Chasing the D-League Dream

Around 60 eager players shuffle into the Kings Practice Facility early on a Sunday morning. There is a sense of excitement yet urgency in the air.

Reno Bighorns Head Coach Darrick Martin has been in their shoes. He knows firsthand the road to the NBA is not easy. That’s why he takes open tryouts like these seriously. That’s why he takes coaching seriously.

“The biggest thing is to be organized at all times,” said Martin. “Always have a first, second and third plan.”

Fortunately for the Bighorns leader, he’s been around influential coaches during his career. He played four years at UCLA under Coach Jim Harrick, who was named College Coach of the Year in 1995. In Sacramento, he learned from the franchise leader in wins, Rick Adelman.

Along with those for whom he played, one coach in particular has had a lasting impact on the former point guard.

“I think CBA coaches, with Coach (Dave) Joerger and Coach (Bryan) Gates’ experience, they understand,” said Martin, who began his professional career in 1994 with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. “That’s something I definitely learned from Flip Saunders by playing for him in the CBA and in the NBA.”

Similar to Joerger, the Bighorns coach doesn’t measure growth in just wins and losses. It’s about teaching the game, and doing the best to prepare players for what lies ahead.

The “D” in D-League doesn’t stand for development without good reason. Martin believes it’s a key component to the success of the players and franchise.

“Guys need time to develop, I think it’s what the D-League is for, “said the Reno coach. “It’s our first and foremost job, to develop, and winning is a byproduct of the guys developing in the right fashion.”

The D-League was founded in 2001 and started with just eight franchises. It has since expanded to 20 teams, with the possibility of further expansion down the road. Martin hopes one day each NBA team will have an exclusive affiliation with a single club.

“That’s the plan, that’s in progress,” he explained. “I’m definitely a proponent of each NBA team having its own affiliate.”

For now, the Bighorns skipper is focused on the day’s tryouts – he’s looking to add a few players to the roster. Momentum is starting to pick up as players move from dribbling and shooting drills to 5-on-5 scrimmages.

“What I like in these tryouts is the energy these guys are bringing,” he said. “The fact we’ve had great energy and they come out here and play hard, it’s a great sign.”

Coming from a coach who made a name for himself over the course of a 13-year NBA career exuding similar qualities, the D-League hopefuls are taking strides in the right direction.

Next Up