No different than a lot of kids, former Gonzaga point guard David Stockton grew up wanting to be like his father. What made David different was that his dad is Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton, who played 19 years with the Utah Jazz during which he set NBA records in career steals (3,265) and assists (15,806).
As a child, David loved watching his father and felt like because he was the son of a great point guard he would automatically become one too.
For someone who wasn’t a standout athlete or imposing physical specimen, John did make the game look quite easy, a little bit too easy from his son’s point of view.
“If anything as a kid it kind of hurt me as I got to the high school level,” David said to Basketball Insiders. “As a kid when that’s your dad it’s as simple as, ‘Yeah I’m going to do exactly as he’s doing, I’m going to grow up, play for the Jazz and be one of the best point guards ever.’ In my mind that’s how easy it was. That’s what kind of hurt me, when I realized there’s a lot more to it, hard work. He just made it look so easy and that was the hardest part for me.”
Following that reality check was doubt. He went on to become a solid player for Gonzaga Prep during his final year in high school, leading them to a fourth place finish in their division, but there wasn’t one D-I scholarship offer waiting for him afterwards. In fact, there weren’t any D-I schools even giving him serious looks. At 5’11, he was written off by most because, like his dad, he doesn’t pass the eye test with blazing colors.
Stockton did manage to catch on with the hometown Gonzaga Bulldogs as a walk-on. He was red-shirted his freshman year, with no guarantee that he was going to have a spot the following season, or ever be more than a member of the scout team in practice, whose sole purpose is to help prepare the guys who are actually going to see the floor. During that red shirt year, though, Stockton found his niche.
“I could really guard and frustrate some of the best players on our team,” Stockton said. “Defensively, if you can make an impact there, things will come. Once I got there and practiced, got used to the speed of the college game, I was confident I could play.”
As was his head coach, Mark Few.
Stockton’s defense earned him a spot in the regular rotation the following season. His role gradually increased from then on. As a senior this past season, he played 27.8 minutes a game for the Bulldogs, setting career marks across the board with 7.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.5 steals in 27.8 minutes of action a night.
Retiring from the game in 2003, his dad was able to have a really hands on role with his development and served as the greatest tutor a young point guard could ask for.
“Just seeing how he carried himself on the court, the decisions he made on a daily basis, realizing who needs the ball, where they need it, taking care of it and not turning it over,” Stockton said when asked what he took from his father. “As a point guard, I feel like IQ is the most important thing you can have.
“[He also taught me] the attitude you have to play with as a smaller guy. Nothing is easy. You’re not buddy buddy with everybody. There’s a serious factor to the game.”
In addition to studying his father’s game, David also watched a lot of Boston Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley and San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker, players who also lack the ideal size for their position but have still managed to more than make their mark at the next level.
“Like my transition from the high school level to college level, I think there’s a lot of learning and figuring things out as I get used to the speed,” Stockton said. “But I think there’s no doubt that I can play that speed if given the chance.
“I think there’s a lot of room [for me to improve]. I feel like there is growing left in me. I’m going to the next level with the expectation of being willing to learn, willing to be coached. I’m not a guy who thinks he has all the answers. I’m just trying to get better.”
Written off by many out of high school, David exceeded expectations over the last four years, and he has no plans to stop now. Following in his dad’s footsteps has not been anywhere near as glamorous or as smooth as he originally believed it to be, yet he hasn’t been deterred at all in the pursuit of his dream.
“I want NBA teams to know they’re going to get a guy who is going to work extremely hard for them,” Stockton said. “[I’ll] do everything for the betterment of the team, not myself. I just want to play the game.”
The odds may be stacked against David to get drafted in this deep, highly heralded class, but with the relentless desire to improve, a coveted attribute in his defensive toughness and a tremendous basketball pedigree, he could prove everyone wrong once again.
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