Top News

It’s not the cash that brings players to NBL

Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers takes the ball to Dallas Mavericks rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. during a recent NBA game. Smith Jr. played at NC State last year, where current St. John’s Edge coach Jeff Dunlap was the director of basketball operations.
Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers takes the ball to Dallas Mavericks rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. during a recent NBA game. Smith Jr. played at NC State, where current St. John’s Edge coach Jeff Dunlap was director of basketball operations. - AP

Rather, it’s about chasing a dream of getting to a higher calibre league; Edge coach hopes to make those dreams come true

By Brendan McCarthy

The Telegram

 

The math is pretty simple, if only because the numbers aren’t that big.

A 12-player roster. A 20-week regular-season schedule. A salary cap of $170,000 Cdn., up a bit from last year.

It works out to an average salary of just over $700 a week for those who end up making the St. John’s Edge, the National Basketball League of Canada expansion team that begins its inaugural season in two week’s time.

That’s about the equivalent of the price of a pair of Lonzo Ball Big Baller basketball shoes, plus taxes, with a little left over for fast-food meal for two.

And that’s the average. Some players make more than that median, leaving less for others.

This is professional basketball. But it’s not big-money basketball.

Yes, players’ living expenses — food and lodging — are covered. Yes, there is additional compensation for those on teams who make the post-season. But no one is getting rich in NBL Canada.

What they’re doing is chasing the dream.

For many, of course, it’s the dream of playing in the National Basketball Association. Some players in the NBLC have played in the NBA — league MVP Royce White of the league champion London Lightning being the most obvious present example — although no one has yet gone from NBL Canada to the NBA.

However, some have moved overseas to leagues at the tier just under the NBA, or to the G-League, the NBA’s top development circuit.

And an assist in that sort of boost-up is part of what head coach Jeff Dunlap was offering as he recruited players for the Edge.

Dunlap has been coaching for a quarter-century, most recently as an assistant at North Carolina State in one of the prominent college basketball programs in the U.S. However, this is his initial first-hand experience at the pro level, where what he is offering players is often less — value-wise — than some scholarships he could promise recruits to NC State.

But there are — setting up a metaphor Dunlap uses — plenty of fish in this hoops sea. You just need the right lure.

“I’ll tell you this. One thing I’ve found out is that there are way more pro athletes out there than there are jobs,” said Dunlap.

“There are a lot of pro leagues out there, but there still are more than enough players to fill them. The pool is vast. So, it’s been my job to swim in the pool and find the good ones.

“Then, when you find a really good one, and he’s deciding between Bulgaria and Canada or Chile and Canada, I’ve got to sell him on why he should come with me.”

The Bulgaria-Chile reference, by the way, was not drawn out of the air. There are professional basketball leagues all over the world. Players in the Edge’s training camp, which began this week in St. John’s, have found themselves in circuits in Luxembourg, Albania and Mexico.

Forward-centre Rudolph Joly isn’t yet at camp in St. John’s because he’s clewing up his second season in a league in Vietnam. He’s alternated between playing in NBL Canada and southeast Asia the last couple of years.

Players often seek out leagues operating in off-seasons so they can double up their earnings in a calendar year.

“One of the things I’m going to push is that as an assistant coach for a large part of my life, individual workouts and training are something that’s in me,” said Dunlap. “On the floor, hands-on, attention to developing skills. That’s the forte of Doug Plumb, my assistant coach, as well.

“So I have been telling these guys, ‘You come here and let us work with you for five months. We’ll go out and win some games and have some fun, but I’m also going to get you better, for one of two things — that when you come back to me the following year, we’re all better, or you go elsewhere and make more money. But whatever happens, you will be better because we’re going to coach you … we’re really going to coach you.’”

If things work out as Dunlap hopes they will, he figures it should facilitate future recruitment to the Edge.

“If I develop into a Euro League player, and I go from a $5,000 player in this league to a $100,000 player over there, well, I’m going to wave your flag, saying ‘Look what they did for me,’ and here’s hoping that attracts others,” he said.

That’s something Dunlap’s had experience with at the college level, where top players are often “one-and-done,” spending a single year at university to fulfill NBA draft rules before going pro.

An example would be former NC State Wolfpack guard Dennis Smith Jr., a top-10 pick in the 2017 draft and considered an early contender for NBA rookie of the year honours.

“He was six months on campus, and then he’s the ninth overall pick of the Dallas Mavericks,” said Dunlap. “When that happens, it makes it easier to recruit the next Dennis Smith.

“They can see what you do and how you’ve done it. That’s the plan here.”

The Edge play their first regular-season game on the road Nov. 18 and make their home debut at Mile One Centre Dec. 1. The full-range of tickets — season tickets, packages, and single-game seats — are now available, with the latter going on sale Friday.

 

brendan.mccarthy@thetelegram.com

 

 

Recent Stories