FRISCO, Texas — Greg Ostertag admits he was fed up with basketball. That was why in 2006, after his 11th season in the NBA, including 10 in Utah, he walked away at age 33.
"Just burned out, tired at the time. I shouldn't have (retired) but I did and here I am," Ostertag said. "I was tired of playing basketball — the travel, the hotels, the practices and a lot of the other BS that goes with basketball. At the time, I was done."
But after a year away, he found himself missing the game and after several previous comeback attempts he landed with the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League in December.
"I just still wanted to play. I missed it and wanted to give it one more shot to see if I still had it," Ostertag said. "I believe I still have a little bit left in the tank. I'll give this a good little shot here for a while and if it doesn't pan out, it doesn't pan out."
The move is a good fit for the 38-year-old big man on several fronts. One, the Legends play in Frisco, a northern Dallas suburb and Ostertag is from the area. Two, the team is affiliated with the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, the same team he grew up rooting for.
So far, he has played two games for the Legends and is averaging 9.5 rebounds and 3.5 points over about 20 minutes a night. "It's been fun. These guys are all good players. They work hard," he said. "You've got to come ready to play every night."
However, it's clear that he isn't yet in game shape, something that looks to be his biggest obstacle toward a return to the Association. "Getting in better shape (is my primary goal right now)," Ostertag said. "I think I still have ability. I'm a big body. I know how to rebound, block shots, put balls back and clog up the middle. It's just a matter of getting in good enough shape to go out and play at that higher level."
With the Legends, he's playing for Del Harris, the 1995 NBA Coach of the Year. Harris likes what he has seen from the ex-Jazz big man early on but also acknowledges that if he is to get another chance in the NBA, it will be a rough road.
"It's going to be a tough hill to climb. Two factors — being 38 and being out of it for five years — but he is motivated and he's working at it," Harris said. "It's not going to take what would be classified as a miracle, but it's going to be hard work, very hard work. To this point, he's putting that in and he's getting better."
Whether Ostertag makes it back to the NBA or not, his new head coach has already seen him have a positive impact on his younger teammates by providing veteran leadership.
"It's been five years but it doesn't matter how long you've been out, you still have the experience. He's using his experience right now to help him through because he's not, obviously, in playing condition but he's also helping the younger guys," Harris said. "He's a good guy to have around."
And showing his young teammates the ropes is definitely something he enjoys about being in the D-League. "I speak up when I think that it needs to be done but these guys come to play and they practice hard," Ostertag said. "If someone asks me something, I'll put my two cents in. Matt (Rogers) has asked me a few questions on stuff he could do differently and I've been more than happy to help him."
The 7-foot-2 center spent a decade manning the paint in Utah and as he looks back, views his time with the Jazz as an overwhelmingly positive experience.
"I had a lot of fun. I got fortunate enough to be drafted where I was and played with John (Stockton), Karl (Malone) and Jeff Hornacek. I had a lot of good teammates," Ostertag said. "We had a lot of good teams, a good run. I had some good years."
But he's also been out of the league long enough to view his time in the Association objectively and realizes there is plenty he would do differently should he get a second chance.
"Looking back on it now with what I know now, I would change a lot of things. I would do a lot of things differently," Ostertag said. "I would have worked harder and been a better player, the player that I know I could be instead of just taking it for granted. I was 7-foot, going from there and being mediocre. I have regrets in some things and some things I don't."
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