ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — So, Dairese Gary; how’s your Spanish?
Be it basketball or baloncesto, you’ve got a future in this game.
Last year at this time, Darington Hobson’s NBA prospects were the buzz beneath the buzz regarding the nationally ranked Lobos men’s basketball team.
To say there’s no such buzz surrounding Dairese Gary this year is an understatement of Shaquian proportions.
You won’t find Gary, UNM’s two-time, first-team all-conference point guard, on ESPN.com’s list of its top 43 NBA prospects at that position. You won’t find him among nbadraft.net’s top 35 point guards.
Fast but not Derrick Rose fast, quick but not Chris Paul quick, a fine passer but no Steve Nash, no threat to Chauncey Billups as a 3-point shooter, the burly (6-foot-1, 205) Lobo doesn’t fit the NBA profile.
Then, Gary didn’t really fit the Division I college profile, either. But Steve Alford loved the kid’s toughness and leadership qualities, recruited him throughout high school, signed him for Iowa, then brought him to New Mexico.
For four years, entering tonight’s first-round Mountain West tournament game against Colorado State, he has been the piston that drives the Lobos’ engine.
That doesn’t mean he’ll ever be a Detroit Piston, or a Sacramento (or Anaheim) King. Still, Alford, UNM’s head coach and the biggest Dairese Gary fan this side of Elkhart, Ind., has said a number of NBA scouts are keeping an eye on his senior point guard.
“Keeping an eye on” could mean almost anything, but I suspect it means here that those NBA scouts have watched him play while scouting rival players like Jimmer Fredette and Kawhi Leonard.
Maybe one or two of those scouts came away impressed enough to bring the kid in for a pre-draft workout, or maybe they’ll do so as a favor to Alford.
Any team that does invite Gary to work out will see the player who got no worse than a draw, probably better, in head-to-head matchups with Brigham Young’s Fredette — projected by many as a lottery pick. No one competes harder.
As a result, perhaps Gary will land a spot on some NBA team’s summer-league team and rookie/free agent roster. If so, I believe he’ll more than hold his own.
But “Shaquian” doesn’t begin to describe the immense difficulty of the next step: landing an invitation to an NBA team’s veteran training camp in September. I don’t see that happening for Gary.
A spot on the Albuquerque Thunderbirds roster would make a lot of sense — for the Thunderbirds. The former Lobo would sell a few tickets.
For Gary, though, I’d recommend an airline ticket to an overseas destination.
If you read at least a little Spanish, as so many New Mexicans do, check out my blog on abqjournal.com linking to a question-and-answer interview with Gary’s good friend Roman Martinez.
The former Lobo forward now plays professionally for U.B. La Palma — based in the Canary Islands — in Spain’s LEB Gold league.
There’s plenty of money to be made playing basketball overseas. Multiple online sources state the annual salary of Chad Toppert, another former Lobo who plays for CAI Zaragoza in Spain’s top league, as $550,000.
Wow. You can’t make that kind of coin in the D-League.
LEB Gold players apparently don’t make nearly that much, but Martinez is still getting all the queso asado and papas arrugadas he can eat while playing the game he loves and gaining an incredible life experience.
This is not a commercial for Rosetta Stone, but if Gary doesn’t care for Spanish, he might try Italian, French or almost any other European language. Former Lobos Charles Smith and David Chiotti play in Italy. Ruben Douglas has played in Greece, Italy, Russia and Spain. Mark Walters played two years in Hungary.
If Gary were to defy the odds and the experts by making an NBA roster, it would surprise but not amaze me. He’s defied so many odds and experts already.
If he doesn’t, there’s still a wide, wonderful world of hoops out there.