With the expansion of the G League and the talent pool becoming much more diverse, most teams have at least a couple players who have NBA experience. While the majority of players in the league haven’t yet reached that level, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team that doesn’t have at least one guy who’s suited up for an NBA team.
The Stockton Kings had a couple this season, in particular, Daniel Ochefu and Troy Williams. Ochefu was a regular roster player for Stockton, while Williams was on a two-way contract with the Sacramento Kings, Stockton’s NBA parent team.
Ochefu first broke into the NBA three years ago when he was among three undrafted rookies, including Sheldon McClelland and Danuel House Jr, who made the Washington Wizards final roster out of training camp. He played in 19 games for the Wizards during the 2016-17 season and was cut that summer.
Still, he learned a lot from the experience, knowledge that has helped him on his basketball journey to this day.
”It was great, it was cool too. That one year, it was really like five years for me cause I had a lot of veteran guards and big guys around me,” Ochefu told Ridiculous Upside. “They were all in my ear every day. Stuff I was hearing back then, I’m still using today.”
The Boston Celtics signed Ochefu before the start of the 2017-18 season, but immediately cut him so he could be assigned to the Maine Red Claws, their G League affiliate. That was beginning of his G League career, where he’s played for the past two seasons.
After Maine, he played for the Windy City Bulls, who then traded him to the then Reno Bighorns. The Bighorns moved to Stockton for this season and became the Stockton Kings, and Ochefu stayed on with the franchise. His reason for remaining in the G League was to prove that he belonged in the NBA.
”Just showing that I’m an NBA player, showing that I’m in great shape. My body is good, I play defense, I’m not a liability on offense. It’s just showing that I’m ready,” Ochefu said. “I think I have a little bit of an understanding of how the NBA game is, just that knowledge of how things work on and off the court. I’m a hungry player, a hungry guy. I’m trying to get back as hard as possible.”
Williams journey through the G League is a little bit different. Although he too wasn’t drafted coming out of Indiana in 2016, he’s spent the majority of his professional basketball career shuffling back and forth between the NBA and the G League.
A strong preseason in 2016 landed him a spot on the Memphis Grizzlies opening night roster. He ended up playing in 24 games for the Grizzlies, including 13 starts before they cut him about midway through the year. He landed with the then Iowa Energy before being quickly scooped up by the Houston Rockets.
This past season, Williams signed a two-way contract with the Sacramento Kings. He was able to split time between Sacramento and Stockton but was limited to a maximum of 45 days in the NBA.
”You just go out there and just do it all. You play on both teams when you get called up you handle what you can handle. You just be yourself at the end of the day,” Williams told Ridiculous Upside. “I bring athleticism, hitting the open shot, making plays for people, being able to defend multiple positions. It’s just staying within my role.”
After his stints with the Grizzlies and Rockets, he had a brief tenure with the New York Knicks, whom he signed a multi-year contract with before they cut him following the 2017-18 season.
Still, he managed to get solid minutes in the NBA and carve out a role, largely in part to his early years in the G League and being able to show his ability there. Having benefitted from the league himself, he believes it’s a good place for players hoping to one day reach the NBA.
”Every year it’s about getting better whether it’s dribbling, shooting, being a better leader, being a better communicator, everything,” Williams said. “You’re not supposed to look down on this, there’s a lot of people that’s made a lot of money from here, I’m one of them, I’m one of the few. You just want to go out there and grind every day.”
In Ochefu’s case, he was hoping his play in the G League would lead to another NBA opportunity. He was one of the top players for Stockton this season. He put up 14.8 points per game while shooting 59.7 percent from the field, 8.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.1 blocked shots.
That next NBA opportunity has yet to materialize, and he’s since signed with a pro team in Japan. But he also believed that the G League has become a place where players have a good shot at being recognized by NBA personnel.
”Whenever you’re under the NBA spectacle, that’s where you want to be. Being in the G League, we’re directly under their eye, it’s a great opportunity for players to come and showcase and show that they’re NBA players. Or if not, get a decent deal overseas,” Ochefu said. “The competition is tough, everybody is out here extremely hungry. Nobody is playing like slouching or anything. Everybody knows what’s going on in the G League now, we’re all playing extremely hard down here.”
Williams also believes that the G League competition has grown tremendously over the past few years. He for one is encouraged by the new select contracts designed at offering an alternative to high school players who aim to bypass college for pro opportunities.
”They’re about to come up with the new rule for high school players to come here and do the G League instead of doing college or overseas,” Williams said. “That speaks volumes in itself. So getting that work in, getting that experience, you can get that all here.”
High school players could begin signing these select contracts for this upcoming season. They’ll be paid $125,000 during the course of the season. To date though, no high school prospect has signed one of these contracts.
Regardless, Williams believes the G League has definitely become a proving ground, a place that incoming players should not take lightly.
“I’d say it’s good. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not NBA type of play, it is but it’s not. But the play out here is great,” Williams said. “It’s not like it’s something to just look over. You’re not about to just look over it, there’s a lot of people in this league who can play.”