Photo by Matthew Albert: “Damien Inglis of the Westchester Knicks goes up for a layup.”
For professional basketball players on the cusp of making it professionally in the United States, there are a few routes available to help them reach their goals. The first is playing for the NBA’s D-League, or Developmental League. In the D-league, players improve their skills and could potentially be called up to an NBA team. However, more and more players are choosing an alternative route: playing overseas. To the casual basketball fan, the premise of playing abroad can be perplexing. An injury to an NBA player can open the door for a lower level player if they remain in the U.S. So, this begs the question, why go abroad? For a player aspiring to meet his dreams of reaching the NBA, the discussion follows a different trajectory.
What many casual basketball fans might not know, is that international basketball leagues play a very different style of basketball than American basketball. According to Westchester Knicks Forward Courtney Fells, international basketball more closely resembles the American collegiate basketball system, as opposed to the professional one. “It’s different, more like a college atmosphere. Every game matters, like the NCAA tournament. It’s kinda like that, as opposed to playing 52 games [in the D-League] and 82 in the NBA. It’s more like every game matters.”
With fewer games scheduled in the international season, every player on the floor must be versatile and have the ability to do multiple things. Without the capability of being beneficial in more than one way, players can not maximize the shorter season to its fullest potential. According to another Knicks Forward, Keith Wright, that is why international coaches emphasize plays and diversity more than American coaches. “You know the game is, I’d say, more pure. There’s more emphasis on plays and ball movement. There’s a lot more selflessness out there. A lot of coaches want everybody to be good scorers and everybody to be a threat. So I’d say the game is a little purer there.” The increased emphasis provides more chances for balance, continuity and, ultimately, success.
For players like Fells and Wright, who have experience playing domestically and abroad, the experience of seeing basketball globalize helps themselves, and the game, improve. The globalization of the sport has brought in many talented players, and with them, moves that would have otherwise be left out of the sport. The ability to travel around to as many as 25 countries, in Fells’ case, provides a better understanding of where the game could go, and how it could be elevated in the process. True, all players continue to work towards the same goal: the NBA. Playing internationally is only an extension of the tools given to players in order to achieve that goal, but it opens up how many people will continue to approach the international route for finding success. With a better understanding of how the world plays, a more well-rounded force of players will improve the sport of basketball in general.
By Jeremy Hoffner and Matthew Albert