From Undrafted to NBA

Kent Bazemore, The Vertical (Yahoo Sports)

You’re probably wondering why I am writing this. Well, with the NBA draft over, there’s no better time to recount my journey to the league and to provide some motivation for those prospects who didn’t hear their names called Thursday night. Basically, being undrafted doesn’t mean the dream is over.

I had problems early in the 2012 predraft season. I played badly at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. I was so embarrassed at my efforts and the lack of interest from NBA teams that it really dimmed my hopes and dreams of playing in the NBA. I was given nine more chances to redeem myself at workouts with certain teams. I went into these workouts with the mindset that I wanted to show teams that I could be a lockdown defender and display my elite athleticism. I felt pretty good about myself in six out of the nine workouts. On draft day, I did not get my name called.

I signed a $90,000 contract in the Ukraine with an NBA opt-out. After missing the Orlando summer league, I went to the Las Vegas summer league with the Golden State Warriors. I agreed to a partially guaranteed deal with the Warriors because my agent, Austin Walton, and I felt I had a great chance to make the roster. My rookie year, I played behind Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes,Jarrett Jack, Brandon Rush, and Richard Jefferson. There were absolutely zero minutes available.

What did I do? I came to the gym early and stayed late, and with the help of the video coordinators – they should be your best friends forever and always – I worked to improve. I would share the court with the cheerleaders pregame and work out hours before the game whether I was expecting to get minutes in a blowout or not. I never saved an ounce of energy. This is energy I was born with, and I dispersed positive vibes to everyone in my locker room. They called it “Bazemoring.” I called it doing whatever I had to do to stick.

I was sent down to the NBA Development League, but I never looked at it as a demotion. I loved watching Steph tear it up, but I had a chance to go to Santa Cruz and play the game. I used the D-League to sharpen my skills, iron out the kinks and stay ready.

The summer before I entered my second year in 2013, Draymond Green and I were named captains of the Warriors’ summer-league team. It was the first year summer-league champions were going to be crowned. We went undefeated and beat a Suns team that had six or seven NBA guys to win the title. I was determined to show that I knew how to win, no matter the stage.

At the trade deadline I was moved to the L.A. Lakers. I am not going to lie: leaving Golden State was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. However, I knew that I would have an opportunity to showcase my skills. From the moment I signed with Golden State my mindset was to excel at the role I had while relentlessly working toward the role I wanted. Then-Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni allowed me to do just that. I went from averaging 6.1 minutes per game to playing 28 per game. But with five games remaining in the season I tore a tendon in my right ankle.

The Lakers did not pick up my qualifying offer for $1.2 million, so I became an unrestricted free agent.

After a long negotiation, I agreed to a two-year, $4 million contract with the Atlanta Hawks in 2014. In my first year with Atlanta, my shooting coach, Ben Sullivan, helped me reconstruct my jump shot. I wasn’t cleared to run until mid-September, and I had to learn a totally different system, but it was worth it. We won 60 games and earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. I averaged almost 18 minutes per game, and when Kyle Korver went down with an ankle injury I got to start in the Eastern Conference finals. We got swept, but I learned so much from the experience, and the group that shared that locker room really took a step in the right direction.

When DeMarre Carroll signed with the Toronto Raptors as a free agent that offseason it left a huge hole on our team. He meant so much to us, but for me it was the opportunity of a lifetime. I won a starting job out of camp and had a solid 2015-16 season, averaging 11.6 points and 5.1 rebounds in 27.8 minutes. We made our way back to the playoffs but lost to the champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

I am a free agent again this summer and would love to stay in Atlanta. The one thing I have learned throughout this journey is how important balance is. The game takes up a huge amount of your time, and those moments you step away from it, you want to be happy. I have grown so much in Atlanta, not only as a player but as a person, too. I am recently engaged to the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with.

Athletically, I still have so far to go. I now know how to watch film, how to take care of my body and prepare my mind for the NBA grind, night in and night out. I have just stepped into my prime. Thankfully, I have only played around 4,500 minutes in four seasons. I feel like I have come such a long way in a short period of time, but my journey for growth and improvement has just begun. Don’t bet against me.

If your name didn’t get called, don’t get discouraged. Use that sadness, embarrassment and disbelief as fuel and go outwork everyone. Always remember that slight in the back of your mind and play with that chip on your shoulder. I know I still do.

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