Josh Selby was sitting in the upper deck of a small high-school gym with one-side seating when he challenged a bench-warming teammate to hit a three-pointer from the bleachers. The stakes weren’t high, in the neighborhood of $130 per shot, make-or-miss.
The kid missed. Twice. Selby was up $300, but he never had any intension of collecting the cash. It was his way of making sure his team doesn’t fold under pressure.
It wasn’t long ago that Selby, once the No. 1 NCAA recruit in the nation and former NBA draft pick, hit rock bottom.
Selby, once the highest ranked high-school baller in the United States, led a class that featured some of the NBA’s current-and-future stars. In a sense, he went from hero-to-zero. Selby bounced around the NBA and the respected D-League before heading overseas for stints in China, Croatia and now Israel. At one point, the 23-year-old Baltimore native began to mull over retirement.
“I went through a time where I was depressed with basketball. I got depressed because things weren’t going my way. I had thoughts of retiring,” Selby told Basketball Insiders following a team practice in Herzliya, a suburb city outside of the Tel Aviv.
His dream of an NBA comeback was still alive as he attended a private workout for the Orlando Magic over the summer.
“I had a good workout for the Magic and was able to get my feet wet after not playing since January. It was a blessing to get a camp invite, but it was the only invite I got,” said Selby. “I went up against Seth Curry and a few others, but the Magic already had a Summer League roster, so I didn’t get a real chance.”
“A real chance,” Selby said as his face frowned and dropped south, is all he ever asked for. But he never got it.
Selby was a late second-round draftee of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2011. It was his time as a backup point guard with the blue-and-gold that sparked Selby’s depression. Selby had just moved into to his new home and was getting comfortable in Memphis when the business side of the league took a swing at the former McDonald’s All-American.
“It was around Christmas,” the 6-foot-2 guard recalled, “I had my entire family in Memphis when the Grizzlies traded me to the Cleveland Cavaliers. I left them all behind.”
Selby recorded just 2.2 points and 0.9 assists in 38 appearances for the Grizzlies before being shipped off to the Cavaliers. Selby was crushed. His depression, though, began a lot sooner.
“I got depressed when I was with the Grizzlies,” Selby said. “When I got drafted, Memphis signed Jeremy Pargo as a backup point guard during my rookie season. Then, Memphis drafted Tony Wroten my second season, so I never go a real opportunity to play. I was always a third-string point guard. If I had a legit chance to showcase my talents and a coach that trusts me, I might reach my full potential.”
Prior to that, before the walls crumbled around him, Selby capped a highlight-real Summer League chapter for the Grizzlies, averaging over 25 points per game on 70 percent shooting from the perimeter. He was ranked as the third best scorer and earned co-MVP honors with Portland Trail Blazers phenom Damian Lillard.
Soon after, Selby became a basketball journeyman, moving from one place to the next.
“I’ve been on five teams in five months. I went from Memphis to Reno; from Reno to Cleveland; from Cleveland to Canton; and then from Canton to Maine. Wow, five teams in five months,” Selby said, tossing his hands in the air as his eyes opened wide.
Selby’s depression escalated upon his arrival in Ohio.
“As soon as I get to Cleveland they sent me down to Canton to the D-League,” he said. “I had no chance with the Cavaliers. Then I’m released two weeks later, traded to another D-League team. I was like damn, no one wants me, what am I doing wrong? I’m working hard and trying my best. I couldn’t believe it.”
The former Kansas Jayhawk star saw the NBA doors closing as teams failed to offer a contract. Selby was forced to cross the pond and his first deal was a short-lived era in China, land of high-volume scoring guards and even higher checks.
On November 2013, Selby signed a one-month, $40,000 deal with Qingdao Double Star Eagles of the CBA, but that lasted just three games. The transition to the high-speed overseas style of play wasn’t the issue. Selby posted averages of 22.3 points, three rebounds and three assists per game, yet his team couldn’t win.
“Our team was losing all the time. I don’t think the club won a game in two years. I was playing well but all the imports got sent home because we weren’t winning. I sure didn’t see all the money I was owed. I don’t know what happened to it,” said Selby, who realized how shady and cut-throat the hoops market is outside the NBA.
The next attempt at resurrecting his career was in Croatia. Selby signed with local power-club Cedevita Zagreb for $15,000 per month, but recorded just one game before receiving his release papers. According to multiple sources, Selby’s coach, Jasmin Repesa, coach for the Croatia national-team at recent World Cup games in Spain, isn’t fond of U.S. players. Furthermore, his current team has zero American imports.
Selby, though, wouldn’t comment in full on Repesa’s dislike of non-European players.
“I’ll say I was cut because of a stomach injury, that’s what the team told me,” Selby said.
In high-school, Selby was one of the brightest NBA prospects and top ranked recruits in a class that included Kyrie Irving, Harrison Barnes, Dion Waters, Tobias Harris, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Knight and Tristan Thompson.
His one-and-done stint with Kansas was shadowed by a suspension and injuries, as Selby played in only 26-of-38 games for a total season average of 7.9 points and 2.2 assists per contest. He then declared entering the NBA draft.
“Honestly, I don’t know if my knee injuries impacted my draft stock. All I know are rumors. Would I still be in the NBA if I were a first-round draft pick? Man, I have no idea. God is the only one to know that,” Selby said.
Selby continues to battle common misperceptions about him wherever he goes. Now, roughly 6,000 miles away from home, he tried to brush it off.
“The negative media had a lot of impact on my career,” Selby said. “I put myself in the wrong situations in the past, but I was young. I read all the negative stuff about me, some parts are true, others aren’t.”
During the recent offseason, Selby signed a single-season deal in top league in Israel worth $110,000, according to team insiders. Selby didn’t wait long for his coming out party, dropping a season-high 30 points in 39 minutes for Bnei Herzliya in the season opener. Over the first month of the season, Selby was No. 1 in the Israeli-League in scoring and efficiency.
His stock slipped over the last couple of weeks, but Selby cemented himself as the third-best scorer in the league with 16.4 points per game. He’s also ranked sixth in three-point shooting percentage with 43.5 percent, and ninth in steals with 1.9 to go along with 2.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Selby is Herzliya’s lead candidate to make the domestic All-Star Game.
Still young and learning, Selby found a way to transform his negative publicity and fuel the jets.
“I try to take the negative rumors, learn from them and better my character and continue to grow,” Selby said. “I used to get angry over what people were writing, but I’m more mature now and just ignore it. I hate that people keep talking about the old Josh Selby.”
Upon signing in Israel, a couple of Twitter users invented “The Selby Line” – an over/under estimation of the total number of appearances Selby would register before losing his job.
“8 games,” tweeted one handle.
“If he plays over 10 games that’s starting to get towards a successful stint for him,” tweeted a second user.
“The Selby Line,” caught up to Selby, who screen grabbed the tweets and saved them on his cell phone.
Next week, Selby will enter round No. 14 and complete almost five full months with his club. His mission, he confessed, is accomplished.
“Those tweets added fuel to my fire,” Selby said. “When I saw that I said, ‘Damn. People really doubted me like that? People are really going to tweet … what’s the under/over score of Josh Selby staying in Israel? Seriously?’ C’mon man, I’m 23 years old, people should be happy that I’m somewhere playing. I’ve never been someone people talk good about. It’s always some negative tag to me.”
With just a handful of practices in preseason, a second teammate of Selby’s, a starting 6-foot-4 point-forward who is also known as a defensive specialist, asked the former NBA guard to stay after training. When his coach gave the green light to hit the showers, Selby’s teammate was waiting at one end of the floor with a basketball.
“Let’s settle this. One-on-one,” said the teammate.
Needless to say, Selby, one of the quickest and elite ball-handling guards in Israel, took his opponent to school with a series of playground buckets. Selby won.
“I didn’t know anything about Israel, besides the wars and what people see on CNN. My family was hesitant and nervous about me coming here, but I discovered a beautiful country with nice people. I’m happy I made the right decision to sign here,” Selby said.
The off-court transition, though, was a struggle for the lone overseas guard. Selby knew nothing about his new club, he never heard of its city and was completely oblivious of the fact that the reigning European champions, Maccabi Tel Aviv, compete in the same league.
Things changed quickly for Selby.
“When I got over to Israel, as I started talking to people, at least 25-out-of-26 people didn’t know who Herzliya was, but told me about Maccabi,” he said.
The overall public assumptions were that Selby, based on his appearances, landed a deal with one of Europe’s most decorated organizations ever.
“People asked if I play for Maccabi and I had to correct them,” he said. “You play for Maccabi? No Herzliya. Who? Herzliya Who? Heeeerzzzliyaaaaa. I’m trying my best to get the team on the map because out here it’s Maccabi land.”
As far as an NBA comeback goes, he is currently out of sight and mind, but not giving up hope. Selby said no scouts or NBA personnel have contacted him thus far, but it’s not troubling him at this point in time.
“I want to help my team reach the playoffs and take them as far as possible,” Selby said. “As long as I take care of business and win here, the NBA will come find me.”
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