DeAndre Jordan played a little bit of football. Two years, before he opted for the hardwood fulltime and left the gridiron to two of his younger brothers who went on to play in college. In the land of Friday night lights, Jordan might have gone against the grain a little bit. But in a state as big as Texas, even if basketball is the second sport, there’s still a steady flow of big-time talent.
Three of them are teammates here in Brooklyn, and over the next two weeks the Texas trio will have homecoming games as the Brooklyn Nets visit the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Dallas Mavericks in a two-week span.
“Very competitive,” said Taurean Prince of the Texas basketball scene. “Not as big as football, but kind of right there being that we had some guys come out of San Antonio, which is where I went to high school and kind of formulated my love for the game. A lot of great guys have come out of Dallas that may have not made it to the league but definitely had a big influence on the basketball culture of Texas.”
Prince came out of San Antonio, while Jordan was raised in Houston and Allen outside of Austin. All three stayed in-state to play their college ball, with Prince going to Baylor, Jordan to Texas A&M and Allen to Texas.
“We’ve all got that Texas connection,” said Prince. “Whether we talk about it or not. You could just feel it on the court, really. The lingo, just the vibes we get between each other. That goes a long way with all of us on the team. It’s not like we’re from the same place or have known each other for a long time. Win or losses, we have the same type of guys, same type of smiles, afterwards, next day in practice, and I think that’s what makes progression different when you’re around guys you love being around.”
On this Nets roster, there’s also Kevin Durant, who came out of the hotbed Washington, D.C. metro area, one of the richest basketball talent pools in the country, and chose to play his college ball at the University of Texas a decade ahead of Allen. Like Allen, Durant stayed just one season in Austin, but didn’t leave without trying to convince Jordan to join the Longhorns.
“Kevin’s a liar,” said Jordan. “He was one of my recruiters at the school in Austin. And I was like, man, hell yeah, get to play with Kevin Durant? I’m down. He was like, ‘You should come.’ ‘OK, but you’re leaving.’ He goes, ‘No, no, I’m thinking ….’ And I’m like, this guy’s a liar. But it worked out well for him and I think it worked out well for me too because we ended up being teammates in the pros, so that was cool.”
First stop for the Nets is San Antonio, where Prince was part of a wave of talent that attracted the attention of a coach from a small Division I program in, of all places, Brooklyn. Three players from Prince’s district helped lead LIU Brooklyn to three straight Northeast Conference championships. And he was ready to join them on Flatbush Avenue, but then two things happened.
The first was that LIU coach Jim Ferry left for Duquesne at the end of Prince’s senior season in high school. The other is that he looked around at his Texas peers and saw Marcus Smart headed to Oklahoma State, or the Harrison twins — Andrew and Aaron — bound for Kentucky.
“I was like, all right, something’s going on here,” said Prince. “We were all top five in the state. But that’s what really opened my eyes up.”
Aiming higher also brought Prince closer to home. He opted for Baylor in Waco, a straight shot up I-35, three-and-a-half hours from San Antonio.
If you were to take that ride, about halfway through you’d go right through Austin, and a little further north, Round Rock, Allen’s hometown. Like Prince, who didn’t get on the AAU circuit until the summer before his junior year in high school, Allen dove into basketball’s deep end a little later than many who ended up on a track for the NBA.
When he did, he branched out. For starters, after his freshman year of high school he transferred from his local high school to St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, closer to downtown Austin. He led the school to two Southwest Preparatory Conference championships in three seasons and earned a trip to the McDonald’s All-American Game as a senior.
Allen will be returning to visit St. Stephen’s the day before the Nets play the Spurs, with the school planning a ceremony to retire his No. 35 jersey. But in the offseason, when it came time for AAU competition, he looked even further from Round Rock.
“I think I was the only one to come out of Austin, and even for me, I went to Houston to play,” said Allen. “Not to knock Austin, but it wasn’t as competitive as the Houston/Dallas area, so I had to travel out to play against a higher level.”
It turns out that among the 26 current NBA players born in Texas, according to Basketball-Reference.com, Allen is in fact the only one from Austin. That’s where he stayed for college, opting for the state’s flagship university right there at home.
“I knew he went to Texas, but I didn’t know he was from the greater Austin area,” said Jordan. “I didn’t know that. He went to a rival high school of mine, we’re obviously years apart, but in the SPC conference, he went to a school that we used to play. I don’t like JA’s high school, but I love that we’re teammates now.”
Turns out when Allen went looking for that stronger competition, he was in the territory Jordan dominated a decade earlier. And it was heady competition. Of those 26 current NBA players born in Texas, 12 are from Houston.
“I was born in a neighborhood called the Third Ward,” said Jordan. “Houston is awesome. I love it. All my family is still there. It’s very hot and humid in Houston. Being in LA for 10 years, that kind of spoiled me a little bit, so every time I got back home, I’m like, ‘Damn it’s hot out here.’ But I love it. All my family’s there. My genes are there. What I am today, is from Houston and my friends, my closest friends, we all went to high school together. The food’s great. The food is great.”
Staying close to family and friends played a big role when Jordan went about choosing a college, and Texas A&M was just about 90 minutes away in College Station.
“I love Texas and I wanted my family to be able to come see me play whenever they wanted to,” said Jordan. “I was really interested in Texas A&M and then another school in Austin, I was interested in them. And other schools too. But a couple of my friends ended up going to Texas A&M, so it kind of felt at home for me. A couple guys in my AAU program went to school there, so I was there a lot my sophomore and junior year watching them play.”
As for who they followed on their way up, Jordan had a string of Rockets favorites, from Hakeem Olajuwan to Sam Cassell, Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Yao Ming. Allen, who didn’t have a hometown NBA team, gravitated towards the Mavericks and Spurs more than the Rockets. Tim Duncan was a favorite, naturally, just as he was for Prince in San Antonio. Prince’s first NBA coach in Atlanta, Mike Budenholzer, was even a long-time assistant for those Spurs teams.
“I like (Manu) Ginobili, too. He brought a different aspect to the game,” said Prince. “Them as a whole team. You had guys who became great players becoming Spurs. I told coach Bud this, I didn’t meet Kenny (Atkinson), but I told coach Bud I had a picture, I met him when I was eight at an Incarnate Word camp that the Spurs were hosting. So that was a crazy story that me and him had together. Everything comes full circle. It’s just crazy.”
Now he gets to go back and play on the court he watched those stars play when he was a kid. The trip is special for Jordan too, even after a decade in the league.
“To play in the city is a dream come true, for sure,” said Prince. “Every time I go back to San Antonio it’s a dream to just play in that stadium period. Growing up there, watching the Spurs win championships in that building, to go back there I always get a special feeling. Yeah, I can’t wait to go back.”
“It’s still great to go home and play just to see all my friends who I grew up with, friends who are still my best friends to this day come and see me play,” said Jordan. “My family, my grandma comes to every game at home. Just being able to know that they’re in the suite up there, my friends are kind of scattered throughout. It’s great to still have that support from people back home.”