Making a Roster

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(This is an excerpt from Assisted by John Stockton and Kerry L. Pickett.)

“Techniques and approaches for making a roster varied greatly. Many players were convinced they had to show the coaches they had skills, could shoot threes, and be a scorer. Most of the time, they proved that they couldn’t, at least not at that level. Everyone present was skilled or they wouldn’t have been there, so rebounding, blocking shots, and the ability to guard people seemed to be a common denominator among those who stuck. The NBA already had lots of guys who could rip the nets. Unless the player was a high draft choice, the organization probably wasn’t looking for a scoring machine to fill up the stat sheet. What they were looking for in most cases were pieces to an existing puzzle—players who might eventually grow into legitimate stars.

At the other end of the spectrum, some guys were too unselfish. This strategy usually didn’t succeed, either. Production is absolutely required in order to succeed. Reversing the ball and screening out are great things but not if the player fails to create a scoring opportunity for someone else or never actually corrals a rebound. Everyone must bring something to the table and contribute. “Others met their doom simply by reading and believing the local newspaper.

Speculation about available roster spots and cuts often crushed the competitive spirits of guys who otherwise had a real chance. Many terrific basketball players wilted in the face of these unofficial reports. Coach Sloan would tell us, ‘Don’t cut yourself!’ Writers don’t pick the team, but players who read the paper and buy into the printed word can’t help but display a defeatist attitude. They cut themselves! I have come to the conclusion that, just as in life, you have to be yourself when trying out for anything. The best you can ever be is yourself. If you try to be someone else, you will likely fail. The best approach, I think, is to compete at every drill as though it is the world championship. Stay within your abilities but display those abilities as well as you can.

“I determined that if the Jazz were going to cut me, I wanted to make their decision brutally difficult. My own strategy employed my time-honored method of defending every inch of the ninety-four-foot court every second I was in the game. I figured if everyone was bigger and better than me, then by picking up full court, I could get them so tired they might not want to shoot by the time they got to the offensive end of the floor. I also tried to be a great “help” defender using the Minute Man approach—avoiding frontal assaults and causing havoc where I could. Thanks to Fitz and the tapes, I knew the offense, so I could concentrate on transporting the ball up the court securely without burning much time on the shot clock. I took only wide open shots I was certain I would make. Otherwise, I was looking to put the ball into the hands of players who could score. With a line-up of Dantley, Griffith, John ‘The Gunslinger’ Drew, and Thurl Bailey, it didn’t appear the Jazz had drafted a six-foot point guard to try to outscore those guys.

“I played a respectable eighteen minutes per game my rookie season, largely because I did what had gotten me into every ratball or pickup game since grade school. I passed. Rickey Green, ‘The Fastest of Them All,’ as our announcer Hot Rod Hundley had tagged him, pushed the ball with tremendous speed. We were the second-leading scoring team in the league that year largely because of the pace Rickey set. He was a good passer, and the rest of the team had to match his speed if they wanted to score. Frank Layden used to say, ‘A great point guard and a great scorer go hand in hand . . . just not into the showers.’ If the big guys know they will get a pass, they will run like greyhounds. I mimicked Rickey to the extent that I could but looked mostly for the scorers.

“Right or wrong, I felt as though the Salt Palace crowd liked and appreciated the way I played from the start. It seemed they looked forward to my short stints as an enthusiastic backup with full-court pressure and lots of passing. Coach Layden voiced his approval by commenting, ‘Passing is contagious, and this kid makes us want to pass.’ Since that time I have noticed that teams that enjoy passing and like watching their teammates have success tend to be good. They play with a relaxed and patient tempo that is hard to ruffle and hard to guard."

(John Stockton and Kerry L. Pickett, Assisted: An Autobiography [Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2013], 130–32).

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