Armor Open Tryouts: Milton Lee Q&A
The Springfield Armor, official NBA Development League affiliate of the Brooklyn Nets, are holding an open tryout this Saturday at the PNY Center in East Rutherford, N.J. We spoke with Nets Director of Minor League Operations Milton Lee to get a full sense of what's at stake this weekend.
View from Couch: What does the schedule look like for Saturday's tryout?
Milton Lee: Well, that's going to be up to Coach (Bob) MacKinnon. He's run a bunch of these tryouts before. Typically, we start out with some skills work and conditioning, just to see where people are as far as basic skill level: ballhandling, shooting. And we do conditioning to see how serious guys are. Because if guys come to this out of shape, then they're probably not serious about their professional career. Then, as the day goes on, there's more interactive competition, whether it's 1-on-1, 2-on-2 or 3-on-3, and eventually we get them into teams playing 5-on-5.
View from Couch: You mention weed-out techniques -- what quality of players have tried out in the past?
Milton Lee: Last year, we had three players that played with us in the regular season in Springfield whom we discovered at the open tryout. We had Travis Cohn, from Jacksonville; David Akinyooye, who's a local product from Adelphi; and Alejo Rodriguez from Iona. Travis started the season with us; David and Alejo got picked up during the season. Had they not come to the open tryouts, we never would have gotten an up-close look with them and made a confident decision to acquire them.
View from Couch: What are you looking for this weekend? And what enabled those three to stand out last year?
Milton Lee: You see different things in different people. Some people you're trying to find more of a finished product. Some people like Akinyooye, we felt at Adelphi -- which is a Division II school -- was probably used out of position. So we felt, at a higher level, he was probably a 3 instead of a 4, and it would be interesting to see how he develops at that position. Travis Cohn, at Jacksonville, probably had to bear a lot of responsibility on his team, which was a middle level Division I school. We felt at the D-League, which is obviously higher, where he has less responsibility but his athleticism, his sheer athleticism -- he's an off-the-charts athlete -- could be a plus. Alejo was just a tough rebounder, kind of an old-school power forward that kept things simple.
I can't say that there's one thing that we look for in a player except that they have to be high character and they have to be hard workers. Because regardless of how talented you are, if you're not high character and you're not a hard worker, we're not going to pick you up out of an open tryout. You could be the best player there, but if you have a bad attitude, you have no chance of getting an invite to training camp.
View from Couch: How are players like those three still falling through the D-League scouting process in the Internet era?
Milton Lee: Because for all the scouts see, there's still hundreds of hundreds of kids that you can't see. And you can't see them in different situations. For instance, with David Akinyooye: the chance of an NBA scout going to see a Division II player, it just doesn't really happen unless that guy happens to be 6-10 with a 40-inch vertical.
Some guys just don't get scouted. Some guys are on teams with better players. Alejo played on a team with Scott Machado and Michael Glover who are both NBA or D-League caliber prospects. So when a scout goes to see those games, a lot of times they focus on those players. They really aren't looking at new players.
What I tell most people that are asking about discovering players and scouting and what it's like is as you get to lower and lower levels of basketball -- the NBA being the highest and the D-League being second-highest -- it's kind of a pyramid shape of the amount of talent that's out there. So the 10th man on a D-League team is replacable by hundreds of guys. It's very inexact, is basically it. So that's why you try to look at as many guys as you can in person and try to get an idea of how they can fit into what your culture is. You try to see if people have gotten better, or if people can get better.
I think there's a misconception that talent is absolute, and it's not. It's very relative to what environment you're in and what role you're asked to play. So a person that played at Princeton might not be able to accentuate his skill set very much if he's an athletic, up-and-down player. Open tryouts are just another way to see talents we might have missed along the way.
View from Couch: So after Saturday's tryout, can the Armor sign players?
Milton Lee: The contracts are technically all with the League. If we decide that we like a player, that there's a Ben Couch out there that we want to take to training camp, we have the right to take five players from our open tryout, so there are real spots being competed for this Saturday, real opportunities. It's just another avenue to acquire players.