By Frank McLean
Thursday night the Raptors 905 have a chance to win the NBDL championship in just their second year of operation when they host the Rio Grande Vipers in the third and deciding game of this best of three series.
Winning championships are rare. Not just in professional sports but you can throw in college, high school and even when you’re a kid playing house league.
I always think of the great Chicago Cubs hall of fame infielder Ernie Banks when it comes to winning championships. He played for the Cubs between the years of 1953 to 1971 and he never won a championship. In fact he never ever played one post season game.
Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse played 18-years in the NBA with eight different teams. He was able to get into a number of playoff games, but never won a ring.
In the NBDL it’s almost like you stumble across it by accident.
The NBDL stands for National Basketball Developmental League and all 23-teams emphasize the “DEVELOPMENT” first before ever thinking about a championship.
When I first talked to Stackhouse way back in November during the 905’s training camp Stackhouse said the goal is to “get these guys into the NBA. it’s not about winning championship’s, if I can get nine, 10, 11 of these guys into the NBA I have done my job”.
Now don’t think Stackhouse doesn’t want to win the title Thursday night, you bet he does.
When I brought up the Ernie Banks story he let me know that Jerry Stackhouse has never won a title either. “I played 18 years and never got all the way to the table”, he said. “Weren’t able to get the job done.”
Stackhouse really wants his guys to win more than he does for himself. I have watched him work all year with this team and he and his entire coaching staff for that matter have put their hearts and souls into making every player on this roster better players today then they were back in November.
Thus Stackhouse has let his group know how special an opportunity this is for them.
“It’s a great opportunity I tell these men take advantage of this opportunity. This group we have assembled this year will never be together again. I tell them take care of your brothers and leave it all out there, there is nothing guaranteed so let’s walk away whatever happens and leave it out on the floor.”
When Stackhouse said this group will never be together again he is not lying. Since all the players on the roster, except for players the NBA Raptors send down for work, are all under contract to the 905 chances are most of this group will either be in the NBA next year, or Europe or worst not being able to find a roster spot in some league will be working in the real world of a nine to five job.
Stackhouse did his job for sure this year. Two of his players were plucked off his roster early in these playoffs, Axel Toupane with the New Orleans Pelicans and Edy Tavares with the Cleveland Cavaliers . Tavares was named the NBDL Defensive Player Of The Year and instead of getting a shot at a NBDL title he gets a chance to go for the big one in the NBA.
Stackhouse has done a great job with players the Raptors sent down.
Fred VanVleet has worn a path going between Toronto and Mississauga this year. Monday night he was dressed for the big club in their game five win over Milwaukee and the dying moments of the game hit a three pointer and mad a big rebound. Tuesday night he was in Mississauga where he was a big factor in the 905 game two win scoring 16-points, grabbed seven boards and had nine assists.
Stackhouse’s face lit up when talked about VanVleet’s Monday night effort.
The plan was player development when the season started, but now they have a shot at a championship and Jerry Stackhouse and his group are going to take a shot it.
Winning a championship in the NBDL is probably the most difficult thing to pull off compared to let’s say baseball and hockey who’s minor league operations are set up by their sports to be true player development operations.
In hockey and baseball the entire rosters belong to their parent teams where all the players are under contract to that club. Stackhouse never knows for sure who will be on his roster from day-to-day, moment-to-moment.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.