D-League tours led former Bucks to big time

Simmons, Sessions among successful alums

Doron Lamb and Ersan Ilyasova are the two current members of the Milwaukee Bucks who have climbed through the window of opportunity that is the National Basketball Development League.

They are certainly not the first.

Since the D-League’s debut in 2001, numerous former Bucks have reaped the benefits of the league before, during or after the time they spent wearing Milwaukee uniforms.

One of the first ex-Bucks who used the D-League as a launching pad in his career was forward Bobby Simmons.

Following his career at DePaul University, Simmons was chosen by the Seattle SuperSonics as the 42nd overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. His draft rights were dealt to the Washington Wizards, and he played for the Wizards during the 2001-02 campaign.

The 6-foot-6-inch forward was traded to Detroit in September of 2002 and subsequently waived, only to be picked up by the Wizards and waived again a month later. He made his NBDL debut with the Mobile (Ala.) Revelers in November of 2002 and averaged 17.1 points and 5.2 rebounds in 14 games. He returned to Washington via a GATORADE Call-Up, then signed as a free agent during the ensuing offseason with the Los Angeles Clippers.

In 2004-05, Simmons became the NBDL’s first great success story, averaging a career-high 16.4 points for the Clippers to earn the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Simmons and Aaron Brooks are the only former D-League players to win an NBA end-of-season award; Brooks won the Most Improved Player Award with the Houston Rockets in 2009–10.

Simmons signed a multiyear, free-agent contract with the Bucks in 2005 and averaged 13.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in 2005-06. He missed the following season with an injury, then averaged 7.5 points and 3.2 rebounds during the 2007-08 campaign with Milwaukee before being traded to the New Jersey Nets in June of 2008.

Since then, Simmons has played for the Nets, the San Antonio Spurs and the Clippers in the NBA as well as the Reno Bighorns in a return to the D-League. He has scored 4,189 points in 466 career NBA games.

Ramon Sessions is another former Buck who solidified his pro status in the NBDL.

The 6-3 guard was drafted Milwaukee with the 56th selection in the 2007 NBA Draft out of the University of Nevada and became the first NBA player to be assigned to the NBDL in the 2007-08 campaign, joining the Tulsa 66ers.

Sessions made an immediate impact, averaging 30.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5 assists during the opening weekend of the season to earn D-League Performer of the Week honors. He won the award a second time on Jan. 27, 20078, after averaging 29.6 points, 8 rebounds and 12.3 assists over a three-game span before being summoned back to the Bucks at the end of his rookie season.

On April 14, 2008, Sessions scored a then career-high 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out a Bucks franchise record of 24 assists –- breaking  the mark of 21 set by Guy Rodgers 40 years earlier -- against the Chicago Bulls in a 151-135 home loss.

Sessions’ double-double performance was also the first “20-20” for points and assists in Bucks history. The following night, he eclipsed his career-high with 25 points in a 110-101 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Sessions nearly doubled his career high on February 7, 2009, scoring 44 points in an overtime loss against the Detroit Pistons, then recorded his first career triple-double against the Los Angeles Lakers, scoring 16 points with 16 assists and 10 rebounds April 1, 2009.

The Minnesota Timberwolves signed Sessions as a free agent during the following offseason. He has since played for the T-Wolves, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Lakers and the Charlotte Bobcats and has exceeded 4,300 points and 1,800 assists for his NBA career. He is averaging a career-high 15 points per outing for the Bobcats this season.

Jason Hart was picked by the Bucks with the 49th selection in the 2000 NBA Draft, but saw action in one game during Milwaukee’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000-01, scoring two points.

Hart began the 2001–02 campaign in the NBDL with the Asheville Altitude and was called up in December to the San Antonio Spurs, appearing in 10 games. He played in Greece in 2002-03 before returning to the Spurs for the 2003–04 season. He participated in 53 games, averaging 3.3 points.

Hart signed on with the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004-05 as a free agent and averaged NBA bests of 9.5 points and 5 assists a game, finishing third in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.6 assists.

Hart later played for the Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Hornets between 2004 and 2010 before finishing his NBA career with 1,623 points and 774 assists. He is now an assistant coach at Pepperdine University.

Milwaukee made New York City playground legend Rafer Alston the 39th selection in the 1998 NBA Draft.

The 6-2 guard, who had spent the 1997-98 season with the Idaho Stampede of the Continental Basketball Association, saw action in 114 games over the following three seasons with Milwaukee, playing primarily as a backup at point guard to Sam Cassell.

Alston averaged 2.8 points and 2.5 assists during his Bucks’ tenure and was a member of Milwaukee’s 2000-01 Eastern Conference Finals team.

Pressed into starting duty with Cassell injured, Alston responded with a double-double of 14 points and 10 assists in a 39-minute stint against John Stockton of the Utah Jazz in a 104-93 Bucks victory Nov. 19, 2001.

Following another D-League stint with the Mobile Revelers, Alston was traded to Toronto in 2003 and went on to play for the Raptors, the Houston Rockets, the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat from 2004 through 2010.

He averaged 12 points and 4 assists per game in 2004 and helped Miami reach the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

In 671 NBA games, Alston scored 6,799 points and handed out 3,202 assists.

Another player who became an NBDL success story is Mike Wilks, a graduate of Milwaukee’s Rufus King High School who was named Wisconsin’s Mr. Basketball following his senior season at King in 1997.

Following a successful career at Rice University, the 5-10 Wilks played for the Mobile Revelers and the Huntsville Flight of the NBDL in 2001 and 2002.

He earned an invitation to Bucks training camp in 2002 and became one of the team’s final cuts, but caught on with Atlanta and went on to play for the Hawks, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Houston Rockets, the San Antonio Spurs, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Seattle SuperSonics, the Denver Nuggets, the Washington Wizards and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Wilks totaled 591 points and 271 assists in 233 career games. He won an NBA championship ring with the Spurs in 2004-05, becoming one of just 13 players with NBDL ties to achieve the feat.

Coaches have benefited from the NBDL, too.

Darvin Ham became a Bradley Center crowd favorite while playing for the Bucks spanning 1999-2002, helping the team reach the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001.

Ham also competed for the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons during an eight-year NBA playing career. He played one season in the Philippines before completing his playing career with the Albuquerque Thunderbirds and Austin Toros of the NBDL.

Ham became a player/coach with the Thunderbirds and eventually was named their head coach during the 2010-11 season before returning to the NBA in 2011 as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers.