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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Spurs recall James Anderson

Cross-posted from Project Spurs.

San Antonio Spurs rookie James Anderson will be available to play in tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder after the Spurs recalled him from the Austin Toros today.

Anderson, a 6-6, 215-pound guard, was originally assigned to the Toros on January 26 for a rehab assignment after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his right foot on November 11. He was recalled by the Spurs on January 29 and appeared in three games before being re-assigned to the Toros on February 7. Anderson played in seven games with Austin, averaging 14.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 25.1 minutes per game. He shot .447 (42-94) from the field, .346 (9-26) from three-point territory and .714 (10-14) from the free throw line.

In his most recent game with the Toros on Monday, Anderson played the most minutes he’s played in his seven-game stint with the team. He logged 36 minutes, and although he struggled with his shot, he managed to finish with 10 points, 12 rebounds, two steals and one blocked shot.

The added playing time has helped with Anderson’s conditioning, and he’s finding ways to contribute defensively, which is especially important to the Spurs.

With Anderson back in San Antonio, it’s doubtful that Steve Novak will be signed to a third 10-day contract once he finishes his second in early March.

On the Road with Michael Joiner: Utah

Austin Toros forward Michael Joiner is a four-year D-League veteran and in his second season with the Toros. He has agreed to write an “On the Road” series for Toros Nation and this is his first post from Utah. The Toros are set to take on the Utah Flash tonight at 8:00 p.m. CST. In his first post, he writes about spending Valentine’s Day on the road, introduces some of the newer players on the roster and talks about how the rookies spend their off time.

Michael JoinerBy Michael Joiner

Happy Valentine’s Day to all the Lovers in the world! It’s February 14, 2011 and my team and I are on the road out in Utah. It seems like every time that this holiday comes around I am on the road playing basketball. Life of a baller, right? I know the ladies that are in our lives really have to sacrifice a lot just to be in our lives and stick around because Valentine’s day is the day for the ladies.

Well, we are on a one game winning streak as of now. We had a good home win against our rivals, Rio Grande Vipers, last Saturday at the Cedar Park Arena. Our team has changed a lot this season. Some of the fans that have been around may notice some different faces. So let me take this opportunity to introduce you to them: We have Leo Lyons, Moses (I’m not going to even try to attempt to spell his last name..lol), and James Anderson (from the Spurs). These guys have been great additions to our team so far. This road trip will start with Utah and end with us playing a new rival in the state of Texas, the Texas Legends. Should be a fun road trip. I say this because it gives a chance to see how far we have come and grown as a team.

At this point in the season, rookies aren’t rookies anymore. So that crutch has been pulled out from under them and I see everyone on the team as one. Off the court, you can find each guy pretty much doing what they normally do, which is chill and get ready for a game or practice. For example, you can find Kevin Palmer and Cousins watching movies all the time. Those guys know every line in every movie. Just ask them. Squeaky is always working on his show (Squeak TV) and trying to get new footage. I am always working on things outside of the game, which can be music or poetry. You have to have an outlet in this game. Well, everyone has to have an outlet in life, and that goes for those that do not play any sports.

Game time is at 7, so like many on my team, I am about to lay it down. Lights out, maybe, or I may be like KP and Cousins and watch a movie..hmmm. Later!  (Black & Silver, Black & Silver, Black & Silver, Black & Silver.)

If you have any questions for Michael or would like to comment on his posts, feel free to comment below or email ontheroad@projectspurs.com and we’ll be sure to get your questions/comments to him. Follow Michael on twitter @mjborn2win.

Vipers sink their fangs into the Toros

In their first game this season without their NBA D-League All-Star Marcus Cousin, the Austin Toros took on the defending D-League champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers tonight at the Cedar Park Center.

For the first time this season between the two teams the home crowd was not able to witness a victory, as the Vipers won 117-97. Austin falls to 12-18 for the season.

Despite the Vipers bringing an eight-man roster to the Cedar Park Center (Vipers waived forward Stanley Asumnu before the game) the Toros fell behind quickly in the first quarter due to poor shooting. Their five buckets gave them 15 points while the Vipers dominated the first quarter and led by as many as 15 at one point. The team came close to meeting their season low in the quarter (13) which coincidently was against the Vipers last month.

In the second quarter the Toros were able to shrink the Vipers lead. A 15-6 lead sparked by Jermaine Beal’s jumper with 6:00 remaining before the half put the Toros within four at one point.

By the break the Vipers were headed to the locker room with a decent lead, 57-50. Coming off the bench Kevin Palmer added 10 points behind his perfect shooting (4-4). Jeff Adrien and Jerel McNeal put up 25 points for the Vipers in the first half.

By the third quarter the Vipers were practically down the home stretch and en route to adding another “W” to the win column. Seven of the eight Vipers players had recorded double-digit points by the start of the fourth. Beal and Palmer contributed 10 of the Toros 19 points in the quarter from the bench. Former Texas Longhorn Connor Atchley was perfect from long distance in the quarter and helped his team outscore the Toros 35-19. Heading in to the final 12 minutes of the game the Vipers led 92-69.

San Antonio Spurs’ rookie James Anderson, who is on assignment with the Toros, scored 12 points, grabbed 3 rebounds, in 23:21 minutes of play.

It’s apparent how big of a factor Cousin is to this team. Averaging 14.8 ppg and 8.6 rebs in his previous 29 games, Cousin can easily be considered the team leader and play maker out on the hardwood. Fans can only hope Cousin is healthy and able to play during Saturday’s rematch against the Vipers.

Notes:

  • Toros’ Kevin Palmer lead the team with 22 points.
  • New Toro Eric Boateng scored 4 points and grabbed 2 rebounds.
  • Toros shot 38% on 32-84 shooting for the game.

Big 12 Reunion to be Televised Tonight

In a city that bleeds burnt orange and not black or silver, tonight’s Austin Toros-Rio Grande Valley Vipers matchup is sure to bring Texas Longhorn fans out to the Cedar Park Center. Former Longhorn, now Viper, Connor Atchley will be making his first appearance in Austin tonight.

The D-League sophomore was recently traded to the Vipers from the Iowa Energy in exchange for Stanley Robinson. He’s appeared in seven games since late January where he’s averaged 8.7 ppg and 4.3 boards. Why is this important?

Two reasons: First, Atchley is the only name on the Vipers’ roster that will be anywhere near relevant to Toros fans and second, tonight’s matchup will be a rematch of last season’s D-League championship and it will be interesting to see if faithful Longhorn, now Toros, fans will jeer at Atchley.

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Toros 10th in latest D-League Power Rankings

D-League.com’s Matthew Brennan has published his latest power rankings and even after a three-game skid, he has the Toros moving up a few spots.

The Toros have James Anderson to thank for that.

The Toros were blown out at home by Erie on Saturday for their third straight loss. Spurs first-round pick James Anderson has been reassigned and should be in action for the team’s home series against Rio Grande Valley. The Toros are 2-2 against the Vipers this season with the home team winning every game.

The Toros are currently 8th in the Western Conference with a 12-17 record.

James Anderson headed back to Toros

Our topic of the week for the latest Toros Nation podcast was on why James Anderson’s stint with the Toros should have been longer.

James Anderson

James Anderson (Toros Nation photo)

It appears our wish has been granted as the Spurs just announced that they are re-assigning Anderson to the Toros.

Anderson was with the Toros for two games before the Spurs called him back up prior to their game with the Houston Rockets last Saturday.

Anderson, a 6-6, 215-pound guard, was originally assigned to Austin on January 26.  He appeared in two games for the Toros, averaging 14.5 points and 2.0 rebounds in 14.0 minutes.  He shot .556 (10-18) from the field, .444 (4-9) from three-point territory and .714 (5-7) from the free throw line.  Anderson was recalled by the Spurs on January 29 and saw limited action in three games.

The increased minutes Anderson will see with the Toros should help him as he rehabs from the stress fracture in his fifth metatarsal in his right foot and as he works on improving his conditioning.

“He’s good. James is really good,” Toros forward Lance Thomas said after a recent loss against the New Mexico Thunderbirds. “He’s playing limited minutes but he’s still close to our leading scorer.”

“I love his game,” Thomas said. “The way he’s playing, he won’t be around too much longer.”

It appears Thomas and the rest of the Toros will get a chance to see a lot more of Anderson as he makes his way back from San Antonio.

Toros Nation Podcast #5: Catching up

I was joined by Jeff Garcia for episode 5 of the Toros Nation Podcast.

We talked about the last five Austin Toros games before we moved onto some news, including Marcus Cousin making it to the D-League All-Star game, former Toro Eddie Basden being a quarter-inch over the height limit for imports of the Philippines Basketball League and the recent three-team trade that netted the Toros big man Eric Boateng.

We also discussed covering the Toros-Thunderbirds game a few weeks back before moving on to our topic of the week, which was if the Spurs should’ve left rookie James Anderson in Austin longer to continue rehab and conditioning work, especially since he’s playing very few minutes since rejoining the Spurs.

Before we closed out this episode, we also wish Toros guard Carldell “Squeaky” Johnson a Happy Belated Birthday.

Intro: Shoot to Thrill by AC/DC.

Play

Video: Postgame interview with Toros coach Brad Jones

After the thrilling overtime win by the Austin Toros over the New Mexico Thunderbirds, I had a chance to catch up with Toros’ coach Brad Jones.

Coach Jones spoke on the Toros’ win, the enthusiastic crowd, San Antonio Spurs’ rookie James Anderson being recalled by the Spurs and more.