Nov. 28,2007 -- Amazing NBA journey? Youíre hard pressed to find a better one currently playing in the NBA than Jamario Moon. This undrafted 27-year-old rookie came out of nowhere via the CBA, USBL, D-League (Huntsville Flight, Mobile Revelers, cut by the Arkansas RimRockers), American Basketball Association, World Basketball Association and we havenít even mentioned his time spent with the Harlem Globetrotters.

Moon earned his first start on November 10 against the Bulls and hasnít looked back (see Sundayís six block performance against Luol Deng and the Bulls).

Bryan Colangelo, Raptors President & GM and reigning Executive of the Year via The Sporting News, talked about Jamarioís road to the NBA, who Jamario reminds him of (a little Pippen, a little Matrix) and Sam Mitchellís growth as a coach in believing in this unlikely success story.

Jamario Moon turned out to be a real steal for the Raptors. How did you find this guy?
Colangelo:
Last year due to the success of our team we didnít have a draft pick. From years earlier, and I want to say it was a Yogi Stewart for Lamond Murray deal, our pick went away. It was protected to No.15 last year, but by virtue again of our success, we ended up with the 22nd pick in the draft. Thus the pick was conveyed to Cleveland and ultimately conveyed to Charlotte. So that kind of put us in a funny situation last year. We didnít have a first, we didnít have a second Ė that pick ended up going to Portland because I think it was protected to No. 50 overall. Minus the picks, we decided letís not take a lot of time or effort to work out draft prospects pointlessly, letís have a free agent camp where we hopefully were going to find something to add to our roster and fill a spot.

Our scouting staff, mostly led by Jim Kelly, who is Director of Player Personnel, ended up compiling a list of 35 to 40 players that competed in a mini camp over a three day period, and Jamario, who had a very good season last year in Albany, basically stood out. He along with Pooh Jeter was here and Pooh did really well in the point category. We were definitely looking for a point, potentially as a third guard. Both of those players really stood out, but statistically, talent-wise and athletically, Jamario stood out more than anyone. We made a decision to contact his agent and consider him as a possibility for filling a roster spot and things worked out very fortuitously for us and for him.

Hereís a young guy who at the age of 27-years-old has had his share of hope in terms of trying to get to the NBA but it hasnít worked out for him. Heís been CBA, D-League, I think heís even been with the Harlem Globetrotters briefly, and couldnít seem to stick anywhere, didnít seem to have focus. The knock was that he had great talent, but he just didnít have a great feel for the game. Early on, he got some bad advice and that advice was to enter the NBA Draft as an underage candidate. He basically listened to that advice, and I think heíll tell you this story if you talk to him, that it was a mistake. He was overlooked. He was not selected in the draft (2001).

I do recall seeing him work out for the Phoenix Suns that particular year because I was there in Phoenix at the time. I made a comment to Dave Griffin, my assistant GM at the time. I said, ĎItís great that heís here and he has great talent, but heís nowhere near ready for the NBA.í He is one of those guys who is out of sight, out of mind if youíre not paying attention to him and youíre not following him on a consistent basis. He is off doing something basketball-wise, but itís hard to keep track of all these prospects. Credit our scouts for keeping tabs on him. He clearly has gotten to a stage in his life where the maturity has kicked in. Itís off the floor, itís on the floor. He seems to have a very, very even keel about him on the court. He is remarkably poised for the situation that he has been put into. Part of that is the age. He has now been through a lot of experiences, but never at this stage. So it is a little bit surprising to everyone including ourselves.

Another critical component is the fact that our coaching staff, led by Sam Mitchell, believes in him. You have to find someone in your plight to get to the NBA, or your road to ultimately finding a home here, youíve got to get some breaks along the way, and in this case I think Jamario got the break that there was a connection immediately with Sam. I think Sam has definitely given him his share of opportunity and to his credit heís taken advantage of it.

When Sam inserted Jamario into the starting lineup, some thought maybe he was sticking his neck out for an unproven 27-year-old rookie. Some media members wondered if Sam hadnít gone off the deep end in starting him.
Colangelo:
It just depends on how you view that. I am not sure he put his neck out there too far because he knew I was right there with him in terms of the discussion. That is the sign of a good solid working relationship between myself and Sam. Sam is the coach of this basketball team and heís free to make those decisions and move accordingly, but itís always nice to know you have a little support there. At the same time, I will say that not a lot of coaches would have the courage to take a flyer like that because it was somewhat of a flyer. Again, it speaks to the job that Sam is doing and his growth as a coach and his comfort level knowing his evaluation of talent is going to pay off eventually.

It is interesting because when we talked about signing him the question arose, Why hasnít he made it? Why hasnít anyone else signed him? The response back from me was, Why do we worry about what everyone else has done? Letís worry about what weíve done and what we can do with him if we think we can make him a player. Granted, weíre not talking about a major contract either. Itís a minimum contract and there is low risk to it. But again, you factor all the components in and everything has aligned correctly at this stage for Jamario. The biggest piece of all is Jamario is following through on it.

What are Jamarioís greatest attributes: athleticism? energy?
Colangelo:
Right now, you look at everything he does and heís got a real multifaceted game. His talent and his athleticism allow him to do some of the things that are his strengths. His strengths are defense Ė when he is really, truly focused on it heís not afraid of anybody. So youíre talking about an athletic, fearless guy who has an idea now after several years of how to play defense against very good players. Heís capable of doing that and heís doing it. Thereíre too many guys in our league that you look at and you say, ok, youíve got the skills, the talent, but why donít you do it, why donít you get out there and perform? Jamario, in this case, has taken advantage of those attributes and really become a very solid, if not our best, perimeter defender right now. Heís also capable of rebounding. He seems to have a real nose for the ball and that is a talent, though sometimes hidden. You need to be able to have some instincts as to where rebounds are going to carom off and he seems to have a very good knack for knowing where the ball is going to be. But again, athleticism allows you to get to some balls that others canít. So immediately athleticism has been that common trait that I think is really helping him.

The other thing is heís a really proficient shooter. He seems to take shots that come to him in the flow of the game, but he has a knack to make shots with range. I think that his ability to find ways to score, a lot of times itís elevating, and once again athleticism allows that, but elevating above his defender and coming up with a nice looking shot, a good clean look at the basket. Thatís another thing that I think is one of his big attributes here. So athleticism is that one trait, but heís utilizing that athleticism to perform these other things.

Has his emergence lessened the blow of not having Jorge Garbajosa?
Colangelo:
It certainly doesnít hurt. We miss Garbo right now for a multitude of reasons. Number one, he really became a fixture in our locker room and on the court last year for us. He started at the three probably more out of necessity than anything, but his true position is probably the four. As you know we have a pretty good four here in Chris Bosh, who is going to anchor himself in that position for some time. Arguably Bargnani is somewhat of a four, but weíre getting away with playing him some minutes at the five as well. But I think that we were constantly talking about the need to go out and find an athletic, slashing, defending, rebounding three, hopefully one that could score because scoring is a big part of our game. Interestingly he has answered a lot of those things.

The Garbo piece is still missing. He was a glue player for us. He provided a lot of the grit and intangibles that you just donít measure in a box score, but I think the fact that we do have Jamario now anchored in at the three spot, at least for now, he is answering a lot of the needs that we talked about as we sought that position.

Does Jamarioís game remind you of anyone in particular?
Colangelo:
Iím always careful not to draw comparisons because sometimes it might even be more physically than anything else, but when you start comparing games and skills itís difficult.

The names I constantly come up with in terms of what I think he is capable of or certain aspects of their game that I see from time to time, I see parts of Shawn Marion, I see parts of Scottie Pippen, I see parts of Richard Dumas. Heís got a little bit of all three of those players.

Now granted Shawn Marion is at an entirely different level right now and Scottie Pippen is one of the 50 all-time greats in the NBA. Itís important that you donít mistake that as he will be the next Scottie Pippen. Itís just that I see certain parts of their game in Jamario that reminds me of those players.

As you assess this seasonís rookie class which features three 27-year-old rookies in Moon, Luis Scola and Juan Carlos Navarro and headlined by Kevin Durant, are you pleasantly surprised by the amount of players who have emerged to be significant contributors?
Colangelo:
I think it speaks to the fact that when youíre a young player and coming into this very competitive and talented league and youíre not physically or emotionally ready to take on this kind of competition night in and night out, itís very difficult to aspire to the expectations of your team, of the fan base, of the media, and itís more difficult than it looks. So when young players emerge and have an impact right away in the league like Durant is, itís great to see and it obviously speaks to his talent and what heís capable of doing. But not everyone is ready to do that. Itís interesting to see that sometimes it takes other experiences.

Despite that fact that Bargnani last year was 21 years old, 20 when he first got here and had yet to play an NBA game, he seemed to be a little more mature and ready for the challenge given the fact that he had been playing professionally over in Europe in some very high level Euroleague games. You have the same thing now with Jamario and Navarro. Navarro obviously has done it at an even higher level than Jamario. Navarro has been playing games in Europe for many years. I remember talking to Washington about the chance to possibly acquire his rights. He has shown that he can play at a very high level and I think that the maturity and just general basketball savvy that comes with that basketball experience is something that really benefits these guys down the road.

Jamario is certainly the embodiment of an amazing NBA journey. Can you think of a more amazing one, a player who went from unknown to starter and key contributor?
Colangelo:
Jamarioís story is short in its lifespan right now. Letís not jump too quickly to a conclusion that heís ready to be anointed an All-NBA player, but he is obviously making an impact and doing something that is helping us win basketball games.

To see him come out of virtually nowhere and to look back at some of the scouting reports that had him listed in June of í06 as the 11th best small forward, July of í07 as the 14th best small forward in the minor leagues, I think it is. This one is a stunner for a lot of people. Again, all credit goes to Jamario for taking advantage of this opportunity, but thereís been others, players that have emerged later in the process. Look at Anthony Parker. He didnít make it in the NBA basically and had to go back to Europe to establish himself and came back at the age of 31.

Hereís a guy that supposedly wasnít good enough to be in the NBA and he went from Euroleague player to NBA starter. He took advantage of his opportunity and hit was the right fit for this team. Raja Bell had to go to Europe and bounce around the minor leagues and eventually ended up in a situation where he is a starter on one of the leagueís best basketball teams. But there wasnít a huge market for him when Phoenix signed him as a free agent. He had emerged as a player obviously, but he took the long road. It doesnít happen overnight for everybody, but players that are persistent, players that take care of themselves, players that handle themselves right, and players that find themselves in the right situation with the right team and the right group of people believing in them, it makes it a great story. That is certainly the case here with Jamario.