A Fighter's Chance

April 6, 2012
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Managing Editor

Even the most highly-touted college stars entering the NBA don’t get there – or survive there – without having some fight in them.

For a guy like Donald Sloan, who’s overcome about every challenge a 24-year-old ballplayer can and who now finds himself the temporary starting point guard for the Cavs, there has to be a lot of fight.

One day after Ramon Sessions was dealt at the Deadline, Sloan signed with the Wine and Gold to shore up the backcourt. And recent injuries to Daniel Gibson and Kyrie Irving have pushed Sloan into the spotlight less than two weeks into his tenure in Cleveland. And he’s blended right in.

“It’s been great, a program like this where guys pride themselves on defense, toughness,” said Sloan. “I think I fit right in – it’s an easy click. It’s natural for me to come in and play the way I play.”

Since leaving College Station as the seventh-leading scorer in school history, Sloan has seen it all.

After going undrafted in 2010, he signed a non-guaranteed contract with the Kings, but was released before the season started. He signed on with the D-League’s Reno Bighorns and later played professionally in the Philippines. He made his NBA debut with the Hawks and had a stint with the New Orleans Hornets earlier this year. Three nights before joining the Cavs, he scored 14 points for the Erie Bayhawks.

Sloan also won the Bronze medal with the U.S. national team at the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. That team was coached by current Cavaliers assistant, Nate Tibbets. (In his stint with Reno, Sloan was also worked closely with Cavs player development assistant/video coach Aubrey McCreary.)

Having that familiarity with the Cavs staff has helped his assimilation greatly.

“(Tibbets and McCreary), seeing me in real game situations and working with me and working with my development over the months and years with each of them, my comfort level with them was already built-in,” said Sloan. “I kind of had an outlet with those guys already, so it helped my transition into the team that much easier.”

Including Wednesday night’s matchup in Milwaukee, Sloan has played 11 games with Cleveland – averaging 5.0 points and 2.7 assists per contest. In his first start as a Cavalier, he posted 10 points, seven boards, four assists and a pair of steals against the Knicks.

“I think just being able to come in with my spot minutes and try to give energy as much as possible is key,” he added. “But the Knicks game, I had a little bit more time to try to get comfortable and try other things out instead of just pressuring the ball and trying to get up the floor fast and into the offense. I had time to settle down and run the team.”

On Wednesday night, his second straight road start, he notched a dozen points and led the team with eight helpers.

With the spate of injuries, Coach Scott has stressed the word “opportunity.” With the Cavaliers out of the playoff picture, the final month of the season has become an audition for next year – either with Cleveland or elsewhere.

“Like Donald said, this is a golden opportunity,” said Scott before Wednesday’s matchup. “He’s not only auditioning for us, there’s 29 other clubs out there that need backup point guards. He’s auditioning for everybody.”

“Everybody” who’s watched Sloan shoot the ball has already noticed the unusual hitch in his jumper – cocking the ball back before releasing it. It’s not perfect form, but it’s gotten him this far.

“I’ve always had it,” laughed the 6-3 guard. “After a while, I kind of went away from it and wasn’t really making that many shots. I was thinking about shooting it more than just making the shots. It was psychological. So I went back to my old way and started making them. The coaches were like: ‘Hey, we’ve seen worse. If it works for you, just shoot it the way you’re comfortable with it.’”

Sloan will have his work cut out for him in the next three weeks, joining a team on the fly in mid-March. But he’s not one to back down from any situation. His time in the ring as a Golden Gloves boxer taught him that.

He began boxing when he was about 13 years old and went 13-1-1 as a lightweight. He hadn’t laced up the gloves in a while, but did some training this fall during the lockout.

“I did a little messing around,” said Sloan. “I tried to do a little boxing workout, and it took me forever to recover, just because of how intense it is. It’s been a while.”

But his boxing training and background have definitely helped him as a ballplayer.

“Definitely as far as conditioning and toughness,” he said. “I’ve been labeled a pit bull-type guy – kind of a bully, somewhat. And it comes from my background as a former boxer. It definitely transitions to the court.

“If I’m going to make a living in this league, I’m going to have to be that type of player.”

The Cavaliers have had a rough go of it in the second half of March and into April, but they’ve competed hard in the well-traveled rookie’s two road starts – proof that a scrapper like Sloan might be just what the squad needed.