The D-League even provides skill consultants, says Alpert, who travel around the country helping players in specific areas. “We have a shooting consultant who works with players on mechanics and practice routines. We’ve had a ‘big man’ consultant; he works with the post players on their foot moves. We’ve had a strength and conditioning consultant to talk about how to stay in shape. We also have a coaches’ consultant; he helps our coaches work on being more efficient, running practices, breaking down film after a game.”
SUCCESS STORIES ARE MANY, but one name that keeps coming up as the league’s poster child is Ramon Sessions, guard for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. Bighorns assistant coach Jason Glover remembers Sessions vividly from when he played college ball for the University of Nevada, Reno.
“I run the Nevada Basketball Academy here in town,” Glover says, “so a lot of the players in the summertime work out with me. Ramon would come by, and I’d work out with him. He’s got a great work ethic; he’s very strong, physical, and can play multiple positions. We’re not real close, but we’d talk about moving to the next level. He was like a sponge. He took it in.”
The Milwaukee Bucks drafted Sessions straight out of college, and he quickly landed a slot playing with the Tulsa 66ers franchise, the Bucks’ D-League affiliate at the time. After one season, the Bucks called him up to the NBA, and this year he was picked up on waivers by Minnesota for a cool four-year, $16 million deal.
And yet, for every Ramon Sessions, there are a number of players who move in the opposite direction. The league’s official term for that is assignment, but it’s basically what happens when an NBA team thinks a player needs more experience before playing at the pro level and sends someone back down the ladder to their D-League affiliate.
“From the team’s perspective, it’s a chance to accelerate their development,” explains Alpert. “There’s nothing like game-playing experience. You can’t simulate that. It’s an opportunity for those players to build up their confidence. It’s excellent competition for them, and they recognize that if they don’t come prepared and ready to play, the D-League players are gonna be gunning for them.”
The D-League also attracts the journeymen, or players who spend years shuttling between teams, playing pro and semipro ball, and eventually end up in the D-League. Maybe they will get called back up to the NBA. Maybe this is where their career ends.