Toros stomp 66ers for second time in a week

The Austin Toros gained their second double-digit win, 94-80, over the Tulsa 66ers at the Cedar Park Center last night. It was the third time these teams had faced off against each other all season, and even more interesting in the past week.

The home team jumped out to an early lead after the first quarter, 23-16, despite losing new player Keith Clark to what looked like a wrist injury and was later pronounced a shoulder injury. After logging 2:41 in his first game of the season Clark left for the locker room and returned to the bench later in the game with an ice pack and what could only be described as a make do ace bandage sling. If the injury is capable of keeping Clark on the bench for several games it could be assumed that Clark could be cut from the team to make room for a new player. However, due to NBA training camp starting tomorrow, and the possibility of five Toros players being invited to training camp (more on that in a minute) it’s in the Toros best interest to hold on to Clark.

Tulsa outscored the Toros in the second quarter and had the opportunity to go in to halftime with a two-point lead. A hard foul committed by Ryan Reid (12 points, 12 rebounds) at the buzzer sent Terrance Woodbury to the line. Woodbury closed the gap with the Toros trailing 45-44.

Back from the half the Toros faced another injury. With 9:15 remaining in the third center Luke Zeller suffered a broken nose. His two points weren’t missed as the Toros began to pull away in the third compliments of their strong defense. The team limited Tulsa to 12 points and stretched their lead to double-digits, 67-57.

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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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Lance Thomas: Reading books and working hard

Austin Toros forward Lance Thomas has a knack for giving 100 percent of his energy to everything he does. Recently he started reading books. Thomas claims he has read more books in the last three months than he did in four years at Duke.

“All my teammates laugh at me because I’m sitting there with my little Kindle,” Thomas said. “I love it, I’ve been breezing through books. When we’re in the airport, sometimes I don’t even hear them say we’re boarding, I’m so glued to my book.”

When Thomas is on the basketball court, he has a similar level of focus. His goal with the Toros is to improve and make an NBA team. NBA scouts have noticed his attitude and talent. Head coach Brad Jones said Thomas is always one of the first players scouts ask about.

“They say he catches their eye right away with the way he’s committed to both ends of the floor and the way he works,” Jones said.

Thomas is hoping it is finally his time to shine after a college career defined by sacrifice.

He was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of Newark St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey where he led his team to two state titles.

His transition to playing college basketball at Duke was not what he expected initially. As a freshman, he was able to start for the Blue Devils, but was asked to play defense and rebound by Coach Mike Krzyzewski and not worry so much about scoring points.

“That’s all he wanted me to do,” Thomas said. “I was like, ‘that’s all I have to do to get on the floor?’ I did everything he asked me to and played some good minutes my freshman year.”

He stayed on the floor, starting all four years. His role would not change much though. Defense and hustle were what Krzyzewski wanted from Thomas, so that’s what he gave him. 

Thomas accepted his role and developed into the guy who would lead his team by example, always hustling, always giving it his all defensively. No longer was he concerned about how many points he scored, Thomas did what his coach told him to do to help the team win.

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Making sense of the Toros playoff chase

The Austin Toros are chasing down a playoff spot, and a lot can happen in such a short time for the squad.

After the Sioux Falls Skyforce defeated the Texas Legends on Wednesday night, here is how the current playoff chase is shaking up for the Toros and the other teams in the playoff hunt:

The (Rio Grande Valley) Vipers clinched the berth when the Sioux Falls Skyforce beat the Texas Legends 99-96 in overtime Wednesday night. This guaranteed that the Legends couldn’t catch the Vipers in the standings. Three teams can finish tied with the Vipers if the Vipers lose out and they win out — the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Austin Toros and Idaho Stampede. The Toros and Stampede have two games left against each other, meaning that only one of them can win out to catch the Vipers. Should the Vipers, Mad Ants and Toros all finish 28-22, the Toros will clinch the No. 7 seed by virtue of taking the aggregate head-to-head series with the Vipers and Mad Ants 6-to-4. The Vipers would then clinch the No. 8 seed by virtue of winning the head-to-head series with the Mad Ants, 1-0. Should the Vipers, Mad Ants and Stampede all finish 28-22, the Stampede will clinch the No. 7 seed by virtue of taking the aggregate head-to-head series with the Vipers and Mad Ants 3-1. The Vipers would then clinch the No. 8 seed by virtue of winning the head-to-head series with the Mad Ants, 1-0.

If only the Mad Ants win out and the Vipers lose out, the Vipers would finish as the No. 7 seed. If only the Stampede or Toros win out and the Vipers lose out, the Vipers would finish as the No. 8 seed.

Clear as mud isn’t it?

The Toros will next face the Vipers on the road this Friday at 7 P.M.

Cousin talks about getting called up to the NBA

Yesterday, Austin Toros’ Marcus Cousin received news he will be joining the Utah Jazz of the NBA making him the first Toro to get an NBA call-up.

In an interview with sltrib.com, here is what Cousin said about how he found out the news, playing in the D-League and more:

Cousin on how things are going: I just found out yesterday and then I [had] to leave in like two and a half hours. It was a quick turnaround.

How he found out: I was at a restaurant. My agent called me. I was like, ‘For real?’ He was serious, though.

First real shot in the NBA: It’s real exciting. I was thrilled when I heard the opportunity. I thank the Jazz for giving me this opportunity to show what I can do.

Background: … I went overseas to Turkey. And half the year, since January, I’ve been in Israel. Israel was cool. I didn’t play a lot the whole year. But in Israel we won the championship, so that was cool. After I worked out with the [San Antonio] Spurs … I was there the whole training camp. I played five games in the preseason. … I was cut the last day. I felt I was pretty close. It was [tough]. … They asked me to come to the Austin Toros, the D-League team. So I went there; I felt as though I was close, and I can get a chance to get called up.

D-League: It’s a grind. Just trying to play as hard as you can every night. You don’t know when or if you’re going to get that phone call. You’ve just got to grind out every game and play as hard as you can.

Toros News & Notes

Spring break camp• Spring Break Camp

The Toros are hosting a Spring Break Camp from March 14-16 at the Cedar Park Center.

Come practice and develop your skills with Austin Toros players and Coaches! The registration fee is $125, which includes a free ticket to an Austin Toros home game. Lunch will also be provided. Deadline for registration is Friday, March 11th at 12:00 p.m.

For more information please call (512) 236-8333.

Aside from getting tips from Squeaky Johnson on how to effectively pull off the drive and dish or working on adding to your repertoire of low-post moves with Marcus Cousin, you also get a ticket to watch them do it live. The sign-up form is available at austintoros.com.

• Forward thinking with Marcus Cousin

Scott Stanchak of D-League.com got a chance to speak with many of the All-Star candidates before they were voted into the game about what it would mean to them to make the All-Star game.

One of the players he spoke with was Toros center Marcus Cousin:

Marcus Cousin, Forward – Austin Toros
Credentials: 14.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.2 bpg
Player’s Take: “That would mean a lot to me. I think with my playing I can get there, and hopefully I can.”

Toros Nation’s own D’Ann Faught got a chance to catch up with Cousin after his selection. See what he had to say in her video interview.

• Tibbetts on Ehambe

The Tulsa Beacon talked to 66ers coach Nate Tibbetts recently about the loss of guard Moses Ehambe, who was traded to the Toros last week.

“Moses was a big part of the Tulsa 66ers family the past two seasons and was instrumental in our run to the D-League finals last year,” said 66ers head coach Nate Tibbetts. “We believe Austin is a great opportunity for Moses to further showcase his talents and we wish him great success with the Toros.”

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.

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Video: Brad Jones interview

Post-game interview with Toros head coach Brad Jones after the Toros-New Mexico Thunderbirds game. Coach Jones answered questions about the game and James Anderson’s progress.

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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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