes to showcase his game during the training camp, and halfway thru the final game he believed his chances of not being cut the next day were slim. But with a few minutes left in fourth quarter he entered the game and made energy plays, scoring five points and adding five rebounds to pair with five steals.
“He came in with energy, an ability to rebound and spark the fire,” Adedipe recalled. “We thought it was best for him to stay and be apart of the team. It was one of the reason we wanted to keep him. He started to fit the mold for what we were trying to do.”
Petrucelli left Molloy looking to continue his basketball career, but also believed he may not earn a fair shot at entering the G League. But in his time overseas, in addition to trying out and playing for several G League teams, he has learned that G League teams do not necessarily look down on D-II players.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you went to school everyone is in that professional basketball bucket,” Adedipe said. “Guys have to be open to filling a role and then be able to organically grow into more. Basketball is basketball, and I think every G League team realizes that.”