The Eighth Annual NBA D-League Elite Mini Camp tips off May 8th in Chicago, Illinois. The two-day event runs through May 9th and features non-stop basketball from the top 40 D-League free agents not on NBA contracts. Aspiring to meet their NBA dreams, the players will be joined by a select crop of D-League coaches in a full-display effort from the NBA’s minor league to bring their finest players –and coaches– to the next level.
“What you’re doing is bringing your top 40 players who are free agents to one location so that NBA personnel can see everyone in one spot,” says Texas Legends Head Coach Bob MacKinnon.
MacKinnon has been involved with the Elite Mini Camp for years –formerly managing it as Camp Director, a role that now rotates between D-League coaches– and compares it to the D-League Showcase in how it benefits what the D-League is all about.
“You do this, then you go to the summer league, then hopefully you go to training camp then hopefully get a contract. So it’s all part of the D-League process. I think this is one of the two best events that the league puts on. This and the Showcase are the two major events that the D-League does to showcase our players.”
The event begins Monday but MacKinnon points out that the event is essentially three days. “I’ll go in Sunday and be in on the meeting with the players. Talk to the players about what to expect and how things are gonna go.”
“Basically what we tell the players is this is a job interview. They’re on a three day job interview in how they conduct themselves in front of all this NBA personnel and this is gonna be the last chance for them to be seen going into all these NBA workouts and into NBA Summer League opportunities.”
After meetings Sunday and before the games begin on Monphoday, the players will go through something extremely similar to the NBA Draft Combine, from shuttle drills to running to height and weight measurements. The combine happens to take place in the same city and begin the day that the clinic ends. This isn’t a coincidence.
“A couple years ago we moved it to Chicago right in front of the NBA Draft Combine so it makes it easy for NBA teams to come, see our players for two days and go right into the draft combine.”
The 40 players will be broken down into four teams, 10 players per roster. Three coaches will manage a team and the D-League is also bringing in added advisement from the National Basketball Retired Players Association, something the league does during the regular season. The D-League isn’t just for players anymore.
“Each team will play two games on Monday and two games on Tuesday,” MacKinnon has his itinerary ready. “It’s all in front of NBA front office personnel. I believe last year they gave out 138 credentials to NBA teams and this year we expect even more. I know the Mavericks send several people. (General Manager) Donnie Nelson, (Director of Player Personnel) Tony Ronzone and (Scout) Jim Kelly will be there.”
Structurally, the clinic is similar to the D-League open tryouts from the fall. Obviously, the talent will be leaps and bounds beyond and these aren’t players campaigning for D-League spots. They’re going for the big one: the NBA.
“I think teams are all looking for different things. It’s all what they’re specifically looking for, what their needs are and what does your organization look for in a player. Do they want shooters? Do they want rebounders? Do they want defenders? We try to tell our players ‘you can’t play to what teams are looking for. You gotta play to your strengths and do what you do best.”
The Legends will be represented in the 2017 edition of the clinic byC.J. Williams and Jameel Warney. Williams appeared in all 50 games for MacKinnon’s team in the 2016-2017 season and previously attended the clinic in 2014 after playing for the Los Angeles D-Fenders, then coached by…you guessed it…Bob MacKinnon.
“It’s a great opportunity for those two kids. (C.J.) had a great camp then and got a summer league invite that year with the Milwaukee Bucks because of the clinic. (We) get them those opportunities and get Jameel and C.J. in front of all these NBA people in a two day setting where they’re playing and showing how good they are.”
Williams’ goal is the same as his coach. “Just to show the scouts and everyone there that I have what it takes to play at the NBA level.”
His second clinic, Williams is coming in with a different mindset. “The level of comfort does help because I did this before. But I believe that at this point in my career, I’ve improved in dramatic fashion and now feel I can take advantage of opportunities a little more.”
Stony Brook alum Jameel Warney averaged 17.3 points, 8.1 rebounds (3.3 offensive), 1.2 blocks and a steal in 44 games in the recently concluded season. He exploded after the All-Star break with nine double-doubles, four 30-point games and scored 22 or more in 12 of 16 games when he played at least 20 minutes.
Warney’s huge second half put the 2016 D-League rookie on the map for good. At the clinic, he’s aiming to “just keep proving that I’m a good player. It’s another way to be seen by a lot of NBA GMs. It’s another day to improve yourself so that’s what I’m trying to do and have a good, positive ending.”
With a year of pro ball under his belt, Warney is looking forward to this opportunity. “Last year I probably would’ve come in nervous but I know I’m a really good player. I was probably one of the best players after the All-Star break so I still have that confidence right now. I’m gonna go in, do what I have to do and play hard.”
He’s also excited to have his teammate Williams there with him. The two became great friends over the course of the regular season. “Oh, yeah. That’s my guy, too. We’ll chat a lot over those few days. It’s gonna be fun to have someone from your team so it’s gonna be cool.”
Sentiments echoed by Williams. “It’s definitely going to be fun competing against or with him! He is a great guy and is never afraid to make people laugh. It’ll be good to see him again.”
The 2017 D-League Elite Clinic is May 8-9, immediately followed by the NBA Draft Combine from May 9-14. The NBA Summer League is scheduled for July 7-17 in Las Vegas.