Utah Jazz: Sundiata Gaines, Othyus Jeffers stand apart from D-League counterparts
Once an NBADL player reaches the NBA, sticking there usually requires as much effort as getting an initial call-up. Fifty-four players were called up in the last three seasons prior to this one. Out of that group, only 10 players are still with an NBA team.
Utah Flash coach Brad Jones sees the process of making it from the D-League to the NBA similar to building a career in another profession. A player has to start at the end of the bench and do the little things necessary to climb the ladder.
A player who hustles and plays hard, Jones said, is a player who can develop staying power in the NBA.
"That's kind of what teams are looking for," Jones said. "They are looking for the toughness and the efficiency because not many guys will leave this league and go be starters in the NBA right away."
Some former D-Leaguers do claim starting roles eventually.
Chris Hunter and Anthony Tolliver start at center and power forward, respectively, for the Golden State Warriors. Chuck Hayes starts at center for the Houston Rockets. And former NBADL players like Rafer Alston and Bobby Simmons have enjoyed stints as starters at different points in their NBA careers.
Other former D-Leaguers — like Denver Nuggets forward Chris Andersen — are on NBA rosters as key role players off the bench.
One thing that is helping more and more players get call-ups from D-League teams is the affiliation those teams enjoy. They work closely with the parent NBA clubs and function as a training ground for that team's offensive and defensive schemes.
"It definitely develops players a lot," Gaines said. "About half the teams used the same offense as the NBA teams they're affiliated with — so if they get called up, they got a good idea of what is going on."
There is no guarantee that either Gaines or Jeffers will be on an NBA roster beyond this season. Still, even if the odds of sticking around are long at best, both players feel confident they can stay at this level now that they understand what it takes to get here in the first place.
"I wasn't supposed to make it from the NAIA," Jeffers said. "I wasn't supposed to make it to the D-League. This is about knowing you can play basketball and believing in what you can do."
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