Windy City Bulls roster beginning to take shape

The Bulls' D-League affiliate gears up for the season

By Sam Smith

With the 12th pick in the NBA Development League draft, the Windy City Bulls…

No, it didn’t quite go like that Sunday when the Windy City Bulls, the Chicago area’s newest professional basketball team and the Bulls’ D-league affiliate, filled out its first roster starting with its first round draft pick, Aaron Thomas, a 6-5 shooting guard from Florida State who played for the Brooklyn Nets in summer league.

There was no tweeting of the picks 11 seconds before being announced; there was no crowd booing foreigners selected by their teams, there was no instant analysis declaring winners and losers before anyone dribbled a ball. No one got a cool logo hat. It was all done by telephone with the 22 D-league teams, two minutes between first round picks, 90 seconds between picks after that, six rounds, though teams can only have four draft picks in camp.

The Windy City Bulls also selected Sterling Gibbs, a 6-2 guard from Connecticut, Chauncey Collins, a six foot guard from TCU and Anthony Lee, a 6-9 forward from Ohio State.

“We wanted to get some shooting,” said Nate Loenser, Windy City coach and Bulls assistant last season. “All three have the ability to shoot. Thomas has good size for a wing player, a good athlete who can score and a hard playing guy. Gibbs played at the U. of Connecticut after Seton Hall, a point guard with good size who can shoot. Collins made improvement, a smaller guard, athletic and who can shoot from deep. Lee had good numbers at Temple and transferred to Ohio State, good size and versatile to compete in camp.”

It will be a competition with 17 players starting and the team probably keeping nine. D-league teams have rosters of eight to 10 players. But then they add NBA players from their teams, or from one of the eight NBA teams without a D-league affiliate. Those players are added to the eight to 10.

The Bulls at this point have not decided whether to have any of their players go to the D-league for extra work. Thus far Jerian Grant and R.J. Hunter have been inactive.

“We’ll see how things go with our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Saturday. “We go on a road trip and will travel everybody and get a chance to practice on the road and kind of determine that as we go along.”

Though the NBA D-league is not quite the feeder system that exists in baseball, it is a hybrid of sorts. Players under contract to their team with two years or fewer experience can be sent there and remain on the main team’s roster.

The next category is so called affiliate players. Windy City has four, and they are, in effect, the core of the Windy City team. They are players who were in Bulls training camp and with the team in preseason. They are assigned exclusively to the team’s D-league affiliate, but any NBA team can sign them at any time.

They are Spencer Dinwiddie, whom the Bulls acquired from Detroit late last season, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera of Georgetown, J.J. Avila of Colorado State and Thomas Walkup of Stephen F. Austin.

Walkup is notable from Stephen F. Austin’s upset of No. 3 West Virginia in last spring’s NCA tournament and then narrow loss to Notre Dame. Walkup’s physical, power wing game and country beard look made him a brief internet folk hero.

There also are two or three players on the early roster from the open tryout the team had last month. They include Chicagoans Alfonzo McKinnie from Wisconsin-Green Bay and Corbin Thomas from Midwestern State.

Loenser said the team will meet Monday and then begin practices Tuesday. They’ll play a preseason game next weekend and open the season at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates Nov. 11. They’ll play 50 games, mostly on weekends, at least early in the season.

“Initially with so many guys we’ll want to get a good evaluation,” said Loenser. “Whether they make our team or not, we can evaluate players for summer league, if there are injuries. It gives us a first hand look at 17 potential prospects. Then we’ll select our team. We will be similar to what the Bulls did in training camp and once we get the roster selected we’ll prepare for opening night and try to get each and every guy better as players.”

There are several and varying goals in the D-league.

Obviously, players want a chance to get to the NBA, which many do, or get contracts overseas. Thus there can be a high level of turnover. For NBA teams, it’s a chance to train players in their ways for potential signings and where they can give their own young players experience if they are not in the regular rotation. All players are signed by the D-league as an entity except the players who come from an NBA team’s roster.

“The name of the league is the developmental league,” noted Brian Hagen, Bulls assistant general manager who also is Windy City general manager. “They’re all there to get better. They all have dreams of doing something, going to NBA and getting their chance. For some maybe it’s not a reality, but improving themselves for another league.

“Spencer decided knowing what he knew about us, knowing Nate and the system, he decided this would be the best place to start the season off for him,” said Hagen. “I’m sure he wants to get back in the NBA and he’s good enough to and we hope he gets that chance. Everyone wants to compete and win games, but the ultimate goal is improvement.

“We identified (the affiliate players) in college as players we felt were good players and brought them in (to training camp) with the idea that we’ll take a look and if they’re not ready (for the NBA) we’ve got a great place to help them get ready,” said Hagen. “We believe they are very talented and if they are not ready now we think they can be ready down the line and this is a good place to improve. A lot of D-league players are just missing a component, maybe a terrific shooter without ball skills, or a 6-6 power forward, maybe someone not physically at an NBA level, but at the same time who can play.

“It’s not a glamorous life for them,” Hagen conceded. “They’re not staying at the Ritz. But it will be good pro basketball and you’ll see guys from other organizations and we’ll utilize it to assign our players who maybe need reps at times and that will be determined by Fred.”

Also selected in the draft were Keith Hornsby from LSU, the son of musician Bruce; former baseball Chicago Cubs farmhand Benito Santiago, who is 27; Ralph Sampson III, the son of the Hall of Famer and former NBA player from Proviso East High School Shannon Brown.

It’s almost D-league day.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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