Two former collegiate basketball stars busted for gambling played a game against each other in front of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Sunday at a posh high school in Coconut Grove.
After it was over, Teddy Dupay of Florida fame handed out business cards, and Brandon Johnson of the University of San Diego, less than a year removed from his prison sentence for fixing games, seemed more concerned about getting a picture with Spoelstra than possibly earning a spot with the Heat’s D-League affiliate.
So, in other words, there was a little awkwardness at the open tryout for the Sioux Falls Skyforce over the weekend.
For what it’s worth, Dupay and Johnson, both point guards, both linked by varying degrees to controversies that ruined their careers, are still excellent basketball players. Dupay is 35 years old, so he’s years removed from the body of that quick guard who helped transform University of Florida basketball into a national power. Still, he’s in great shape and his old-man game is on point, if not ruggedly overaggressive.
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The 28-year-old Johnson, if someone would give him a chance, looks like he could still play professionally.
The peculiar scene of Dupay vs. Johnson at Ransom Everglades Upper School wasn’t something planned or staged, but rather just another bit of quirky randomness during open-tryout day for a minor-league basketball team in South Dakota run by guys based out of Miami.
About 130 players answered the public invitation and paid registration fees to try out for the team, so there was no shortage of characters and dreamers. To wit:
▪ The guy wearing $250 shoes who wouldn’t be picked last for a pick-up game at Google.
▪ The short guy with designer glasses, a headband and hair twists who repeatedly walked onto the court in between drills just to get rim, and then, every time, look around to see who was watching him jump and grab the rim.
▪ The 6-9, 280-pound giant who declared for the NBA out of high school back in the day only to not get drafted.
▪ OK, there were more like three or four guys from the Google campus pick-up game.
▪ The defensive spazz.
▪ Hands-always-clapping guy.
▪ The 6-5 Shaggy Rogers with the scary clown tattoo. And the clown is shooting an Uzi.
▪ Pretty much everyone’s girlfriend trying to peek through the gym door’s tiny windows to watch their #bae.
So, basically, the tryout was a lot like every pickup game ever at Globo Gym, except there were NBA coaches and executives watching and eating doughnuts.
Spoelstra, who arrived back in Miami from San Antonio at 4:30 a.m. Sunday, held chest high an extra large cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee as he stood and observed the tryout next to Heat general manager Andy Elisburg.
The Skyforce is preparing for the D-League preseason, and a few players from the open tryout might be invited to fill out the training camp roster. It’s doubtful, but one or two of the guys who were at Ransom Everglades might actually earn a roster spot with the Skyforce, which uses coaches hired by the Heat.
The dream scenario, of course — and isn’t everyone willing to lay down a little money for a dream — is catching on with the Skyforce, attracting the attention of more pro scouts and then becoming a full-time professional basketball player with shoe deals and groupies.
That’s not reality, of course, but by the looks of it that’s why some of Sunday’s daydreamers plunked down $150 to run through a few drills. Not for the groupies, mind you — that’s just me being cynical — but for the magic of a dream.
Days like Sunday are reminders that no matter how corporate and big the NBA gets, there will always be a basic level of accessibility about the league that gives it a grassroots appeal. All anyone really needs is a ball and some desire and some fresh Air Jordans and they can be happily tricked into thinking the star on TV could be them.
That’s what put Brandon Turetsky in a car this weekend and drove him from Lake Placid, Florida, to Coconut Grove.
Turetsky is 27 years old and 5-5, and paints driveways for a living. He was the shortest player in the gym on Sunday, and, according to him, the fastest, too.
“I ran a 4.3 40 in high school,” Turetsky said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could make it.”
Turetsky, along with 29 other players, were unceremoniously cut from the second of the day’s three tryout sessions about an hour after it started. Justin Pierce, combo guard, 23 years old, was also among the quickly cut. He traveled 14 hours from Virginia Beach, Virginia., for the tryout. His mom helped him drive. He played for Division III Averett University in Danville, Virginia.
How long is he going to keep pursing his dream of pro ball?
“As long as my legs are fresh,” Pierce said.
American football is the unquestioned domestic giant, but the smart long-term bet for success is basketball.
Last week, commissioner Adam Silver and his enterprising colleagues in the league office struck a deal with the Ministry of Education of China to teach basketball in elementary, middle and high schools across the country.
Basketball’s pixie dust is powerful stuff. If open D-League tryouts can be this curious in uppity Coconut Grove, just wait until they get to Beijing.