Well, I’m back in Phoenix after a couple of weeks in Albuquerque playing for the D-League Thunderbirds. It was definitely time well spent, and I think I was able to show guys like President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Steve Kerr I was working on exactly what they had asked.
Alando Tucker used his time to study and practice the game while in Albuquerque. (NBAE Photos)
At the beginning of the season, Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin told me this was an option for the team, and they were probably going to take advantage of that. DJ Strawberry and I knew coming in with all the great players and All-Stars here we weren’t going to be getting a ton of playing time, so it never came across as being a demotion and they reminded us of that. They wanted to ensure we stay in shape because coming down the stretch of the regular season, it would be nice for the coaching staff to be more familiar with what we can do and see how they can use us.
Kerr and Assistant General Manager Vinny Del Negro let me know exactly when I was being sent a few weeks ago. Again, because it was pretty much scheduled, it didn’t come as much of a surprise. Heading to Albuquerque, I wanted to work on my mechanics like I always do, but it was also important to stay in game shape and to make game decisions you can’t make during practice or by watching the team play. That’s what makes the D-League such a great option, it allows a guy like me to continue playing and continue learning.
My coach with the Thunderbirds was Jeff Ruland. He definitely had more of a military-based style than Suns Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, but I think in his position he kind of has to. He’s working with guys trying to get to the NBA level, and you need to shape them so they’re ready for the professional level. The important thing was the fact he understands the game, and I respected his knowledge of the game. He knows both ends of the floor and exactly what everybody at every position should be doing.
I roomed with Darvin Ham who spent some time in his career with both the Bucks and Pacers. He’s also a guy who won a championship ring in Detroit, so I definitely picked his brain as much as possible. Darvin was never drafted, so he took a road in which he had to work very hard and had to constantly keep a strong mindset. He got himself signed and played a lot of important minutes with some important teams. He’s really a great guy and helped me a lot while I was down there. Darvin and I watched all the Suns games and talked about a lot of different things. Darvin remembered the style of play as very hard to guard and said players knew coming into a contest against the Suns they were in for a long night. They force you to have an offensive mindset regardless of how talented you are on the defensive end of the court.
As a whole, I gained a lot of respect for the D-League through the experience and especially the guys that are playing there. Those guys – including the coaches – work hard and earn everything they get. Sometimes they bus 10 hours just to get from one city to another, so it’s not like they live a high-profile life but they continue to work hard. It helped a lot being in Albuquerque in terms of getting back into a rhythm and gaining some confidence. Getting the D-League Performer of the Week Award was very cool but most important to me was getting back into game shape as a whole.
DJ has joined the team now and my only advice to him is to keep working. Darvin and I spent a lot of time either watching games or going to the gym, so I let DJ know before he left to just stay focused and improve what he feels he can to help this team.