Gee's Wine and Golden Opportunity
There’s no easy way into the NBA.
Right now, there are 20 guys in Independence who can attest to that. Whether that player was drafted No. 1 overall or worked his way onto the Training Camp roster – getting (and staying) in the league is a grind that’s gotten the better of countless ballers before them.
Of course, some players take a tougher route than others. And if Kyrie Irving’s quest for the NBA was the most direct. The path Alonzo Gee took might have been the toughest.
After going undrafted in 2009, following a productive career at Alabama, Gee was a Training Camp invitee with the Timberwolves. He was released by Minnesota and picked up by San Antonio. He was then assigned to the D-League where he excelled with the Austin Toros. That led to the Washington Wizards inking Gee to a pair of 10-day contracts.
After his 20-day run in the nation’s capital, he signed back on with the Spurs and was once again assigned to Austin. Later that spring, Gee – who averaged 21 points and 6.6 boards in his single year with the Toros – was named the NBDL Rookie of the Year.
“(The D-League) helped my game because I was down there playing against NBA-style basketball instead of going overseas,” explained Gee. “It helped me a lot, preparing for the next level. And it boosted my confidence as well.”
The next season, that confidence would come in handy as it was déjà vu all over again for the 6-6, 220-pounder. In the early days of the 2010-11 campaign, Gee was waived twice more – by the Wizards in mid-November and the Spurs in late December.
But eight days after being let go by San Antonio, Gee joined the Cavaliers. And from that day forward, he’s been a rock-solid contributor to the Wine and Gold.
“When I finally made my way over (to Cleveland), it still wasn’t guaranteed – so I was still on that hot seat,” recalled Gee. “It’s just a long grind and you just have to stay focused. And you have to be confident in yourself and just find out what the coaches like. Here, they like defense. So that’s going to be what I do – play defense.”
In his first half-season in Cleveland, Gee played in 40 games – starting 29. The hard-working former Floridian averaged 7.7 ppg and was one of the bright spots of a very difficult season.
At that point, it seemed like the basketball gods were finally smiling on the soft-spoken small forward.
Then came the NBA Lockout.
Once again, Gee was undaunted. He knew there were aspects of his game that needed improvement and he was determined not to let the Lockout work against him. So he went to play somewhere that’ll never be confused with his hometown of Riviera Beach: Gdynia, Poland – home of the Asseco Prokom Gdynia.
“Overseas there are some guys that can really play,” said Gee. “My teammates overseas in Poland, they could really play. It’s just a different style of basketball.”
When the Lockout was lifted and the 2011-12 finally did tip off, Gee once again found himself in a reserve role. Omri Casspi was acquired from Sacramento just days before the lockout and started the first 34 games of the shortened season. But before a March 3 contest against the Wizards, Coach Scott re-inserted Gee as a starter and – save three games missed with a left ankle sprain – that’s where he remained the rest of the way.
On the season, Gee finished with totals of 10.6 points (4th on the team), 5.1 rebounds (also 4th) and 1.8 assists per contest. Gee notched double-figures in 35 games – topping out with a 22-point, 10-rebound performance in an Easter Sunday loss in New Jersey.
Heading into the 2012-13 season, Gee’s role will change once again.
With a newly-signed contract, the 25-year-old Gee enters his third season with Cleveland as one of the team’s young veterans. He’s one of the quietest Cavaliers, but Byron Scott will still depend on him to work with Cleveland’s young bucks.
“I think Coach is leaning towards me a little bit, just to take one of the veteran roles,” observed Gee. “It’s a tough job. I have to stay on my craft and stay on my game and also watch other players to make sure they’re doing the right thing – staying after practice and work, showing them that this is how I got here – working after practice and showing up before.”
Gee has his work cut out for him, heading into the season as the presumptive starter and one of the club’s new leaders. He’s also goaded on a daily basis by his teammates who want to see the uber-athletic Gee participate in this year’s Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend in Houston.
The normally-reserved Gee gets even more reticent when this topic is broached. “It is what it is,” he demurs with a laugh. “I’d rather do it in a game, anyway.”
With a new NBA lease on life and after finally finding a home, Gee can focus on basketball and willing the young Cavalier squad back to its winning ways. He was given off-season assignments by Byron Scott and there’s no doubt he worked on each item on the list.
“(They want me) just to be a more consistent shooter; my percentage has to go up,” said Gee. “I shot the ball better last year, but I always have to improve on that. Also my ball-handling and my decision-making. Playing the pick-and-roll, stuff like that.”
He wouldn’t be the first undrafted player to make a name for himself in the league. Some prime examples of undrafted players who achieved success include Bruce Bowen, John Starks, Reggie Evans, Earl Boykins, Brad Miller and Udonis Haslem. Jeremy Lin is the most recent success story, but Ben Wallace – who’ll go down as one of the greatest defensive players ever – is probably this list’s top dog.
Gee still uses his difficult journey as motivation.
“You’ll never know because of how quiet I am, but I really do (have a chip on my shoulder) after not getting drafted,” said the former ‘Bama standout.
Alonzo Gee took the tough route to Cleveland, but he’s an established Cavalier now. And after improving in each of his previous two seasons with the Wine and Gold, fans can’t wait to see what he has in store in his third go-round.