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Justin Dentmon Regrets Not Going Overseas Sooner

Justin Dentmon wishes he had went overseas sooner rather than toiling in the D-League.

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Justin Dentmon grew up dreaming of playing in the NBA. It didn’t matter which team, he just wanted to tell the world, “I made it.” Overseas hoops? Forget about it.

In 2006, Dentmon saw then University of Washington backcourt mate Brandon Roy get drafted and win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. Roy would blossom into an All-Star while Dentmon developed hopes of nothing less.

However, the road to the NBA for the 29-year-old journeyman wasn’t the same. In fact, the cards were dealt so far apart that Dentmon traveled 6,000 miles outside the U.S. and bounced around a few countries for a total of eight NBA appearances with three separate teams.

“I was young and ambitious,” Dentmon said. “I didn’t care much about the money, it was all about chasing the NBA dream.”

The former Huskie guard held pre-draft workouts in 2009 for the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and then New Jersey Nets before going undrafted. He received offers to play in Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, Italy and the Spanish LEB Gold, but opted to sign a one-year $60,000 deal in Israel.

“Justin lied to his parents about going to Israel. He convinced them his rookie deal was in Italy,” a source close to Dentmon told Basketball Insiders. “During the season, Justin sent some money home and his mother found out the package came via Israel. She was going to kill him.”

Dentmon captured the No. 1 scoring title in Israel, averaging 19.8 points per game on 36 percent shooting from the perimeter. His backcourt teammate was recent shooting guard for the Phoenix Suns, Dionte Christmas, as the two overcame an 0-2 series deficit to escape regulation to the minor league and eliminate Gary Forbes’ club 3-2.

Dentmon then told one of his staff members, “Mark my words. I’ll play in the NBA.”

Throughout the following season, Dentmon continued his pursuit of an NBA uniform and signed with the Texas Legends, and then the Austin Toros. During the 2011-2012 season he “accomplished” brief stints with the San Antonio Spurs and the Toronto Raptors while crowned the D-League’s Most Valuable Player, averaging 22.8 points, 5.5 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals.

The Dallas Mavericks next rewarded Dentmon with a call-up, but he wouldn’t stick. This became a pattern for Dentmon. Week after week, year after year, he’d hunt for another shot in the league. Reality would ultimately sink in as Dentmon took his talents elsewhere. Again.

Looking back, Dentmon believes he should have just appreciated his overseas opportunities rather than toiling in the D-League.

“It took me five seasons to appreciate life outside of the NBA,” Dentmon said. “As a young kid, all my focus was dedicated to making the NBA, I was dream chasing. Once I played my first year in the D-League I was done. I wasn’t going to waste time anymore. I was about to leave, but got the opportunity to play for the U.S.A. team during the 2011 Pan-American games in Mexico (alongside current NBA players Lance Thomas, Greg Stiemsma and Donald Sloan, bringing home a Bronze medal).

“The catch was for me to sign back in the D-League and teams were forced to pay buyouts in case we wanted to leave.”

Overseas teams annually explore the D-League market for talent, however, a large portion of clubs can’t afford its costly buyouts.

“The NBA and the things teams tell players are exactly what young guys want to hear,” Dentmon said. “Truth is, it’s all politics. Every player owns the right to play at least once in the D-League, but my best advise would be: DON’T. Don’t spend your entire career chasing the NBA. Even though teams say one thing — and might even call your number up to the NBA — they already know who they want on the floor and have their eyes fixed on the up-and-coming draft prospects.”

Dentmon was the fourth leading scorer in the Development League, netting 22.2 points per game and shooting 42 percent from deep before signing the previously mentioned 10-day contract with the Spurs. He played just two games. During his stint with the Raptors, he made just four appearances and averaged 5.5 points and 2.3 assists.

“Some guys make it but not all get a shot,” Dentmon said. “I was just hoping for one legit chance. I got called up to the Raptors, but they didn’t like me. Coach (Dwane Casey) didn’t like me and I never understood that. I never got a shot to play with the Spurs or the Mavericks either. Honestly, I really thought I’d stick with Toronto for the rest of the season.

“After a strong season in the Development League and a few call ups, I opted to stick around the NBA and rejected overseas interest. Then I got hurt, pulled my hamstring and the Austin Toros turned their back on me. I asked for a trade and went to play for the Texas Legends. That didn’t work out either and that’s when I looked at Europe.”

Had Dentmon signed with an overseas team earlier, he likely would’ve gotten a better deal.

“NBA teams promised to give me a partial-guarantee, but it never materialized. I had offers from the Ukraine and Hapoel                         Jerusalem in Israel, but chose to sign with Zalgiris Kaunas at the last minute because I waited so long,” Dentmon said.

Dentmon became one of most electrifying Euroleague scorers of the modern era, ranking No. 1 in points throughout the first and second stages of the 2013-14 season. He was named MVP of the Week three times: once following a 6-for-6 shooting performance from beyond the arc for 24 points and nine assists. He also torched Euro-finalist Real Madrid with 36 points on 7-for-11 from the perimeter.

“I think guys are scared to go to Europe and leave their comfort zone,” Dentmon said. “Sometimes agents tell players they can or can’t do certain things in order to stay in a comfortable situation. I would like to advise players chasing the NBA to think about their families and lives after their pro-careers — how most professionals go broke.

“In the NBA, players are taxed on income while in Europe you’re barely taxed, you meet new people and explore the world. Don’t wait until you’re 25 years old to go abroad because one needs to build a resume. I don’t know if Europe missed out on me, but I definitely missed out on playing more in Europe.”

Throughout his decorated career, Dentmon played in the NBA, the D-League, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Italy, China, Lithuania, Israel and Puerto Rico. He won championships in three different countries. During the offseason, Dentmon signed with the Chinese club Qingdao Double Star Eagles. His contract is in the ballpark of $1 million, per a source.

David Pick has extensively covered European basketball and American players abroad since 2010. His work can be found at Eurobasket.com and ONE.co.il. Follow him on Twitter @iamdpick

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