A reminder of what can happen if basketball doesn’t work out

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From Eyewitness News 7 in New Jersey:

SPARTA, N.J. (WABC) — In New Jersey, four burglary suspects, including a former NBA player, are under arrest after a high-speed chase.

A Sparta police officer stopped the vehicle carrying the suspects for speeding but when he approached the SUV, the suspects took off.

via 4 arrested in NJ after high-speed chase | 7online.com.

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I met Sean Banks at my first NBA Summer League. I was there covering the event for FanHouse (RIP), trying to bring original content in smaller blog posts on things you don’t get from the general coverage (RIP). As part of that gig, I was also covering the D-League for a site I started for SB Nation, Ridiculous Upside (now run by the brilliant and enterprising Scott Schroeder). I had this idea to talk to two fringe D-League guys, one who was one of the better guys in the league, who had great prospects for his career, and the other who was a longshot. I asked around, and the long shot wound up being a guy with incredible talent.

Sean Banks.

Banks was the Conference USA Freshman of the Year in 2004, a 6-8 forward with crazy athleticism, he was naturally gifted at basketball. You don’t score 17.4 points per game for the Memphis Tigers and snatch 6.5 boards as a freshman if you’re not. I keep wondering what he must have thought of his life then, how great everything must have seemed, how certain he must have been that everything was going to work out.

It didn’t.

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After a high-speed chase, the runaway SUV flipped over and crashed trapping the four occupants inside.

via 4 arrested in NJ after high-speed chase | 7online.com.

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I wrote a three-part series (part 1, part 2, part 3) on Banks, and tried to be honest in both of the sides. On the one hand, he had a history of monumentally stupid and illegal behavior, from drunk driving to a gang-oriented marking of a girl with a cigarette.  Meeting him, it was like pretty much every story you hear about these kinds of things. He seemed like a sweet kid. He wasn’t all there, and there was definitely an edge that he was protecting, but he also seemed desperate to try and turn his life around. He talked about his son, about how he had to change when he became a father. He was in great shape. A solid Summer League performance and you could see a team taking a flyer on him again, even after getting cut from the Hornets after a gambling-related suspension. He needed guidance. The talent was there.

He just needed someone to get through to him, to finally knock some sense into him and convince him to commit to all the things he said he wanted to do.

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Police say they recovered more than $20 thousand worth of valuables, from two burglaries, inside the suspect’s SUV.

via 4 arrested in NJ after high-speed chase | 7online.com.

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Banks didn’t play well in that Summer League, as you can probably guess. He had two plays which were absolutely tremendous, and I saw scouts raise their eyebrows. But looking back, I wonder if there was anything that could have convinced a team to take a chance on him. He’d shown too great of a void in judgment. His coaches in the D-League, which is the one place that should show you “This is it, there is nowhere lower for you to drop in terms of being paid to play basketball; if you don’t make it here, it’s over” talked about him being a headcase, about how frustrating it was to try and get through to him.

And still, Sean was trying to stay positive. He was really excited about the possibility of playing for Britain’s national team. He was really certain that he would get things right because of his son. He was sure that if he just kept his head down and kept working, things would work out for him. He was nervous, he was scared, but he had so much hope, still, even if he was the same knucklehead he’d always been. He didn’t want things to go badly for him, didn’t want to make a bad decision.

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Police have identified one of them as Sean Banks, a former NBA player who was cut from his team after being suspended for gambling.

via 4 arrested in NJ after high-speed chase | 7online.com

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This isn’t to try and say that Banks was a good kid who had things go bad for him. He made these decisions. He chose to live his life this way. He wound up back in the D-League last season, averaged 10 points and 2 rebounds in 20 minutes per night. Now he’s in all likelihood going to jail for a long time. Maybe he was always going to end up like this, no matter what. I spoke to him for a combined three hours over three days. I don’t have any huge knowledge of who Sean Banks is.

I want to say that this is why the D-League matters, why it needs more resources. Banks could play, at one level or another. Maybe he couldn’t do anything else in life, but he could play. With more resources I want to believe maybe someone could have convinced him to keep at it, to not turn to crime, again, as a way of life. (Banks is also a suspect in three other burglaries.) And maybe it would have failed, maybe he’d still be in a New Jersey jail cell, but it would have been worth a shot, to try and have a kid’s athletic potential turn into something more than this.

And then I think about how many coaches must have tried to get through to him, how his agent must have tried to, how even if no one really sat down and put forth the effort to help someone who didn’t want to help themselves, there were people that offered a hand. We make our decisions, and we live with them.

It’s just still sad that so often we make the wrong ones. I have enough sense not to excuse Banks or to believe he’s misunderstood, but I also have enough compassion to regret that things came to this, that his life came to this.

“I’m only 23, you know?  I’ve got so much ahead of me, so much to look forward to, in basketball and out of it.  I know I’ve still got so much potential.  I just have to work for it.” – Sean Banks, 2008

via No Entry: Summer League with Sean Banks, Part III – Ridiculous Upside.

Three Things to Know: If playoffs started today Lakers would be the eight seed

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) After beating Bulls, if playoffs started today Lakers would be the eight seed. The Lakers have been better than advertised this young season… but a playoff team?

Yes. If the playoffs started today, the Lakers would be the eighth seed.

While everyone seems to focus on Lonzo Ball’s lack of a jumper (he was 3-of-13 Tuesday, 2-of-8 from three), the Lakers have produced the fourth-best defense in the NBA, allowing just 100.3 points per 100 possessions. It’s a shocking improvement from the team with the worst defense in the NBA last season, they are allowing 10.3 points fewer per 100 possessions than a season ago. Los Angeles runs out a long, athletic lineup with a well-positioned backstop big in Brook Lopez in the paint. Maybe fourth in the NBA is not sustainable (teams are shooting just 31.9 percent from three against L.A., and that’s not so much defense as luck), but the Lakers are improved defensively.

That defense keeps the Lakers in games, then thanks to flurries from an inconsistent offense the Lakers 8-10 to start the season after knocking off the Chicago Bulls 103-94. Chicago led by 19 in the second and early third, but the Lakers rallied behind Julius Randle and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Western Conference that was expected to be so deep going into the season is watching good teams stumble (Oklahoma City) and other teams struggle with injuries (Memphis, Utah, L.A. Clippers). It has opened the door for now, and the Lakers have stepped in. Or, at least not fallen out.

I still don’t expect the Lakers in the postseason when we get to April, and their young core is still a work in progress, but this start is a big boost to the confidence of the team. It’s a step in the direction they want to go.

2) Denver loses Paul Millsap for three months due to wrist surgery. Last season, Denver had one of the worst defenses in the NBA. This season they are middle of the pack — a substantial improvement. Paul Millsap is a big part of that, the Nuggets have been 4.5 points per 100 possessions better when Millsap has been on the court this season.

Which is why it’s going to hurt so much that he is out to have wrist surgery, he is out three months or so (think return after the All-Star Game).

Millsap inked a team-friendly three-year, $90 million contract with Denver over the summer (the third season is not guaranteed). He is averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds a game, numbers are down a little from previous years (as were his shots as he adjusted), but things have looked up lately. Millsap seemed to be finding a groove during the recent streak when Denver won 4-of-5. He and the Nuggets were figuring out how to play together. Now that is on hold, and Denver goes from a team that looked like a playoff lock in the West to one to watch. Injuries are shaping the West playoff race right now in a massive way.

3) Worst. Free throw. Ever. This was on Shaqtin’ last week, but it is too good not to post, in case you haven’t seen it.

"This is the worst free throw of all-time!" 😂 Shaq goes overseas for Week 5's #Shaqtin winner 🏆

A post shared by NBA on TNT (@nbaontnt) on

Report: Manute Bol’s birthday was made up, may have played in NBA at age 50

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Former NBA center Manute Bol was a sight to behold when he came to the United States for college. At 7-foot-7 and just 200 pounds, his slight frame was always shocking to the eye.

Bol passed away in 2010, but stories about the Sudanese big man have been top of mind lately as his son, Bol Bol, recently committed to play basketball at the University of Oregon.

A recent story has surfaced about the elder Bol and the purported age at which he entered the NBA and played.

According to former Cleveland State coach Kevin Mackey, he was the one who decided Bol’s birthday was October 16, 1962. This was apparently because it wasn’t clear just how old Bol was at the time.

Via Zagsblog:

“I gave him his birthday because they didn’t know how old he was,” Mackey, now a scout with the Indiana Pacers, told ZAGSBLOG.

But Mackey says Bol was probably much older and could have been in his 40s or even 50s when he played in the NBA. According to Wikipedia, Manute played in the NBA from his early 20s until his early 30s for various teams, including the Washington Bullets, Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers.

“The immigration people were in the office [at Cleveland State] and they thought it was great. They loved it. And they were big fans of Cleveland State, they used to come to all our games. They wanted to cover themselves because Manute was starting to get so much publicity. His picture was in the paper. He was on the 6 o’clock news because he was a such a different looking guy than everyone else. At that time, no one had ever seen anything like it.”
So at that point, Mackey worked with the local immigration office to come up with a birthday for Bol, Oct. 16, 1962
“It was in October, I wanted to make it after Sept. 1,” Mackey said. “I wanted to make sure he was young enough because he didn’t have an age. I think he was [in his 40s], I really do. But there’s no way of ever really knowing.”

Bol didn’t end up playing at Cleveland State, reportedly because his English was not good enough. He wound up playing at the University of Bridgeport before getting drafted by the Washington Bullets with the 31st pick in the 1985 NBA Draft.

Mackey is now a scout with the Indiana Pacers, and he is so far the only person telling this story. If it is true, it would have been an incredible feat for Bol to play in the NBA into his 40s.

Patrick Beverley after Clippers’ 9th-straight loss: “This ain’t how I roll”

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The Los Angeles Clippers are bad. The team has lost nine straight games since beating the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 1.

LA has looked discombobulated, and even their stars have struggled. Over the past 10 games, for example, Blake Griffin is shooting an unthinkable 38.2 percent from the field. Griffin’s shooting percentage now sits 10 points below his career average.

So too have guys like DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers struggled, either in scoring the basketball or in effecting resistance on the defensive end. The Clippers are ranked just 21st on defense according to Basketball Reference, a dip from 12th the year before.

Oh, and Danilo Gallinari is hurt, but you probably already saw that coming.

Meanwhile, Chris Paul‘s replacement at PG is Patrick Beverley, an equally tenacious defender and motivator of playoff squads. After Monday’s loss to the New York Knicks, Beverley spoke to reporters about the team needing to play harder and mature faster.

Via the LA Times:

“This … feels like 100 losses,” Beverley said. “Straight up. This … is weak. This ain’t how I roll. That ain’t OK and I won’t allow it to be OK as long as I’m here. That’s a fact.”

“We just got to play harder. That’s it. We just got to play harder. You get rid of the mistakes by playing hard. We’re not playing hard; the first unit, not the whole team. I challenged the first unit to play harder.”

“We too cool. We too cool. We come in this game, we come on the court like people are supposed to back down because of the name on the back of our jerseys and that’s not the case. The only thing people are looking at is the name on the front of our jersey, and that’s nine losses in a row.”

Beverley is an intense dude, but the Clippers issues are systemic and aren’t likely to right themselves. Remember, this is a Western Conference where the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, and Memphis Grizzlies have all had injuries. Portland has floundered out of the gate. If there was a time to strike, it would be now for LA.

Instead, the Clippers are one of the teams that are struggling along with the rest of the aforementioned teams. I’m not sure what Beverley will be able to do about that.

Steven Adams says Thunder late-game struggles on him, not Westbrook/George/Anthony

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In the first half of games this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the best defense in the NBA, allowing just 91.7 points per 100 possessions. In those first 24 minutes, the Thunder are outscoring teams by 12.7 points per 100 possessions, second best in the NBA (Houston is first).

However, in the fourth quarter, the Thunder defense is 18.1 points per 100 possessions worse. Their offense stagnates late in games with a lot of “you take a turn and then it’s my turn” isolation between Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony.

The Thunder have nine losses this season, and OKC lost double-digit leads in six of those. Monday night it was a 19-point lead against New Orleans where the Pelicans — without DeMarcus Cousins — came back to win 114-107.

There’s a lot of blame and finger-pointing going on in Oklahoma City, but Steven Adams said less of that should be at the three stars and more of it should be at him. Via Royce Young at ESPN:

“Mainly me, to be honest (should be blamed). Because the play itself you have to execute it properly and it has to be legit down to the t. I screwed up my feet on a couple of them in terms of spacing. … Everyone plays a part in the plight so you can say yeah the shot doesn’t go in which sucks. But to get them that shot I didn’t help them.”

Adams can take on a little of the blame, but this is a team thing right now — everyone has earned some blame. Billy Donovan as coach, role players like Andre Roberson or Patrick Patterson who have not lived up to expectations this season, and yes Westbrook/George/Anthony have earned some blame, too. It’s a little bit of everything.

There’s also time for the Thunder to figure it out, but they are on the clock as this is a one-year experiment in Oklahoma City (no way they pay the whopping tax coming next season to keep all three stars and Adams, no matter what ownership says publicly).