Justin Dentmon: Star Journeyman
It was a season of firsts for Austin Toros point guard Justin Dentmon. He earned his first NBA call-up to San Antonio in March, scored his first big-league bucket against the Hornets, claimed his first Development League Most Valuable Player award and celebrated his first D-League championship in April.
So what's he gonna do for an encore?
Dentmon isn't sure. But until he figures that out, he decided to start this season like he ended the last one -- putting the ball in the hole. Dentmon scored 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and collected two assists in the Toros opener Wednesday night, a 99-87 loss to the Texas Legends in Frisco.
He averaged 22.8 points during his MVP season, but didn't see the award coming. "I never knew I was up for it until it was announced," he says. "I was just playing to win and trying to get to the NBA."
The goals remain the same for a 27-year-old player who can dominate at one level -- scoring 30 points in the D-League championship game -- while traveling many a back road to reach the next.
Undrafted out of the University of Washington, where he was first-team All-Pac 10, Dentmon has played for teams in Israel, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Italy and China. He played one season with the Legends, another with the Toros, and has logged thousands of miles -- by bus, van and plane -- to reach such D-League destinations as Sioux Falls, S.D., Boise, ID., Bakersfield, Calif. and Hidalgo in the Rio Grande Valley.
Foreign outposts. Exotic locales. Remote and dusty towns. Basketball has carried Dentmon across the country and around the world in pursuit of the NBA. Some stops are more memorable than others. There was the time, for example, vandals broke into his apartment in Venezuela and robbed him clean. When Dentmon returned, clothes, money, laptop -- all were missing. About the only thing left was his ball.
"When it's all said and done," he told the Seattle Times in May, "I'm going to write a book."
The book on Dentmon is a tale of perseverance and grit. He grew up in Carbondale, Ill. (pop. 25,902) and showed at an early age he could ball. The problem, his family believed, was that Carbondale was too small for anyone to notice. So Dentmon began playing for an AAU team in Chicago, The Warriors, which created another challenge.
"Chicago was five hours away," he says, "and it was hard to make practice."
Relatives often drove Dentmon to games in Chicago. On occasion he took the train. When the Warriors played out of state, Dentmon's mother drove him to St. Louis -- two hours away -- where he caught a plane and flew to join the Warriors in Virginia, Nevada, Florida, wherever the next big tournament was held.
He played on the Warriors' 16-and-under team with forward Julian Wright, a first round NBA pick and former Toros teammate, and Jon Scheyer, a prep phenom and All-American on Duke's 2010 national championship team. Sometimes, Dentmon would play up on the 17-and-under team with Shannon Brown, a guard with the Phoenix Suns and another first-round pick.
"We won local tournaments in Chicago and Indiana but we didn't do too well at nationals," Dentmon says. "The travel didn't bother me. I was just so hungry to be ranked in the state of Illinois and the nation. I thought, 'If I can do this, I can pay for my education.'"
He played four years at the University of Washington and averaged 14.4 points as a senior. His listed height in college -- 5-foot-11 -- did not impress NBA scouts and neither did his numbers as a distributor: just 2.5 assists per game as a senior, down from 3.8 as a freshman.
The road to the NBA would be long and hard and it began overseas with Hapoel Afula, a club in Israel. Four years later, Dentmon signed a 10-day contract with the Spurs and scored his first basket. He drove the lane, took a backdoor pass from Stephen Jackson and laid the ball up. New Orleans' Chris Johnson blocked it. Officials called a goaltend. "It didn't feel like the real thing," Dentmon says.
A second 10-day contract with Toronto followed. He scored 22 points in four games. Then it was back to Austin, where he led the Toros to their first D-League championship. Three days later, he flew to Italy to play for Olimpia Milano.
Dentmon shines at each stop, a journeyman chasing a dream. "I have no clue when I'll get to the NBA again," he says. "All I know is I will play my heart out. I'm going to keep pushing and pushing. I just want one team to like me and from there I'll take off."