In the same town, yet worlds apart

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - DERON SNY­DER

There’s noth­ing mi­nor about the Wash­ing­ton metro area as a pro­ducer of bas­ket­ball tal­ent. The re­gion isn’t too shabby in foot­ball, ei­ther. Ma­jor-col­lege ros­ters in both sports are well-stocked with play­ers from the DMV.

Two of Wash­ing­ton’s mi­nor-league teams in those sports share the same owner. But they’re worlds apart.

When the Wiz­ards’ en­try in the NBA G League (for­merly the D-League) be­gins play in 2018-19, it won’t fea­ture the likes of Markelle Fultz (DeMatha High), se­lected No. 1 over­all by the Philadel­phia Six­ers. How­ever, Ted Leon­sis’ yet-to-be-named team could face the likes of a Melo Trim­ble (Bishop O’Con­nell High), who last week signed with the Six­ers as an un­drafted free agent.

Vis­it­ing teams at the un­der-con­struc­tion arena in South­east might in­clude NBA play­ers such as Ty Law­son (Bishop McNa­mara High) or Jeff Green (North­west­ern High) as they re­hab in­juries. Op­po­nents also might fea­ture fu­ture NBAers mak­ing a pit stop in the de­vel­op­men­tal league, as did Ok­la­homa City Thun­der for­ward Je­rian Grant (DeMatha).

Wash­ing­ton’s Arena League team can only dream about sim­i­lar con­nec­tiv­ity. In more ways than one.

True, the Wash­ing­ton Valor fea­tures stand­out de­fen­sive back Tracy Bel­ton (Largo High) and could face teams with other DMV na­tives. Some play­ers have NFL ex­pe­ri­ence, pri­mar­ily train­ing camps, and seek to fol­low the steps of in­door-to-out­door leg­ends Kurt Warner, Mike Van­der­jagt and Chris Canty.

Among the lat­est hope­fuls on NFL ros­ters en­ter­ing July are Arena League stand­outs Nick Trues­dell (Min­nesota Vik­ings) and Jake Metz (Buf­falo Bills).

But let’s be real. The dif­fer­ence be­tween the leagues is starker than the con­trast be­tween foot­ball sur­faces at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter and FedEx Field.

The former is ar­ti­fi­cial and greatly con­fined; the lat­ter is nat­u­ral and wide-open.

Leon­sis hopes the dis­sim­i­lar­i­ties don’t end there.

Af­ter a 51-38 sea­son-open­ing vic­tory against Bal­ti­more, the Valor have lost eight con­sec­u­tive games. Bel­ton, the league’s 2016 De­fen­sive Player of the Year, has lived up to the billing with team-highs in tack­les (40) and in­ter­cep­tions (3). His side of the ball has per­formed ad­mirably in yield­ing 49.4 points per game, sec­ond in the league.

The prob­lem be­gins when Wash­ing­ton has the ball and ends short of the goal line, re­sult­ing in a league-low 41.8 points per game.

Ev­ery other team av­er­ages at least 48 points. Quar­ter­back Erik Myer, the 2013 AFL MVP and Of­fen­sive Player of the Year, started the first five games be­fore a ham­string in­jury side­lined him. Sec­ond-stringer Sean Brack­ett has fared bet­ter sta­tis­ti­cally (104.7 passer rat­ing com­pared to Myer’s 97.2), but you can’t tell by look­ing at the won­loss col­umn.

An­other col­umn — con­tain­ing each team’s profit/loss state­ment — bears watch­ing, too.

Two other in­door leagues have helped whit­tle the AFL to a measly five teams, with Leon­sis also own­ing two (Wash­ing­ton and Bal­ti­more). There was talk of fold­ing prior to this sea­son and the league’s long-term prospects seem iffy at best.

Con­versely, the Wiz­ards’ G League fran­chise will play in a mi­nor-league sys­tem that’s ap­proach­ing the gold stan­dard of Ma­jor League Base­ball.

Only Den­ver, New Or­leans and Port­land now lack their own G League af­fil­i­ate set to be­gin in 2018. But the Pel­i­cans are weigh­ing pro­pos­als from prospec­tive host cities and plan to join the Wiz­ards in de­but­ing a farm team 17 months from now.

When the in­au­gu­ral sea­son gets un­der­way, Wash­ing­ton’s play­ers will be less than eight miles from John Wall, Bradley Beal and the big boys at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter.

With the NBA’s new two-way con­tracts, a cou­ple of G Lea­guers might shoot hoops against prospects in South­east one night, and go against All-Stars in Chinatown the next.

Ge­og­ra­phy alone won’t cre­ate the prox­im­ity. It will be ide­o­log­i­cal as well as psy­cho­log­i­cal, a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship be­tween par­ent or­ga­ni­za­tion and its petri dish.

“The NBA G League has been a great re­source for us over the years, both for call­ing up tal­ent and for al­low­ing young play­ers on our ros­ter to gain more on-court ex­pe­ri­ence,” Wiz­ards pres­i­dent Ernie Grun­feld said in a state­ment last week. “Hav­ing our own team, se­lect­ing the front of­fice and coach­ing staff and be­ing able to im­ple­ment our sys­tem will al­low us to fur­ther en­hance our player and staff devel­op­ment pro­gram mov­ing for­ward.”

There should be plenty of home­grown tal­ent to help fill the ros­ter.

Kevin Du­rant-types might never drib­ble once in the league, but Prince Ge­orge’s County (Md.) has pro­duced so many other NBA play­ers, hold­ing a com­pet­i­tive 5-on-5 would be easy. Un­drafted play­ers like Trim­ble and Den­ver’s Quinn Cook and late bloomers like Grant and New Or­leans’ Dante Cun­ning­ham would be per­fect gate­boost­ers for the team in South­east D.C.

Given our re­gion’s love for bas­ket­ball be­side the As­so­ci­a­tion — think Ken­ner League and Good­man League — the baby Wiz­ards should do just fine.

Too bad the out­look isn’t as rosy for the Valor.

And all the lo­cal foot­ball play­ers com­bined can’t make the slight­est dif­fer­ence.

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