Each NBA team can have a maximum of 15 players, meaning that a maximum of 450 players are in the League at any one time. It is definitely hard work to get to the world’s premier basketball league, and players take a variety of routes to the top.
The One Who Just Did Not Give Up
Symbolic player: Ben Wallace
This player is the antithesis of the phenom, not expected to beat the odds to make the NBA or perhaps a complete unknown. Tenacity is the name of his game, as he overcomes years of doubt and failures to achieve his dream. As a high school player, he is often hidden in the shadows at a small school in a small state or possibly being overshadowed by more illustrious teammates.
Subsequently, they are lightly-recruited by Division I colleges. At times, they do not even end up at a Division I school, for instance with the hulking Ben Wallace, who first played junior college ball at Cuyahoga Community College. Despite showcasing his defensive prowess by averaging nearly seven blocks per game, he only managed to earn a transfer to Division II Virginia Union University.
As a result of playing outside the spotlight, these players often go undrafted like Wallace did in 1996, or like Jeremy Lin back in 2010. The undrafted status is the beginning of a long grind, filled with summer league appearance, training camp invites and years of proving their worth in the G League. For some others, such as Patrick Beverley, a globetrotting adventure awaits, to faraway lands such as Ukraine, Greece and Russia, where he honed his craft and awaited the elusive call to the NBA.
Even for the best of the lot, this persistence can take years to pay off. Few can match the dogged determination of the 2017-18 NBA season’s feel-good story, Andre Ingram, who toiled in the G League for more than a decade before getting a call-up to the Lakers squad. For those who do make it, defense and energy are frequently their calling cards. Guys like Wallace, Beverley and fellow undrafted legend Bruce Bowen are regulars on the All-Defensive Teams, as are exemplary second round steals Dennis Rodman and Draymond Green. From time to time however, there are breakout stars such as Isaiah Thomas who make their living by dropping buckets on a nightly basis, despite being the very last pick of the draft.
With the 2018 NBA Draft, there is a brand new set of undrafted but unbroken free agents, eager to prove that they belong in the League. Collegiate stars such as Allonzo Trier, Trevon Duval, Theo Pinson and Japanese prospect Yuta Watanabe will need to display their drive and unrelenting motor to stick around in the NBA. If they do make the cut, the long and winding journey would only serve to make the destination that much sweeter.