The Undrafted, Episode 1

NBA is not only about the LeBrons, the Currys and the Kobes, it’s also about the guys who fight every summer for a roster spot.

The situation presented in this short story is purely fictional. Most of the names and the facts however are based on reality.

Center-stage was theirs to have…at last. The big NBA logo finely printed on the floor was hypnotizing every player into believing that they finally made it… that they achieved their dream of playing professionally the game they loved most. But for most players – a total of 441 – this was just an illusion. This wasn’t the NBA, it was just ‘A’ beginning. Below the logo, the words ‘Summer League’ stood out reminding those 441 the cold hard truth: they were competing for the last 50 or less roster spots remaining for the 2015 – 2016 NBA regular season.

Nothing was guaranteed for them, not even the day of tomorrow. The franchises only covered their hotel and travel expenses plus a per diem of $127. Beyond that, they were on their own, willing to play a game at ever two days and sometimes even a game a day. Their immediate goal wasn’t to make it to the NBA and play in the regular season…this was still a far-away dream. Their goal was a short-term, non-guaranteed training camp contract: travel and hotel expenses covered, $127 per day plus around $2,000 compensation per week…nothing major and still, light-years away from LeBron’s and Kobe’s millions.

Tyler was one of those dreamers, staying in the shadows yet quietly making his way through the crowd. Head coach Dan Craig was revising the team’s strategy making sure everyone had understood their role. Tyler’s role wasn’t to score, nor play big minutes. He had to defend and facilitate. He just had to make the little things much like in college.

“Play defense and rebound, play for the sake of teammates and make quick decisions to the ball,” he reminded himself as he was watching the coach’s board. That’s what his college coach used to say to him and that’s what helped him throughout his career. He wasn’t as athletic as his teammate James Ennis, nor as skilled as fellow rookie Justise Winslow but he had a big heart and a fiery passion for the game. This is what he wanted to do.

Be a leader and be real tough in everything you do.

That’s what his father has always told him, a former college football player.

Nothing was given to Tyler, every single time he had to step up and take it. He also had his opportunities or his moments of luck as some might say but, as opposed to the majority, he recognized his 15 minutes of fame and took advantage of them at the fullest.

His family had plenty of good stories and all revolved around sports: his father was a college football player, his uncle, a former baseball player, his aunt, a natural-born winner playing soccer alongside Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly at North Carolina, while his grandfather played hockey professionally for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He closely listened to every one of them and learned from their mistakes, from the failures, but also from their success and achievements.

Later, when it was time to pick up a path, he got lucky or better said, opportunity arose: his basketball skills were mediocre at best so nobody qualified was impressed. He only made it to the college basketball team because a more skilled guy didn’t meet the basic academic requirements. He was a fill-in, a ball boy, a towel boy before realizing he could actually play in the NCAA. The only thing he needed to do was rationalize the game: study the route of the ball after it bounces off the rim or backboard, look for patterns and find the most efficient position to crash the boards.

He did the same with his defending and passing; patterns were everywhere and if he paid enough attention to find them, he could learn from them and use them as an edge against his opponents. That’s how he ended up playing over 17 minutes per game in his first NCAA season. By the fourth and final year, he became a true leader of the team and also a closer.

Seize your opportunities!

His grandfather told him when he was younger.

NBA Court
Photo courtesy of USA Today.

Tyler looked up for a moment away from the coach’s board only to see number one pick Karl Anthony-Towns in the distance laughing and having a good time with his young Wolves’ teammates. He was 6-11, 250 pounds of sheer force, earning $5.7 million at just 19 years of age. His teammate, rookie and 24th overall pick Tyus Jones was enjoying himself too; he was NCAA champion and eligible to cash in almost $1.3 million in his first year as an NBA player.

Tyler was undrafted with no real money in his pockets. He had to earn his salary the hard way. Nobody called him prior or in the Draft Day so he more or less expected the outcome. However, he couldn’t hide his disappointment.

With his eyes burning, he turned away from the happy scene to look in the stands. He tried to find familiar faces. In the midst of some empty seats, he found them: they weren’t his family although they would have loved to see him playing. They were his agent and several European scouts who showed interest in signing him. One from Italy, one from France and one from Turkey. Each one was looking for a leader, the type Tyler was, not interested in the homeruns, only in the right plays. He was thankful for those kind of opportunities but first he wanted to see if he can impress some NBA scouts.

“Come on, get a grip son!” he heard a voice calling him back. It was his coach. Tyler flushed and looked down trying to compose himself. “You’re in the NBA!” Dan Craig said smiling at him. The youngster smiled back.

“Am I?” he whispered. He quickly took a peek of mid-court and the words NBA Summer League were still ever-present, too big to count them out. “Maybe not today,” he said to himself turning to face the European scouts. The Frenchman gave a slight nod reminding Tyler of what he was offering: five times the average D-League salary and more playing time. “Maybe not tomorrow… But someday…who knows…”

Tyler Kalinoski is the real-life inspiration behind the main character of this story. He played for the Miami Heat Summer League Team before eventually signing with the French basketball team Chalon.

* HoopsHype and were the main sources behind the real facts in the story.

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