The Chance Of A Lifetime
Brandon Paul has had success in his basketball career. He was the 2009 Illinois Mr. Basketball. He was the second collegiate player in Illinois history to reach 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 steals. So when he went undrafted in 2013, it wasn’t an easy thing to accept, nor was playing in Russia, Spain and Turkey. In between those stops, Paul played in NBA Summer Leagues and the NBA D-League, enduring some tough injuries and a lot of rejection along the way.
For some players four years removed from their draft class, sticking around in the international game might have made the most sense, especially given the money a player like Paul could earn after successes in two of the toughest international leagues in the world. But the allures of the NBA and a sense of unfinished business Paul left behind, not only motivated him to take one more shot at his dream, he took two, opting to play in both the Orlando Summer League for the Dallas Mavericks and the Las Vegas Summer League with the Cavaliers this summer.
“You know what, as long as the opportunities kept coming, I wasn’t going to turn them down,” Paul told Basketball Insiders. “I know that I was going to get a great opportunity, not only with Dallas, but Cleveland as well. I knew that they liked me.”
Usually, players and their agents identify teams that have real roster opportunities—a chance to turn a Summer League spot into a camp invite or a partially guaranteed contract.
“I was less worried about their rosters and more worried about the opportunity to play,” Paul said of his summer rosters. “There was going to be minutes there, and I came in with the mindset that I was going to play even better than last summer. I thought I did well last summer, but I knew that I had to take it up a notch if I wanted to make this happen.”
For Paul it did happen, but not exactly as you’d think. Paul agreed to a two-year contract with San Antonio Spurs last Tuesday.
During the hustle of a record setting Summer League in Las Vegas, Paul was walking across the gym towards his agent after finishing a game with the Cavaliers. His agent pulled him away from the crowd of reporters, players and staffers crowding the floor. His agent had news—it was the Spurs.
Not the Cavaliers. Not the Mavericks, but the Spurs.
“I think when he told me that, everything just kind of froze out,” Paul said laughing. “Everything just froze in time. I don’t know if you watch House of Cards where Frances starts talking and everyone freezes. I kind of just felt like it was us in that gym and it was kind of just a surreal moment. Not only the fact that it’s my first full NBA contract, but the fact that it’s the best organization in the league. It was just mind blowing. And I’m still kind of just coming down from that high.”
Paul quickly packed his things and hopped on a plane home to Chicago, before a quick trip to San Antonio to ink and finalize his deal and meet with his new team’s leadership, including head coach Gregg Popovich.
“I saw him [Friday]. I was out there,” Paul said of meeting his new coach. “It all kind of happened pretty random. He did call me the other day, and that was kind of surreal when I met him [Friday] which is big-time. I got to chat with him for a little bit. I’m excited to get back to San Antonio.”
It would have been easy for a player who faced so many obstacles and injuries to back away or let up and that’s not something lost on Paul.
“I spent a lot of time asking why me? I tried not to. I stayed positive throughout my injuries, but in the back of my mind that little voice is saying, ‘why is this happening, why is this happening.’,” Paul said. “And then, on the flip side of things, I get a call from the Spurs and it’s the best organization, the best coach in the world. And the voice came back, on another level, and it’s like, ‘why me?’ It all happened for a reason, so I’m just so excited for the opportunity.”
From undrafted, to Russia, to Spain, to Turkey and to Las Vegas, Paul finally got to do something he’d dreamed about for a long time.
“I don’t think I’m going to post it, but I did record myself telling my mom [about the contract],” Paul said. “It was funny because I was asking her, she didn’t know why I came home early. And I had to hold it in because I couldn’t tell anybody, so I just kind of, was teasing her. I was asking her where she wanted to see me go. She’s like, ‘I’d love to see you go somewhere warm. Miami would be really nice, I love Miami.’ And then I was like, ‘What about San Antonio?’ And she was like, ‘well you know San Antonio is my favorite team,’ And I kind of just put some socks on, they were my San Antonio socks, and she just gave me a look. And I told her and she kind broke down. It was a special moment.”
Paul understands that a single guaranteed contract year does not mean he’ll make it. That journey starts now.
“I came home from Turkey last month,” Paul explained. “Two days later I was in San Antonio for mini-camp. It was a quick turnaround, but I was excited for it. Players like myself, and I think other players in general, they can’t pass up those opportunities. My agent did a great job setting that up for me. And obviously my work from before set it up. I just want to go in with the mindset that this is a big opportunity and take advantage of it, and it is definitely big-time.”
Nothing more than his contract is guaranteed, from here Paul has to earn the next step and given the journey he’s taken to get here, it’s hard to imagine he’s going to let it slip away from him.
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