Revolutionizing Fantasy Basketball

Dorrell Wright in D-League

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broham Posted: 01-11-2006 4:44 PM
Anybody know where to get some D-Leagus stats?


D-LEAGUE: Away from the glitz of the NBA lies another world in basketball minors

By Ethan J. Skolnick
Posted January 11 2006
STERO -- Funny finding a prep phenom here, in the fluorescent green of the Florida Flame, in the shadow of Fort Myers. Funny finding him thinking back to prep school.

"[It's] out in the middle of nowhere, no girls, just really nothing," Dorell Wright says, 45 minutes before his National Basketball Development League debut. "Just a lot of trees. Probably a couple of deer out there, a lot of roadkill, possums and skunks and stuff like that. There's nowhere to go."

But up.

It is Thursday. It is Wright's first week learning how pro basketball's other half lives, and hoops. Nineteen months earlier, before the NBA age minimum, the Heat drafted him No. 19 overall. The California native and South Kent Prep (Conn.) star, 18 then and 20 now, has played 77 NBA minutes since.

So with the Heat on a two-week trip, Wright and center Earl Barron were sent on a longer journey. Across Alligator Alley. To the Heat's new NBDL affiliate, the Florida Flame. For playing time. For perspective.

Barron hardly needs the latter. The 24-year-old Memphis product is a backwoods basketball veteran, having starred with the D-League's Huntsville Flight between overseas stints. The Heat signed him after a strong 2005 summer, and now he's a D-Leaguer again, if only for a spell.

"It's all an adjustment," Barron says. "But it's quicker for me than Dorell."

They began adjusting Tuesday night, watching the FedEx Orange Bowl in a Hampton Inn lobby after Wright drove his black Range Rover cross-state. Following Wednesday practice, they accompanied Heat media relations assistant Michael Lissack to the Super Target behind their new apartment, to stock up on pillows, soap, shampoo, bread, detergent, DVDs. Lots of DVDs.

Dodgeball. Coming to America. City of God. The Wood. Old School.

"Already watched two," Wright says.

Thursday, he's the show, a kid who earns $12,500 per Heat game, even while sitting, sharing a court with players earning as little as $12,000 a season. He knows Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade, who called Wednesday night to say how much he missed his "dog," will have questions when he rejoins them. Many teammates said this would be good for him:

"To see what it would be like if I wasn't in the league, you know," Wright says. "This is more of a wake-up call for me. I just have to keep my work ethic up to stay in the league."

That big league.

Playing time

A fragile situation. A tough process. That's what Flame coach Jeff Malone calls incorporating the two Heat players, so he can't be sure how much they'll play at first: "You know, we're a first-place team."

Estero needs a bulletin. Germain Arena, capacity 7,200, nearly fills for the East Coast Hockey League's Everblades. Tonight, every seat national anthem singer Halie Boling, 9, and the players face is empty.

"Stand and cheer as we meet the starters for your Florida Flame!"

Six Flame Starter dancers and a few colliding Thunderstix welcome Hiram Fuller, Theron Smith, Andre Barrett, Dwayne Jones and Bracey Wright. Dorell Wright's seat for the spectacle is equaled only by floor "suites" unoccupied until halftime. A blimp drops money at breaks. An inflatable house entertains bouncing kids. The coaches, Malone and fellow former NBA star Dennis Johnson, resemble waiters in black sleeveless sweater vests and pants. The action stops regularly for clock and ball (yes, ball) malfunctions.

Barron enters in the first quarter to tangle with the Austin Toros' star, former No. 4 NBA pick Marcus Fizer. Wright enters in the second, guarding former Heat camp hopeful Andre Emmett.

His night fulfills Malone's forecast that "he's going to find out some of these guys here can play." There's good, including a bank shot from 18 feet and a strong defensive rebound. There's bad, notably blown defensive assignments. There's value in logging every minute of a tight final quarter, even in a 106-102 loss.

"It's different trying to carry a team," observes Heat General Manager Randy Pfund, on hand to scout with three other organizational members.

In 25 minutes apiece, Wright and Barron score 11 and six, respectively. After dressing out of sight of the NBA code, Barron in a gold sweater and Wright in a Flame pullover, they carry shower and basketball shoes into the parking lot. They exchange numbers with temporary teammates.

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Time to teach

It is Friday morning. Malone is pacing, sweating, wiping, slapping papers against his side, scolding players who "don't get it or don't want to get it!" Dorell Wright is slouching against a wall of the side court of the Florida Gulf Coast University gym, riding out the 25-minute pre-practice tirade.

After Malone returns from a 3-minute walkout ("someone take control and see what happens"), he rests a hand on Wright's back.

"Let me show you some defensive situations," Malone says. "You got burned last night."

"Man, I already know that," Wright says, grinning.

Malone has already identified Wright as "a good kid." Wright never saw any of Malone's 17,231 NBA points, and is skeptical of his endless glory stories ("he's in Jordan's book?"). After the short workout, Malone grabs a ball and boasts of his shooting acumen. Wright calls "brick'' for each miss.

"Where Earl at?" Wright asks.

Working out. So Wright, wearing a Yankees cap backward, passes time watching the FGCU women's team work on the main court.

Finally, they head to the "hot spot": the College Club apartment complex just off campus, where they now reside with Timberwolves prospects Jones and Bracey Wright.

"This is our four-bedroom mansion," Wright sings upon entry. "This is how we livin.'"

Hot dog buns on the counter. Modest rooms furnished with simple wood desks and dressers. Mattresses raised on too-short platforms, though Barron promises he'll be tired enough to sleep. A neat freak, his room is cluttered only by a gym bag and case of water bottles.

Wright's iPod blares hip-hop from speakers on his desk. There's a DVD stack on his nightstand, and a window with a dirt-lot view. It hardly matches the one from his plush two-bedroom place on Brickell Avenue.

They miss more. Barron cites the private plane, waiting food, fancy hotels. The chance to watch the best. The big cities: "Now it's Fayetteville, Roanoke, Albuquerque."

At least Barron knows this life, having passed five dreadful months in Turkey and two more pleasant ones in the Philippines, where the picky eater ordered only plain noodles. Such experiences make him appreciate this chance to watch Animal Planet or walk to Pizza Hut, not to mention continuing to collect a $641,000 salary and $102 per diem.

Wright's feet hang off the couch. He's sore, and surprised how winded he was after shooting: "I know I haven't played, but I'm young."

He doesn't regret skipping college; just preparing for the SAT. He says he's still "lovin' life," still "too blessed to be stressed." If he stresses about anything, it's the chance that Barron cooks. And yes, there's the issue of passing time when not playing games, at least four at home and two at a showcase in Fayetteville.

"Man, Fort Myers has had enough of Fort Myers," Wright says.

Barron suggests a staring contest, or hide and seek. Uno. Connect Four. Monopoly. They both promise push-ups, sit-ups and laps around the building, anything to be ready for Heat conditioning coach Bill Foran. They want that printed. This, too:

"We miss Miami," Wright says.

"Yeah, we miss Miami," Barron says.

Wright laughs.

"Put that in big bold letters."

Ethan J. Skolnick can be reached at eskolnick@sun-sentinel.com.

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Wright's d-league game log...

 Jan 8 vs Toros 105-107 L 19   6-10  0-0  0-0  12 
 Jan 5 vs Toros 102-106 L 25   5-10  1-3  0-0  11 

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