Keeping The Dream Alive: Another Season of Open Tryouts

NBA D-League hopefuls try out for the Utah Flash.
By Davina Sutton,

The NBA D-League held another round of open tryouts this year from September through the end of October to recruit new talent for its 2009-2010 season. The concept of an open tryout for a professional team is exciting, and expectations were high from coaches, scouts and players alike. The purpose of open tryouts is to make sure the league has available sufficient talent for the draft.

The process of participating in an open tryout camp starts by the athlete registering online at or by directly contacting the team they are interested in. But that is the easy part. Once at the tryout camp, players have a little time to warm up, shake off the nerves and size up the competition.

Bruce Kreutzer, a shooting consultant for all 16 NBA D-League teams, said “Some guys are out of shape even though their skill level is great. They really just need to have the passion behind it all and say: This is my dream, this is my passion and I am following it.”

After the warm-up the coaches gather the athletes to brief them on the rundown of the day. The players are divided into seemingly random groups to run layup and shooting drills.

Kreutzer said, “In a situation like this you look at a guy who has a good sense of what the game is about. Understanding where their teammates are on the floor is important. Most of these guys have never played with each other before, so if a very talented guy makes a pass to someone who isn’t there, then it makes him look bad.”

Next they may run full-court activities and then the players are divided into teams. At the Utah Flash’s Atlanta tryouts, Flash head coach Brad Jones expected to see the athletes participate in three full games each.

He said, “You will actually spend most of the day playing. I think that’s a good way to really access your ability to play and to see who is in shape enough to play.”

From city to city the amount of athletes who have showed up to open tryouts have varied. The Tulsa 66ers and Sioux Falls Skyforce had about 40 guys tryout at each of their camps. The Idaho Stampede hosted tryouts in Boise, ID and in Denver, CO. They had 50 players in Denver and 80 in Boise. Bakersfield saw 33 players in the San Francisco area camp and 112 players in the LA area camp.

For the Utah Flash they had about 25 guys come out in September in Provo and in October there were 48 players in Atlanta. The type of players that you can expect to see will also range from streetballers, former Division II and III guys to foreign athletes and even team members from popular Division I schools you may have followed in the past.

Coach Jones explained, “This is a diamond in the rough kind of thing. Usually the Division I schools are very well scouted, but what happens is that there are a lot of good Division II and III players who were maybe late bloomers or not that good coming out of high school.”

You can also expect to see players who are so hungry that they have attended several tryouts throughout the country. Coach Jones pointed out a player who had driven from Reno, Nevada to attend the tryouts in Atlanta. He said that the player had also been to Maine and Los Angeles’ pre-draft NBA D-League camp.

Flash assistant coach Mark Madsen said, “Some of these guys already have NBA D-League contracts and it’s a testament to how much they love basketball because they are here wanting to get more exposure and wanting to compete against other great players.”

Coach Jones added that player agents also contact the teams to get them to look at their guys. In fact, the players, their agents and their families aren’t the only ones at the tryouts. You can spot scouts from other non-NBA affiliated teams and leagues, including overseas franchises, at NBA D-League tryout camps.

But no matter who is watching, it takes more than just talent to impress the coaches.

“First of all, the most important thing is how a guy plays with energy. You would be amazed to see how many guys come out here and just loaf around,” said Jones. “The guys that can play with energy and the guys who can sustain that energy throughout the entire tryout are the ones we look for. It never fails that I will have a guy’s attention within the first 30-45 minutes, but two hours into it, they are like sitting on the sidelines.”

The message is that when you get to this level of play it is more than just a game.

Jones said, “They need to understand that this is a job and an opportunity to play pro ball. We’re helping them to keep the dream alive. It’s not like going to just play pick up with your buddies.”

This process of recruiting has been a successful way of bringing in talent for the NBA D-League. Some of the top recent players in the league were brought in through open tryouts. Two seasons ago at an open tryout the Fort Wayne Mad Ants found forward Ron Howard who this season was invited to the New York Knicks training camp.

The Utah Flash is a franchise that has seen a lot of success come from open tryouts.

Coach Jones said, “Some teams don’t really have the same success, but for us the last two years now, we have not only had guys come to our training camp, but actually make our team.”

The franchise started play in 2007 and that year they brought in forwards Brian Hamilton and John Millsap. In 2008 the Flash recruited guard Ryan Diggs and forward Steve Newman from open tryouts.

Jones added, “Open tryouts is a huge part of the recruiting for the league overall. If we add five guys into our player pool at every D-League tryout for every D-League market, then it takes a little pressure off the NBA front office to find guys for the teams. I think that’s a nice mix.”

Coach Brad Jones explained the next step after the open tryout camp.

“Typically what happens is out of this tryout we will submit a list of about five guys who will then have to be approved by the NBA. After that we will have their rights.”

Bruce Kreutzer continued, “Once the NBA clears them they’ll be offered a D-League contract and available for the draft. All the players in the draft are actual D-league players. It’s not like the NBA draft and the athletes don’t have contracts with individual teams.”

Leading up to Draft day, if a player that has previously played in the NBA D-League wants to be eligible to play again this season then they will be reissued a new contract. The NBA D-League hopes to have about 300 players available for the Draft next Thursday November 5th, 2009. You can watch the NBA D-League Selection show live on NBA TV at 7 pm EST.