Former Toro Trades Sneakers for Oxfords

With the 2011 NBA D-League draft next month, teams have begun to invite former players to training camp. The Austin Toros invited Lance Thomas and Leo Lyons, who are both currently at Pan-Am training camp. Noticeably absent from the invite list is veteran forward Michael Joiner. Joiner, who spent the past two seasons with the Austin Toros, played overseas this summer and returned home knowing that his basketball career was coming to an end.

“At this time in my life I’m at a crossroad” said Joiner. “Ever since I came back from China I’m not playing. I didn’t have the passion or drive to want to play.”

Joiner will be turning 30 later this month and is beginning to transition in to corporate America.

“I’ve been on the hunt fixing my resume and going to job fairs.”

The Florida State alum has a few things going for him that many who are unemployed don’t have the luxury of having: a bank account stocked with money from an overseas contract and a pair of degrees – Bachelors and Masters – that are ready to be put to use. Both degrees were acquired via scholarships. Due to the partnership between the D-League and University of Phoenix online Joiner was able to receive his Master in Business Administration specialization in Human Resource Management while playing basketball.

The realization of moving on in life and past the D-League is easily summed up by Joiner, “Eventually all of us have to get a job and find another source of income.”

Though Joiner knew last season was going to be his final season with the Toros he still enjoyed the opportunity that they gave him. Often seen on the bench in the second half of the season, Joiner was still able to bond with his teammates and this off-season was able to provide them advice as to what they should do with their basketball careers.

These talks led to Lyons and Thomas returning to the Toros this season.

“That’s my wolfpack and this is a good situation for them… It’s a chance for them to show what they worked on all summer.”

Lyons, 24, and Thomas, 23 are in their basketball prime and have the opportunity to stand out and be noticed by a scout in the D-League. Though currently NBA Call-ups are non-existent due to the NBA lockout, the opportunity to receive a lucrative contract overseas is still possible.

So while the future looks bright for two of the Toros’ youngest stars, it’s not all doom and gloom for Joiner. Aside from having a respectable pro basketball career under his belt, he is thankful to the D-League for providing the opportunity to be more than just a former player. Now Joiner leaves the sport with two degrees listed on his curriculum vitae that are much more impressive than any double-double he totaled throughout his basketball career.

High stakes for young players in the D-League

Even if there is no NBA season, the D-League will play a full season.  This may be the most significant D-League season ever due to the NBA lockout. The stakes for players on the bubble, newly drafted rookies and young players already under contract are exceptionally high. They need playing time. They have systems to learn. They cannot afford to waste a year. Instead of cursing the darkness that is the NBA lockout, Spurs fans should pay attention to the lights up north in Austin as the D-League Toros prepare for the 2011-12 season because there is the real possibility that what happens in Austin this season will profoundly reverberate in San Antonio.

We could see San Antonio Spurs first round draft picks Kawhi Leonard, Cory Joseph and last year’s first round pick, James Anderson as well as Danny Green and De’Sean Butler, in a Toros uniform playing in the D-League this season.  It’s not certain yet what the relation will be between this years’ NBA draft crop and the NBDL, and it’s more complex for players like Anderson and Butler and Green who are already under contract—but if all five could play for the Toros this season it would be a huge win: A win for them, for the Toros, and certainly for the Spurs.  Whenever the NBA season resumes, these young guns would be in playing shape and would know each other and the rather complex Spurs system. That’s a win for everybody. Well, perhaps not for Richard Jefferson, but that’s another story.

But even if some high-powered lawyers step in and declare that players under contract (like Anderson and Butler and Green) can’t play in the NBDL, or this rookie crop cannot play in the D-League—what happens in Austin is still very important if you are a Spurs fan. I don’t think the casual Spurs fan has an appreciation for how significant the D-League is. Since I am but a mere writer, perhaps someone else with greater credentials than I, can make the case for why the D-League matters.

Current Suns GM, and former Director of Scouting for the Spurs, Lance Blanks has a high view of the D-League.  Here is Blanks’ take on the Developmental League and its value to young players:

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D-League Numbers, Names: A Primer

Somewhere around the eighth grade I lost interest in math. I endured it through high school and later college. Numbers bore me. However, numbers matter.

Numbers matter in basketball terms because numbers represent teams and players. With the NBA lockout it would be wise for Spurs fans to get a little more acquainted with the D-League, and the Austin Toros to be specific.  Some numbers that might prove helpful:

160. There are that many players in the D-League all trying to prove they belong with the big boys in the NBA. A veritable collection of the Rocky Balboa’s of the basketball world. The reality is, most will not make it. But some will. Some will push themselves and elevate their game and in an incredible moment in time will get their opportunity with an NBA team and will produce—and stick. “Yo Adrian. I did it!” If you’re a sports fan you have to love a good underdog story. The D-League is filled with them. One hundred and sixty guys all hungry for that shot.

16: There are sixteen D-League teams, nine with single NBA team affiliation. For the uninitiated, here is a breakdown of the D-League teams, and their NBA affiliation: Austin Toros (Spurs); Bakersfield Jam, (Clips, Suns, Raptors) NBA DLeague Canton (Cavs), Dakota Wizards (Warriors), Erie Bayhawks (Knicks), Fort Wayne Mad Ants (Best name ever-Pistons, Pacers, Bucks), Idaho Stampede (Nuggets, Blazers, Jazz), Iowa Energy (Bulls, Hornets, Wizards), Los Angeles D-Fenders (Lakers), Main Redclaws (Celtics, Bobcats, 76’ers), Reno Bighorns (Hawks, Grizzlies, Kings), Rio Grand Valley Vipers (Rockets), Sioux City Skyforce (Heat, T-Wolves, Magic), Springfield Armor (Nets), Texas Legends (Mavericks), Tulsa 66’ers (Thunder).

30: There are thirty NBA teams that have a keen interest in the players of the D-League. These teams are not looking for The Next Big Thing, rather they are looking for a player who is ready to be a viable role player on their team. They also look to the league to give young guns that can’t crack their rotation the playing time they need to develop. Last season alone, twenty-five teams assigned thirty-seven first or second year players to the D-League. Eighteen of those players were first round picks from 2009 or 2010, six were lottery picks. Forty-five percent of players drafted in 2010 played in the D-League during the season. Every NBA team had at least one player on their roster with D-League experience.  The NBA takes the D-League seriously, and Spurs fans should as well.

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Why the Cleveland Thunderbirds matter to Spurs fans

The New Mexico Thunderbirds of the NBA’s D-League are now owned and operated by the Cleveland Cavaliers and will be playing ball in Canton, Ohio in the 2011-2012 season for the D-League.

Why does this news matter?

If you are a San Antonio Spurs fan and already experiencing the angst of the NBA lockout, this news, hardly seems relevant or encouraging as you consider the implications of a possibly non-existent NBA season.

But the D-League does matter, and this move by Cleveland also matters, especially to small market teams like San Antonio.

The Cavs joins the Spurs, Lakers, Thunder, and the Warriors as NBA teams with sole ownership of a D-League team.  This relationship between one D-League team and one NBA team benefits the D-League because the investment translates into long-term stability for the developmental league.  This relationship also is very significant for small market teams like Cleveland, and yes, the Spurs.

The Spurs’ brain-trust has been, in large part, brilliant when it comes to finding and developing talent. Names like Ginobili, Parker, Hill, Blair, Splitter and Neal immediately come to mind.

While there may not be a 2011-2012 NBA season, the D-League will go on and there are other names that Spurs fans should take interest in: Da’Sean Butler and Danny Green. Both are on the Spurs roster and both will likely play for the Spurs D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros.

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Q&A with Toros’ Leo Lyons

Leo Lyons

Toros Nation photo

CEDAR PARK, TX — Before tipoff of the Austin Toros (San Antonio Spurs’ D-League affiliate) New Mexico Thunderbirds  contest, I had a chance to catch up with Toros’ forward Leo Lyons.

Lyons played with Altshuler Saham Galil Gilboa and Hapoel Migdal Jerusalem before coming to Austin. In 2008, Lyons led the Big 12 Conference in field goal percentage and was ranked 24th in the nation while with Missouri.

Right before this Q&A, Leo and I shared some laughs as he was joking about how he wanted to be on Toros Nation:

Jeff: So somebody wants to be on Toros Nation huh?

Leo: (laughing) You know it!

Well how has it been so far for you making your D-League debut and how much of a difference is it between the D-League and playing overseas?

There is a bigger difference. There’s a lot more talented players here. It’s not so much format. A lot of the coaches let the guys go out there and play to their best of their talents. That’s what I’m trying to do here.

How would you assess your play with the Toros this season?

So far I’m OK. I’m still learning on the go. I haven’t had too many practices with the team, like two or three maybe, I joined the team on the road, I got to learn on the go. It’s kind of hard for me but I’m getting there.

After a great season last year, the Toros been in the middle of the pack. Is it basically this is a whole new team?

Yeah pretty much it’s a brand new squad. We’re still learning each other. We’re still learning the coaches play. There were a lot of guys here before me and they’re still trying to learn. Sometimes stuff comes fast and you got to take your time and build chemistry with your team.

Mainly people tag you as an offensive minded player but you do get it done on the defensive end.

Right! That’s been my main focus. I’m shooting a lot less than I normally do. I’m a little less aggressive and trying to focus on defense because that is what has me on the edge of the NBA, the questions about my defense.

How has Coach Brad Jones been?

He has been good for me. I didn’t know what to expect from him but I learned after a few days he’s really hands-on and that’s the kind of coach I need. Always trying to get me to be better and I appreciate him for it.

What is the next step for you to make it into the NBA?

Showing them what I can do on the defensive end. Showing them I can come work hard and bring my hard hat everyday.

Make sure to follow Leo on Twitter at @itsleolyons

Dawson leaving Toros for Korea

Just as the Austin Toros are about to gain a player in Spurs rookie James Anderson, they lost a player today in veteran forward Eric Dawson.

Eric DawsonDawson, a regular on the Toros roster for the last four seasons, followed in the footsteps of Maine’s Paul Harris and Reno’s DJ Strawberry leaving the D-League to play overseas following the heavily-scouted D-League Showcase in South Padre Island last week.

Dawson, who played for the Spurs summer league team in Vegas, will now be playing for his former team, KCC Egis, according to Dawson’s Toros teammate Michael Joiner.

“He went back to his former team, KCC, over there,” Joiner said. “He had a good showing at the showcase and they called him back. I miss my boy out there with me.”

Dawson averaged 15 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Toros who went a perfect 2-0 at the showcase. This season, Dawson was averaging 7.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

In the latest episode of Squeak TV, a video blog hosted by Toros guard Carldell “Squeaky” Johnson posted regularly here on Toros Nation, Dawson was featured as he was flying back to Austin from Utah after his final game with the team.

“He’s like a brother to me,” Johnson said. “We’ve been through the ups and downs together, but I’m happy for him.”

Joiner echoed Johnson’s sentiments.

“We’re losing a soldier but we’re happy for him.”

Note: Jeff Garcia got a chance to sit down and talk with Dawson while he was covering the Spurs summer league team. Read his one-on-one interview with Dawson over at our sister site, Project Spurs.

Toros Nation Podcast #4: Interview with Eddie Basden

Eddie BasdenIt’s been a while, but the Toros Nation Podcast is back with an interview with former Toros guard Eddie Basden.

Jeff Garcia guest hosted along with Mikkayla Guillett and had a chance to speak with Basden before he heads out to play professionally in the Philippines.

Basden played for the Toros last season, averaging 12.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.

Jeff and Mikkayla asked Eddie about his experience with the Toros, how it helped in his career, playing overseas and what it would take to get him back to the NBA among other questions.

Check back in a few weeks as we keep tabs on Basden’s progress in the Philippines and follow Eddie on twitter @showtyme103.

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Toros rank 11th in latest D-League Power Rankings

Austin TorosMatthew Brennan of D-League.com just published his latest power rankings for the week and he has the Toros sitting in the 11th spot.

The Toros snapped a six-game losing streak by winning both of their games at the Showcase. Next they head west to take on Idaho and Utah on a three-game trip. Newcomer Aubrey Coleman, a standout in college at Houston, has emerged as the team’s new leading scorer with 17.2 points over his first four NBA D-League game.

Don’t look now, but the Toros are currently on a three-game winning streak, with all three wins coming on the road. They’ll look to extend that streak against the Idaho Stampede (8-15) tomorrow night at Qwest Arena in Boise.

Cousin, Coleman lead Toros over Flash for team’s 10th win

Marcus Cousin

Marcus Cousin

Box Score

The Austin Toros have now hit double digits in the win column with their latest win on the road against the Utah Flash.

The Flash, boasting a roster with NBA veterans Ronald Dupree and Orien Greene, came into the game having won the two previous games against the Toros.

Dupree led the Flash early and started the game out on top with an early eight point lead.

The lead changed several times before the Toros buried the Flash with their outside shooting, making five three-pointers in the fourth quarter and shooting 46.7 percent from beyond the arch throughout the game, good enough for a 113-103 win.

Aubrey  Coleman led all scorers with 23 points and six rebounds. Marcus Cousin finished the game with 21 points, nine rebounds, four blocked shots and four assists, and Kevin Palmer finished with 20 points.

For the Flash, Dupree finished the game with 16 points and nine rebounds, but was held to just 7-of-20 from the field.

The Toros will get a chance to even the season series with the Flash on Saturday before they come back to Austin for a four-game home stand. The game will be broadcast on Versus and Futurecast at 8:00 p.m. If you missed the game, it is available through the futurecast archives.

Be sure to come back later this week for a Gameday Q&A with DJ Toomey of the Ultimate Flash Fan Blog and D-League Daily.

Gameday Q&A: Joey Whelan of Wizards Watch

Wizards Watch

With today’s game coming up against the Dakota Wizards, I got a chance to talk to Joey Whelan of Wizards Watch and D-League Digest to give us the latest info on his team.

1. If you were preparing a scouting report for Toros coach Brad Jones, what is one thing you’d tell him to be aware of when game-planning for the Wizards?

As far as scouting the Wizards, the one thing I would say to do is from a defensive standpoint, pack the middle and cut off lanes to the basket. Dakota is a terrible perimeter shooting team (as the numbers show), and when opposing teams have prevented Vernon Hamilton and Darren Cooper from getting into the paint and creating, their offense has been anemic. Along that same threat, taking away the high post is paramount as well. Walter Sharpe is an excellent passer for a forward, doing his damage when he can face up at the foul line, while Chris Johnson can bury jumpers all day from that same spot.

2. How has the loss of Demarre Carroll (recall by Grizzlies) affected the Wizards lately and who is stepping up into his role?

Carroll’s absence hurts simply because of his versatility and what he brings on the glass. Sharpe and Johnson can score points, but neither creates scoring chances for themselves like Carroll does, they need someone to get them the basketball, they are opportunistic scorers, not creators. He also brings a toughness rebounding the basketball that nobody else on the team possesses. In short, no one has stepped up to fill his role simply because there is no other player on the roster capable of playing like he does. That isn’t to say they can’t win without him (they’ve won 2 of 3 without him), but certainly he is a quality player.

3. What’s your early assessment of Hamady N’Diaye?

It’s really too soon to make any judgement on N’Diaye – he didn’t play with Washington so he’s rusty and working himself into game shape. Let’s also not forget he’s only played 2 games with Dakota as well. Having scouted him in college, I can tell you that his role in both the D-League and NBA isn’t going to be scoring points, but providing energy on defense. N’Diaye is an excellent shot blocker and though he isn’t an elite rebounder for his size, he hustles on the glass.

4. How do you feel the Wizards match up with the Toros as a whole amd specifically the guard pairings of Johnson and Clinch vs. Major and Hamilton?

On paper, these teams are evenly matched, with Austin being the better offensive team and the Wizards superior at the defensive end. In the frontcourt the Toros have the advantage as far as the physical battle, they should win the rebounding battle. With that said, Dakota has more versatility and if they are smart will try to draw Austin’s bigs out further than maybe they are used to. As far as the specific guard match up you reference, I’m giving the Wizards a slight edge because of Renaldo Major. He’s having an excellent season, is a notable defender, but has made himself exceedingly difficult to guard. When he puts his head down and decides he is getting to the basket, he has been doing that and getting to the line at a very high rate.

5. Time to put it all on the line. What’s your prediction for today’s game?

I may be a homer with this pick, but I’m saying the Wizards win a close one, say 6-8 points. Dakota has done well against teams that play a slower pace, ala Austin, and frankly they are just playing better basketball right now than they have in the past couple of weeks. Friday night was a 23-point win on the road at Maine and on Sunday they pulled a tremendous comeback visiting Springfield. They have momentum right now. They also managed to win back-to-back road wins without N’Diaye being a major factor, something he will develop into as he gets used to being back out on the court.

Thanks to Joey for taking the time out to give us the latest on the Dakota Wizards. The game tips off at 11 a.m. on NBA TV.