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Joel Bolomboy is Dreaming of Another Shot in the NBA

Joel Bolomboy was raised on dreaming, and he’s worked those dreams into an NBA reality.

Dennis Chambers

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Joel Bolomboy was raised on dreaming.

When he was four years old, his parents picked up and moved halfway across the world from Ukraine to the United States. At the time, he was an only child. His parents wanted to start a life full of opportunities for their growing family, which would soon accompany Bolomboy with three younger sisters. The best way to do so was to chase the American Dream.

Throughout his life, both personal and on the basketball court, Bolomboy continues to carry that dreamer’s mentality to further himself with the opportunities his parents provided him nearly 20 years ago. To understand the success he’s been able to find on his journey, you first need to understand the route he chose to get there.

For Bolomboy, his path to professional basketball didn’t start with a plastic Fisher-Price hoop and a cliche story of him making his first basket before he could even walk. Playing basketball wasn’t even the first sport he gave his full attention to when growing up.

After moving from Ukraine to Texas, Bolomboy spent his time in adolescence doing a lot of the same stuff every kid in America does. He watched TV a lot, he got acquainted with a skateboard, he tried every sport under the sun. Tennis, track, football, anything to keep him occupied as he became integrated into the American culture. As the 6-foot-10 sweet-shooting big man says himself, “I can play any sport you can think about.”

When the Texas heat became a bit too unbearable for the outdoor sports, though, Bolomboy shifted his focus to basketball. Towering over most middle schoolers at the time, standing at 6-foot-2 in eighth grade, Bolomboy was nudged in the direction of the hardwood by his best friend’s father, Gerald Sledge.

Sledge was the coach at Central High School in Keller, Texas. With his free time, he would come down to Bolomboy’s middle school to try to find players for his team, while simultaneously offering advice and workouts to the students. That’s where it all began for Bolomboy.

“(Sledge) would come in a few times a week,” Bolomboy said. “And like, nobody would go over there except for his son, and his name was Lawrence. So, I was like, maybe I should go over there. You know, I was playing football and I wasn’t really into it just because there were so many guys. It was an outdoor sport and growing up in Texas, it was really hot, always hot. I just felt like it wasn’t for me. So, I just kept going to basketball working on my game. And I just got better and better at and just kind of went from there.”

Go from there, he did. Bolomboy used his size advantage coupled with the natural athleticism he displayed growing up to play his way onto the radar of college basketball coaches around the country. His future in the sport looked bright. Colleges like Florida State and Clemson expressed their interest in signing Bolomboy, but those offers from high-major programs didn’t connect with the high schooler at the time.

Instead, it was mid-major Weber State and Phil Beckner who won the services of Bolomboy, not knowing at the time they were signing a player who would go on to be one of the most decorated in program history.

“Those schools like Florida State,” Bolomboy said. “I remember them telling me that if I go there, they wanted me to be a redshirt my first year. It just didn’t seem right. You know, kind of bigger schools, they felt like they were just kind of hearing about me and came into the picture and they really know, who I was, about my game.

“I think the main reason why I picked Weber State just because the coaching staff they had in place and all the guys that were there, I kind of like them a lot,” Bolomboy said. “And just like, the main reason is because they believed in me and they had a plan for me. They also showed me a long-term plan because they had a guy named Phil Beckner and he’s the one who recruited me and he was really good at developing players. But, Dame, he always says like Coach Phil, the coach who recruited me, he’s the biggest reason why he’s in the NBA. So, I took that into consideration.”

Getting to the NBA is no easy task for any player. Every year thousands of college basketball players line up for a chance to be drafted in one of the 60 slots, and the rest scramble to fill in summer league invites and training camp opportunities. When a player has the pedigree of a Kentucky or Duke, sometimes life is a bit easier in landing that chance.

Coming from Weber State? Well, the work was cut out for Bolomboy.

All he did during his time in college was dominate, though. In 2016, Bolomboy was named Big Sky Player of the Year. He left Weber State as the program’s all-time leading rebounder, too.

The mid-major to NBA road is one less traveled, for sure, but Bolomboy was never worried about that standing in the way of his chances.

“I knew that getting into the NBA would all come eventually,” Bolomboy said. “The main thing for me was to continue to get better and just being stronger. And if you could play, you’re an NBA caliber player, those guys, that’s what they get paid for. Those scouts, they find you out there.”

When Bolomboy made his way to the NBA Draft Combine ahead of the 2016 draft, he found himself around all of those same players from the high-major schools that passed him over. It was his opportunity to prove to himself something he knew all along: that he belonged in the same gym with all of those guys.

“What really put me over the top was when I did all of my athletic testing,” Bolomboy said. “And I felt like I was much better and more explosive than those guys. When we started playing, I was playing good and I was playing better than a lot of those guys. I was finishing at the rim, hitting my three’s, rebounding and doing what I normally do.”

The impressive combine performance led to another dream few ever realize: being drafted into the NBA. In the second round, with the Utah Jazz picking 52nd overall, Bolomboy saw his name pop up on the screen while surrounded by friends and family.

“It was such a good night just to hear my name called,” Bolomboy said. “I teared up and stuff like that just knowing all of my hard work and everything I did, just to hear my name called, it all paid off. It was just the start of everything.”

Once life in the NBA begins, nothing is guaranteed. Unless you’re a first-round pick, the money usually isn’t, either. Getting to the league is a battle in its own right, but the real fight begins once you’re there. For Bolomboy, his journey since seeing his name flash across that screen has been a prime example of that grind.

After spending his rookie season with the Jazz among the likes of Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Trey Lyles, opportunities for court time came few and far between. It was in that first season that Bolomboy experienced the back and forth of being on both an NBA squad and a G-League squad; he appeared in 24 games for the Salt Lake City Stars. Spending time down in the G-League helped keep Bolomboy sharp throughout the season.

This season for Bolomboy has been spent primarily in the G-League, with the Wisconsin Herd. Taking the learning experience he gained last year while around the Jazz, the forward has turned in one of the most impressive seasons the developmental league has seen. Averaging 17 points, 10.5 rebounds, and shooting 59 percent from the floor, Bolomboy has once again found himself squarely on the radar of NBA clubs.

With the way the game of basketball is evolving, more big men are asked to step out to the three-point line. After attempting just one three-pointer in his first two years of college, Bolomboy has developed into a legitimate shot-maker from beyond the arc. Last season in the G-League, he made 21 of his 46 attempts.

“Coaches always told me if I’m open to shoot it and don’t even hesitate,” Bolomboy said of his G-League experience last season. “It will make defenses respect you more because for me when I am on the perimeter and for a guy to sag off me two to three feet, that’s disrespectful.”

From Ukraine to America, Bolomboy has developed more than a jump shot. He’s developed the opportunity to succeed, not just on the basketball court, but in life as well. His parents dreamed of a better life when they moved to the United States, and Bolomboy grew up dreaming of a shot at the NBA. Both things have come true, for the most part.

While Bolomboy waits for his next opportunity on the big stage, don’t expect him to just sit around and dream about it, though. He’ll be working harder than ever to make that dream a reality.

“Whoever is going to give me that chance, I won’t let them down,” Bolomboy said. “That’s for sure.”

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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G-League

Sources: DeMarcus Cousins to Practice with G-League Team

Basketball Insiders

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Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins is expected to practice with the G-League Santa Cruz Warriors on Monday, a source told @espn @TheUndefeated.

Source: Marc J. Spears on Twitter

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G-League

NBA Daily: Four Early Favorites To Earn G-League Call-Up

It’s never too early to scour the G-League for potential call-ups — so here are four familiar names worth keeping an eye on.

Ben Nadeau

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While Basketball Insiders has searched for answers both inwardly and outwardly in recent weeks by examing areas of concern and potential trade chips, there’s a third path to improvement that’s generally less taken. Over the years, the G-League has grown immensely in popularity and once the New Orleans Pelicans add an affiliate next season, there will 28 franchises in play — a far cry from the paltry eight that kicked it all off back in 2001-02. It’s always been a difficult road to reach the professional level via these alternative methods, but thanks to two-way contracts, it’s now a much more palatable path. From Yogi Ferrell to Trey Burke and Georges Niang and many others in between, it’s no longer a far-fetched fantasy reserved for a select few.

In fact, officials even announced their new college alternative route in October, giving elite prospects another way to reach their loftiest goals and dreams. But with teams looking evolve at every corner, signing players out of the G-League is always an option and it’s never too early to look at candidates on that frontier. Of course, those signed to two-way and fully guaranteed contracts won’t be included here — sorry, Allonzo Trier — but if these minor league studs keep it up, their next big-time opportunity could be on the horizon soon enough.

John Jenkins — Westchester Knicks

He’s the hottest face in the G-League that isn’t currently tied up through a two-way deal — but if John Jenkins maintains his torrid pace, he won’t be there for long. Through eight games, Jenkins has averaged 28.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 3.8 three-pointers per game on a blistering 50 percent from deep. Jenkins went No. 23 overall to the Atlanta Hawks back in 2012 before bouncing between Dallas and Phoenix until he took his sharpshooting talents overseas for a season. Although his stint with the San Pablo Burgos lasted just one year (12.7 points, 1.3 assists), it was enough for Jenkins to sign a training camp deal with the Knicks this fall.

Jenkins, 27, has recently stated his desire to jump from Westchester to New York — even crediting Knicks’ head coach David Fizdale for his recent scoring uptick — but he’ll have to wait until the aforementioned Trier gets his two-way deal converted first. Trier, naturally, was supposed to play in these contests alongside Jenkins, but the former immediately stuck with New York and has averaged 23.2 minutes per game. If Westchester doesn’t roll the dice on Jenkins, somebody will. This is a former first round-worthy talent that’s hitting three-pointers at an elite clip, a skill that NBA franchises will always need.

Chasson Randle — Capital City Go-Go

It’s been a hectic two-month swing for Chasson Randle, but he’s not letting it impact his on-court game whatsoever. Signed by the Washington Wizards for training camp, Randle was then cut, added to the training camp roster for the Go-Go, signed again by Washington and then finally waived once more a few weeks ago. Randle rejoined the Go-Go shortly thereafter and has been tearing up the floor ever since. In his three appearances thus far for Capitol City, Randle has pulled down 27.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists and three steals per game, the type of line that will have franchises paying attention before too long. As a 6-foot-2 point guard, it was always going to be a tough initial battle to make Washington’s backcourt-heavy roster — but he nearly did so anyway. Randle has played in just 26 NBA games since he went undrafted in 2015, even stopping for stints in the Czech Republic and Spain as well.

Randle, 25, had a chance to make the Knicks’ roster last season before he was waived in order to facilitate the Carmelo Anthony trade with Oklahoma City. Instead of taking the G-League route, Randle signed up for a season overseas with Real Madrid, winning trophies next to wunderkind Luka Doncic — albeit in a reserve backup role. Still, Randle has sticking potential as outside factors have seemingly aligned against him time and time again in his professional journey. Should the Wizards blow it up — or even look for a change of pace in the second unit — Randle could be the next man up. Now an international champion, the hard-nosed Randle has certainly paid his dues, he’s just waiting for his chance to prove it.

Of note, both Randle and Jenkins were recently selected to the USA World Cup Qualifying Team and will play against Argentina and Uruguay over the next week.

Terrence Jones — Erie BayHawks

Yes, that Terrence Jones! The same Jones that was one of the top-rated high school players in his class, won an NCAA championship in 2012 with Kentucky and then went No. 18 overall a few months later. Sure, Jones, 26, has struggled to stay on a roster, but his talent has never been questioned — perhaps now, finally, it is his time to shine. Through six contests, Jones is averaging a healthy 25.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game on 53.5 percent from the floor. Always viewed as a potential game-changer defensively, Jones’ athletic nature could be a tantalizing gamble for a franchise come January.

Following short stays with the New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks in 2016-17, Jones took detours to both China and the G-League. Jones was released from the Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles after a confrontation with the head coach last year, but he had been averaging 22.3 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game at that time. Upon his return from China, Jones then latched on with the Santa Cruz Warriors, holding his own over 16 games as well. It’s surely disappointing that Jones didn’t work things out his first time through the rodeo, but he’s proven to be a capable player at almost every stop — NBA, G-League and overseas.

On Friday night, Jones was unstoppable during the Bayhawks’ massive win over Greensboro, tallying 33 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists and two steals — so, yes, there’s plenty of talent left in this project. Given his shaky off-court history, Jones’ next opportunity may be hard to come by, but it has the potential to pay off massively.

Willie Reed — Salt Lake City Stars

The case of Willie Reed is certainly intriguing — but even at the age of 28, he still has the resume and experience to make it back to the NBA. Reed played for four different G-League teams between 2012-15, earning the reputation as a fearsome rim protector and a high percentage scorer in the paint. After averaging 16.4 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks over 48 games, Reed would finally get his well-deserved shot with the Brooklyn Nets. Although an early injury initially kept Reed off the floor, the 6-foot-11 big man still barely featured for the bottoming-out Nets. From there, Reed would join the Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Clippers over the next two seasons, building steadily on his former successes and even earned his first-ever $1 million-plus contract in the process.

Last season, Reed was suspended for six games as a result of a domestic violence incident that occurred after he signed with Los Angeles. Although his wife requested that the charges be dropped, Reed was eventually penalized by the league, shortly following the Detroit Pistons’ acquisition of him. Subsequently, Reed was promptly traded to the Chicago Bulls, who then immediately waived him. As of now, it’s unclear if Reed’s off-court issues will impede his chances of getting another opportunity. It hasn’t for others in the past and he was still the No. 1 overall pick in the recent 2018 NBA G-League Draft.

Since then, Reed has averaged 23.9 points, 12 rebounds and 1.6 blocks over 30.2 minutes per game.

At the end of the day, the calendar hasn’t even flipped to December yet, but it’s naive to think that franchises haven’t poured over these early-season G-League statistics either. From undrafted grinders to former first-round burnouts, there are plenty of capable athletes just waiting for an audition on the big stage. For some, they need to prove that they still belong. while others are searching for a chance they weren’t afforded beforehand.

If their parent franchises don’t scoop these four up soon, there’s always the worry a more in-need roster may do so instead. Until then, however, Jenkins, Randle, Jones and Reed will continue to tear up the G-League and catch the eye of the important decision-makers around them.

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Sources: Pelicans Launching G-League Team in Alabama

Basketball Insiders

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New Orleans is launching a G League affiliate in Birmingham, Ala., league sources tell ESPN. Team will start play in Erie, Pa. next season until renovations are complete on arena in Birmingham.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

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