Posts belonging to Category Alumnus Watch

Malcolm Thomas Waived by Spurs, Signs with Jazz

After being waived by the San Antonio Spurs, power forward Malcolm Thomas has been picked up off waivers by the Utah Jazz. Team-less just over two days, Yahoo! Sports reported Thomas’ signing on Saturday.

Thomas went undrafted in 2011 after playing collegiately at San Diego State. Only 25 years old, Thomas has already had a journeyman career:  D-League, international ball and short NBA stints with the Spurs, Warriors and Bulls.

The Spurs signed Thomas in December before waiving him last week. He played well for the Los Angeles D-Fenders before being called up, even making an appearance for San Antonio in last Sunday’s game against Milwaukee. He scored two points, grabbed nine boards and two blocks.

But San Antonio dropped him to pick up a fellow D-Leaguer in Othyus Jeffers. Jeffers is a small forward, and due to injuries of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs needed depth at the 3.

Jeffers is signed to a 10-day contract.

Ex-Toro Kevin Palmer to play in Japan

It’s not just the big names like Kobe or D-Wade who are talking about playing overseas.  Other players are also considering going overseas to play the game and get paid. Kevin Palmer, formerly of the Toros has already decided that he will be playing overseas.  Palmer signed a one-year contract to play for Fukuoka Rizing of the Basketball Japan League.

Last season, the 24 year old former Texas A&M Corpus Christi star played 50 games for the Toros, averaging 13 pts; 5 rebs; and just under 2 steals a game—solid, but not spectacular numbers on the offensive end. Palmer’s strength was his perimeter defense. He would have been a likely starter for the Toros this season.

Palmer is 6’6” and a wiry 210 pound guard/forward. His biggest assets are his athleticism and willingness to mix it up defensively which is why he is an intriguing prospect for an NBA team.  His offensive game is still a raw and his shooting mechanics need work.  While Palmer may get a better pay check playing in Japan for one year, it is debatable if he will continue to evolve on the offensive end as he would had he stayed with the Toros. The level of talent in the Japanese league is nowhere near the level of talent in the D-League.

With the Toros, Palmer would have played with and against higher caliber players. He would also likely received starters minutes. While he does have a clause in his contract with Fukuoka to opt out should the NBA lockout end that allows him to pursue a roster spot with an NBA team, his move is risky.

When your name is Kobe or  D-Will, you are an established player and going overseas makes sense in that as long as you avoid injury, you can stay in playing shape and bring home a large paycheck while racking up ridiculous numbers against lesser opponents and having a bit of an adventure and something else to put on your basketball resume. Once the lockout is over, these elite players will return with fatter wallets and will be in game shape. For players like Palmer, while there might be the potential for greater pay playing overseas, his greatest need is to improve his offensive game.  It is questionable he will elevate to an NBA ready player while playing in Japan.

While Palmer takes his talents to Japan, other players will see this vacancy in Austin as the opportunity they need to get to the next level. One player’s gamble is another player’s golden opportunity. It doesn’t look like there will be an NBA season this year and the highest caliber basketball you will see in America will be in the D-League. The Toros have an opening. It will be interesting to see who steps up to fill the void and prove that he deserves to play with the big boys.


Thick Face, Black Heart: Update on Former Toro Curtis Jerrells

Don’t tell Curtis Jerrells he won’t make it back to the NBA. In fact, don’t tell the former Toro and Spur that anything is impossible for him in the basketball world.

You see, Jerrells has something few athletes do. You see, “thick face” and “black heart” are the way of the warrior. It is a “way” that must be embraced. Few have the stomach for it.

I will admit up front: I am a Baylor graduate so I am partial to Jerrells. The former Bear is a tough player. He doesn’t back down. He embraces challenges and isn’t intimidated in the least by the resume or hype of others. His basketball career is testimony to his warrior spirit.

Generously listed at 6’1”, Jerrells plays with so much heart and passion he seems larger on the court. Jerrells’ game is all about relentlessness. He is quick, loves contact and knows how to get off his shot in traffic. He takes every challenge personally. Don’t tell him that he’s basically an undersized combo guard and can’t make the transition to pure point guard. Don’t tell him he can’t succeed. He won’t believe you. Players like Jerrels don’t let others define them.

The undrafted free agent nearly made the final cut with the Spurs. His play was impressive enough for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and GM R.C Buford. to sign him and reassign him to the Toros so he could get the playing time he needed to continue developing. Jerrells didn’t back down in Spurs training camp or when he played for the Toros. During his 50 game stint with the Toros in 2009, Jerrells averaged 21 pts and six assists.

Jerrells’ basketball career from college to the present has been one of embracing challenges and proving others wrong. To get an insight into his mind, consider the following: The Austin native (Del Valle High School) signed with Coach Scott Drew and the Baylor Bears shortly after Drew took over the Baylor program. The program was in shambles. Dave Bliss, the previous coach, resigned in shame after Baylor was rocked by the horrific shooting death of player Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson. The further the university and the NCAA investigated and the more that came to light about the Bliss administration, the uglier it got. The program almost received the death penalty. The sanctions imposed were considered by many experts to be the near equivalent. Baylor would never rise again in basketball, at least not in this life-time.

Enter Scott Drew in August 2003. Baylor was put on probation until 2010, scholarships and recruiting visits were severely limited until 2007. Post season play was cancelled for the next season, and only conference games were allowed through 2006. And did I mention most of Baylor’s players left the program? Baylor gave players the option to transfer. Most of the team took them up the offer.

It was this environment and challenge that Drew embraced. If his vision for redemption was to become reality, he would need players who would embrace his vision and the hard work it would take to resurrect the program. This is the kind of program and environment most basketball players with dreams of the NBA dancing in their heads avoid like the plague.

High school players were not exactly lining up to play for the Bears. The first significant name to sign with Baylor was Aussie Aaron Bruce. The next: Curtis Jerrells. Drew kept casting the vision of rebuilding and being a part of something special. Jerrells was not an All-American, but was recruited enough by respectable schools to be considered a good catch.

Jerrells had other choices. Better choices. He chose the hard route. He chose Baylor. He caught Drew’s vision and accepted the challenge. Jerrells doesn’t run from challenges. He runs to them. Why? “Thick Face, Black Heart.”

After four years of playing at Baylor, Jerrells became the first player in Baylor history to lead the team in points and assists for four years. During his time at Baylor, Jerrells made the All Big 12 Championship All Tournament Team, was a consensus All Big 12 selection and was named to the 2009 NIT All-Tournament Team.

In retrospect, it was two players: Aaron Bruce and Curtis Jerrells that led the way for other players to catch Drew’s vision and turn the Baylor men’s basketball program into a Big 12 powerhouse. Jerrells quickly became the heart and soul of the team. He willed those around him to rise up.

Without Curtis Jerrells, there would be no Tweety Carter, no Ekpe Udoh, no LaceDarius Dunn and no Elite 8 appearance by Baylor two years ago. Jerrells made Baylor basketball respectable again. Don’t tell Curtis Jerrells something can’t be done.

When I first met Curtis, I was with my son who was 14 at the time, and we were talking with assistant coach Matthew Driscoll at the Baylor practice facility. Driscoll was telling my son, also a basketball player, about the importance of playing with passion and intensity and having a “never back down” mentality. He pointed out Curtis as an example. And, in a serendipitous moment, at that time, Jerrells walked down the corridor of the practice facility to hit the weight room. Driscoll called Jerrells over. “Curtis—show Christian (my son) your shoes,” Driscoll said.

Jerrells walked over. There, written in black marker on his basketball shoes were the words “Thick Face” and “Black Heart.” I had no idea what any of this meant. Driscoll then went on to explain: “It comes from China. This guy (Chin-Ning Chu) wrote about the Warrior Spirit. A ‘thick faced’ person isn’t hurt by others criticism. If you believe in him or his dreams. Fine. If not? He doesn’t care. He’s not defined by you or anyone else. A ‘thick faced’ person is not intimidated. He channels any fears he has into productive energy and uses that to move forward.” That made sense. Playing for Baylor certainly would require a “thick face.”

Driscoll continued: “Black heart” means you are passionately committed to reaching your goals. A “black heart” person may be a nice person, but in competition he is ruthless. He doesn’t care how hard his opponent has trained or how big his opponent’s dreams are, he is determined to crush him. He doesn’t care if his opponent cries or gets his feelings hurt. There is no mercy asked for, no mercy shown in competition. black heart.”

Driscoll went on to explain: “Curtis has this mindset and he sets the tone for the rest of the team. He’s a great guy, but on the court, ‘thick face, black heart.’ If he wants to make it to the next level and help us get there, he has to be this kind of player. And the same goes for you. If you want to make it…” you get the idea.

Curtis JerrellsJerrells caught the attention of the Spurs after his play with the Toros. These qualities made him a continual work in process. Always evolving. Never backing down. During the 2010-2011 preseason his play caught the attention of New Orleans Hornets GM Dell Demps who traded for Jerrells, sending the Spurs a second round pick for his rights. After one week of training camp with the Hornets, however, Jerrells was waived.

Thick face, black heart. Never back down. Don’t listen to what others tell you about yourself. Prove them wrong. Pursue your goals. Be relentless.

Jerrells wasted no time. One month after being waived by the Hornets, the former Toro and Spur signed with BC Partizan, from Belgrade, Serbia. Jerrells led that team to the Serbian National Title in 2011 while also winning the 2011 Serbian National Cup and the 2011 Adriatic League. His game continued to evolve. New challenges, new opportunities.

In June, Jerrells took another step toward reaching his goals, signing a two-year contract with Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey. A better league, a greater challenge. More mountains to climb. More obstacles to overcome. No problem: Just more opportunities to develop into that NBA pure point guard.

Don’t bet against Jerrells returning to the NBA. I say this, not as a Baylor fan, but as a fan of players like Mario Elie, Bruce Bowen and Avery Johnson—guys who had those qualities, kept grinding and proved everyone wrong by working hard and taking the long, difficult route to make their mark on the league. I believe Curtis Jerrells is that kind of player and has that kind of character and drive. I wouldn’t bet against him at all.

The long, strange journey of Darius Washington

I’ll never forget the night I met “Sweet Lou” around midnight at a Shell station near my home in San Antonio.

He was ahead of me in line. We were the only two in the store and he had some kind of friendship with the clerk behind the counter. I kept hearing the man refer to him as “Sweet Lou” and then the clerk asked “Sweet Lou” how he thought his boys would do that year and Lou said, “We’ll be good. D’Antoni and Nash gonna work some magic.” That made me curious, so I did something I normally wouldn’t do—I followed the man to the parking lot.

He was about 6’3”, and somewhere in his late 50’s I thought. I asked him: “Did you play for the Phoenix Suns?” He smiled and the stories started. Evidently “Sweet Lou” played for Phoenix a few games during the Connie Hawkins era.  His specialty? “I had a great ‘j’-I could hit from anywhere.” He showed me why his shot was effective—perfect form and a high release and high arc. “Most players today don’t know how to shoot at all,” he explained. “That’s basic basketball. All these guys today just want to be on Sports Center. All about dunking the ball.” He shook his head and frowned. “These kids today—they don’t know the fundamentals.”

“Sweet Lou” was a great shooter, so why didn’t he stick? Well, like most players, he had weaknesses. He admitted as much. His weaknesses? Well, to hear him explain it he didn’t take defense or instructions from the coach too seriously. “I was young and stupid. I didn’t care if my guy scored 15 on me because I knew I could drop 25 on him,” he explained. “And, coach would tell me to do something and lots of times I just did my own thing. I was a shooter. He wanted me to defer to the guys making more money with the bigger contracts. If I was open—I was shooting. Wasn’t going to pass.” Lou dropped 24 in one preseason game but sat on the bench the next. “Didn’t get along with the coach,” he said.

He blew out his knee in a practice game. His brief stint in the NBA was over. He tried to rehab and come back, but the quickness was long gone. “They didn’t have the ability to fix guys up back then like they do now. I could still shoot lights out.” This stranger talking to me in the parking lot explained how he then went overseas and jumped around from one team to another and kept playing, hoping to get back to the NBA. But that never happened. The legend of “Sweet Lou” was short-lived but his basketball career was not. He played until his body couldn’t play any longer.

He explained: “That’s what baller’s do-they ball,” he chuckled.  We talked for about an hour—Well, he talked for about an hour. I just listened.  I wondered as I drove off that night how many “Sweet Lou’s” there are out there in the world “Ballers ball.” Guys who love the game will keep playing, trying to make it to the NBA or play until their bodies won’t cooperate any longer.

Darius Washington is a baller. His journey is every bit as strange as “Sweet Lou’s” and the former Toro and Spur is still grinding, trying to get back to the NBA.  Currently he’s playing in Puerto Rico for the “Pirates de Quebradillas”. Quebradillas is the city. Washington plays for the Pirates of Quebradillas (not the Pirates of the Caribbean). And, while Puerto Rico is geographically closer to the U.S. mainland than Europe, in NBA terms, European ball is a lot closer to the NBA than Puerto Rican ball. In other words, if the NBA is still the dream, it’s usually a better sign that a player is succeeding in Europe than Puerto Rico. Washington has played in Europe. He’s played in Greece, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Russia and Turkey, not to mention Austin and San Antonio. At 25 years old, Washington keeps balling, because that’s what ballers do.

Washington has been serious about basketball since he was a pre-teen. At the age of 10 he won his first national AAU championship. He was a star High School player at Edgewater High School in Orlando Florida. His senior year he played in a high school showcase game on ESPN. The sky was the limit.

Washington then signed his letter of intent to play basketball in college for the University of Memphis. He was an All-American as a freshman and Conference USA Rookie of the Year, averaging 15 pts and 4 assists per game. The basketball trajectory toward the NBA that had been set when he was ten years old seemed to be perfectly on track.  Washington was playing as he always had—dominant.  But his seemingly bullet-proof aura was shattered in one game. His story turned at the free-throw line of one game.  Mention Washington’s name to fans of Memphis basketball and he is not remembered for his stellar prep career or how he produced at Memphis—he is remembered for this one incident.

In the 2005 Conference USA Tournament, in a game against Louisville, Washington had the opportunity to win the game (or send it to overtime) at the free throw line. Down by two with a few seconds left, he had three shots. A 72% free throw shooter, statistically, he would at least make two. Fans held their breath as Washington sank the first to pull the Tigers within one. Washington looked tight and tense at the line as he released the second shot. The fans groaned as he missed that second shot. The full weight of making that third shot was obvious on Washington’s face as he tensed up and the third shot rimmed out.  Fans stared in disbelief. Guys like Washington come through in the clutch. They don’t disappear. Washington wasn’t the first star to collapse under pressure and he won’t be the last. But for Memphis fans, Washington is remembered for this—and for something else: A decision.


Alumnus Watch: Keith Langford

Former Austin Toros player (2007-2008) Keith Langford seems to have survived budget cuts overseas and could be signing a 4-year deal with BC Khimky Moscow:

The whole of European basketball is in financial crisis, even the richest clubs are reducing their budgets for the coming seasons. But the Russians of Khimky are definitely going against the current trend as it has just extended, for no less than four years, the contract of Keith Langford (born in Fort Worth, 1983, 1.93cm, represented by Greek agent Nick Lotsos) for an average of around 2.300.000 $ guaranteed until 2015.??

Currently, Langford is averaging 17.8 points, 2.6 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and shooting 57.9 percent from the field  in 29.2 minutes for BC Khimky.

Clinch waived by Toros, joins Red Claws

Lewis Clinch, who has been a member of the Austin Toros for the last two seasons, was waived this weekend.

Lewis ClinchIt didn’t take long for Clinch to get picked up. He was recently signed by the Maine Red Claws and scored eight points in his debut with the team yesterday.

Before being waived, the 6-3 Clinch was averaging 8.6 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.

Clinch started the season off on the right foot as the starting shooting guard, averaging over 15 points per game through his first nine games. Then his minutes, and his production on the floor curtailed.

There was another drop in playing time and production in early January, around the same time the Toros signed Aubrey Coleman, who replaced Clinch in the starting lineup.

When the Toros traded for Moses Ehambe, it seemed as though Clinch’s days were numbered.

Mikkayla Guillett, who spotted that Clinch’s name was absent from the roster while she was covering last night’s game against the Vipers, spoke to coach Brad Jones about Clinch after the game.

“Lewis is a good player and he’ll do well wherever he goes,” Jones said. “We just felt like it was time to part ways with him.  We felt like we wanted to get a look at Moses Ehambe and this is the way it works.”

Mikkayla Guillett contributed to this report.

Wanted: Team Willing to Take Player Taller Than 6’4’’

It seems like just the other day Toros Nation co-founder Jeff Garcia and I were telling Eddie Basden bon voyage before he left for his upcoming season with the Philippines Basketball Association. What a difference two weeks can make.

For those of you who don’t know, and I’m going to guess it is the majority of the readers, the PBA has a height limit. Basden was released from Alaska Milk on Monday after measuring 6’4 ¼’’, ¼’’ above the limit. To put things in perspective ¼’’ is equivalent to the diameter of a straw or ballpoint pen.

Basden has yet to confirm the situation of his contract though he has been getting paid since he signed back in September. A return to the NBA D-League would result in a significant pay cut, but would allow Basden to be within arm’s reach of a 10-day contract.

Would the Austin Toros be the right team for Basden?


Former Toros’ player signs with Perth Wildcats

Former Austin Toros’ player Andre Brown has signed with the Perth Wildcats of the NBL. Brown bounced around the NBA and played with the Toros where he averaged 14.9 points and 9.5 rebounds in 2009.

He also spent time with the San Antonio Spurs during the 2006 Rocky Mountain Revue in Salt Lake City.

Alumnus Watch — Alonzo Gee

Former D-League Rookie of the Year and Austin Toros stand out Alonzo Gee led the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in a disturbing 112-57 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center.  Gee put up 12 points and eight rebounds coming off the bench.

Since joining Cleveland late last month, Gee has appeared in seven games with two starts. He’s currently averaging 6.1 ppg and 4.1 rpg in 25 minutes of action. Though these numbers do not scream NBA starter; however, Gee continues to show he might have what it takes to become a solid player in the NBA.

With the NBA’s Washington Wizards in the 2009-2010 NBA season, he averaged 7.4 points, 3.0 rebounds in 11 games. Gee, along with other former D-League players currently in the NBA, provide evidence of how the D-League can be beneficial to NBA teams.

Granted, winning courses through any athletes veins, but playing with the Cavaliers could be an ideal situation for him.

With the Cavaliers floundering, this will provide Gee with substantial time on the court to gain the experience he needs to make it at the NBA level. Something he didn’t get during his time with the San Antonio Spurs.