We’ve all heard about Jonathon Simmons making his way to the NBA after a tryout for the Austin Toros. With his hidden talent, hard work and determination Simmons would eventually play for the San Antonio Spurs.
When the Stars asked me if I’d like to try out for the team, I put my sausage biscuit down, wiped the crumbs from my chest and decided that this was my chance. This would be the rise of the blogger. Years of focusing on stats to prove a personal narrative would now be validated. Years of going to work bleary-eyed after a late night game recap would be proven invaluable. All that knowledge would surely give me the edge to rise above the other players trying out for the team.
Emboldened, I took my measurements to see if I finally hit that mid-thirties growth spurt I’d been hoping for and found that nothing had changed. Standing 5’8” tall with a 5’6” wingspan, it would have to be my mind that would overcome everything. I also decided there was no need to worry about the formalities of body fat percentage. If it ain’t a six-pack it’s all the same, right?
When you go to tryouts you’re given your jersey and asked to sign wavers. These are for people who are actually athletic enough to injure themselves.
I put on my tryout jersey and walked into the gym.
This was the first time the reality of what I was doing set in.
The first person I talked to in the gym was head coach, Martin Schiller. Schiller has been fantastic for the Stars helping to create an environment where players can reach their development goals and one day either play for the Jazz, or somewhere else, professionally.
I warned coach Schiller that I was there to get buckets and he told me he’d love to see it. We said our goodbyes and I made my way to warmups where I promptly missed almost every one of my shots.
Those around me were definitely wondering why they let garden gnomes try out. Between missed shots, I got a chance to look around and see all the different players there trying out.
There were a surprising amount of former college players who had a legitimate shot of doing well. Some of the notable local players were Jonathan Tavernari from BYU and Connor Toolson who played for Utah Valley University. Seeing these players didn’t do a lot of good for my nerves. My previous experience was first cuts every year in high school.
After getting up shots, Schiller blew the whistle and let us know everything that would be happening during the tryout.
Then we started by running laps. It was on lap two when I started breathing heavy and it was during the second warmup the cramps started. The night before I prepared by drinking Diet Mountain Dew and playing a little Skyrim after finishing a blog post. This was a mistake.
After what some would consider a light warmup and stretching (for me it gave me nightmares of when I would do P90X) we did skill development stations.
They had called out our numbers but because of my heavy breathing I didn’t hear my number and just picked a group.
Of everything we did, this was my favorite. The first station I was a part of was for shooting and the next was passing. I actually did okay at these. Next was my most dreaded station: one-on-ones. At this station I was promptly blocked on all but one shot, but was proud of not having my cankles broken.
After skill stations were done, we were all separated into teams for scrimmages. Each team was given two games.
At this point, my legs were solidifying into creaking stubs of wood. But I pressed on. Considering I have the measurements of someone from the Shire, I felt like I was doing pretty well. I grabbed like 3 rebounds and got an assist. Running downt he court at one point I yelled “Check my real plus minus!”
And then it happened, my chance.
My teammate, Connor Toolson, made a steal and I found myself ahead of the pack and called for the ball.
Toolson made a great pass and I went to the hoop.
Underneath the basket watching all of this unfold was Royce O’neale.
With all eyes on me I went for the layup but realized my legs weren’t going to get me there fast enough. The opposing team quickly recovered and blocked my shot but did it with too much body and I crumpled like a falling Jenga tower and the ref blew the whistle. He awarded me a trip to the line for a one and one.
There would be no second free throw because I air-balled it.
Scrimmages ended and Coach Schiller called everyone to the center and he read off who made it past the initial cuts so the team could get a closer look. My name was not called.
Knowing my day was done, I looked around and saw the faces of a lot of guys hoping to hear their name and I couldn’t help but be impressed. Every one of the guys in that gym gave everything they had for a shared dream.
Some are more gifted than others but everyone shares that same love of basketball.
It reminded me that basketball in Utah is a special thing. It’s part of the fabric of this community. Is there anywhere else in the world that the churches all have basketball courts? It’s literally part of religion here.
When you consider the market size, it doesn’t make sense that the Utah Jazz are consistently one of the highest selling arenas in the league. It makes even less sense that there’s more than enough support for the G League Salt Lake City Stars also.
But when you see the guys standing around Coach Schiller praying for their name to be called it’s a reminder that basketball is a part of life here.
Every Stars game is a chance to watch players chase a dream that people like me don’t have a chance to. Maybe that’s why I enjoy every game I go to. It’s good basketball but it feels like something more. Every game, every possession, you’re seeing guys chasing that dream. It’s inspiring.
I may not be playing for the Stars this upcoming season but I’ll certainly be watching as many games as I can. Throughout the tryout multiple guys, the legitimate prospects, cheered me on and gave me high fives of encouragement. I hope all of you will go and cheer on those same players like they did for me. I know I will.