Multiple Paths Define Title Hopefuls for Skyforce and D-Fenders
As the Sioux Falls Skyforce and Los Angeles D-Fenders prepare for their NBADL Championship series, many winding roads helped make the destination possible.
So many times the numbers can obscure the stories. The people who perform their appointed duties have multiple layers, which make their accomplishments meaningful.
However everyone at this level of basketball, everyone has something to prove and many have aspirations beyond their current level. A select group would be considered on the cusp of landing a spot on the roster of a team in the Association.
Jarnell Stokes this season alone was part of three NBA teams (Memphis, Miami, New Orleans) before earning MVP honors as a star forward with the Skyforce. Guard Vander Blue of the D-Fenders has spent the last two seasons in L.A., but is a package of shooting and slashing through the paint that few at this level can match. Let’s also remember forward Justin Harper is not far removed from a call-up to Detroit in March.
One group could loosely be arranged in the castoff category. Rodney McGruder was cut loose by the Maine Red Claws late last season before getting snatched up by Sioux Falls for their 14-15 playoff run. Same with Bubu Palo who started last season with Texas, but found a home with the ‘Force.
A pair of veterans have carried a lot of weight for the D-Fenders this season as they still show their ability to produce. Ryan Gomes spent 8 years with various NBA teams with almost 500 games played and was a component of the trade that sent Kevin Garnett to the Celtics in 2007. Andre Ingram is the NBADL all-time leader of 3-point shots made and won the 3-point shootout in Toronto.
One guard from each squad have returned from a year hiatus. DeAndre Liggins who picked up Defensive Player of the Year honors in both of his Skyforce seasons was in Russia and Germany last season. Josh Magette is in his second year with the D-Fenders with a year in Greece sandwiched between.
We're stretching the definition of vertical integration just a bit with two more pieces. Greg Whittington and Keith Benson were in fall camp with the Miami Heat then allocated to Sioux Falls.
Three rookies are part of the mix each with their own path to this series. Kenneth "Speedy" Smith (from the player pool) and Michael Holyfield (via trade from Iowa) joined the D-Fenders in January. Skyforce first round pick Jabril Trawick came off the bench for most of the season, now has started all for playoff games.
Shrewd maneuvers brought two NBA veterans to Sioux Falls for the stretch run. Toure' Murry was acquired from Texas just before the trade deadline for the returning rights to Andre Dawkins. Also Murry is a previous titlist in the D-League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in 2013. Initially Larry Drew II was in France, but the prospect of a title and the ascension of Briante Weber to Miami opened up a spot.
From a players standpoint, guys who go through the local tryout process are huge underdogs. One frontcourt player from each team meets that definition in D.J. Shumpert of L.A. and Nigel Spikes for the 'Force.
A kernel of intrigue sprouts from the coaching ranks in the cross-pollination section of this roundup. Two D-Fender assistant coaches have previous ties to the Skyforce. Paul Woolpert was the head coach in the 2001-02 campaign, meanwhile Jermaine Byrd played hoops at the University of Sioux Falls and once was an assistant coach for the Skyforce.
Everyone has a story with a maximum of three games left to write the final chapter to the 2016 title run for one of these teams.