October 13, 2013

Steve Solloway: Former Deering standout no slam-dunk for D-League

SCARBOROUGH - With a "thank-you for coming, we'll call you, good luck chasing your dream" speech, the Maine Red Claws tryout ended. Carlos Strong walked away to change out of his sweaty T-shirt.

"I felt good," he said. Strong had looked comfortable over the previous two hours. He ran the basketball court at Scarborough High with poise and confidence. His passing to teammates-for-the-afternoon looked sharp. His every move, with or without the ball, seemed to have purpose.

"I felt I could have played better," he said and no smile accompanied the words. He understands the definition of opportunity and Saturday was his moment. He wasn't sure he made the most of it.

"I want to make this team. It would be a homecoming, you know, coming back to Portland to play basketball."

Strong is 25 years old. His years at Deering High and the state basketball championship won in 2006 seem a long time ago. So did his productive America East career at Boston University where he was a leader on and off the court.

He graduated with a degree in urban affairs in 2010 and started his pro basketball career in Sweden. More recently he's played in Puerto Rico. He got on the national team and won a gold medal in the 2011 Pan-American Games. He was among the last cuts from Puerto Rico's Olympic team.

Now he wants to play in the NBA Development League. "I didn't have the confidence to try out before. I do now."

He's a 6-foot-3 playmaking guard. Eight years ago, Strong and his cousin, Martin Cleveland, were counted on to be the scoring stars of Deering games. Saturday, Red Claws Coach Mike Taylor was simply looking for skills, basketball savvy, and the ability to adjust and work well with teammates.

Strong was one of about 20 hopefuls at the open tryout. The Red Claws invited candidates to a previous tryout in Massachusetts and Strong wasn't one.

Five players out of about 50 who attended the two tryouts will get a call in the next few days. Want to join 10 to 12 drafted and returning D-League players next month at our camp at the Portland Expo? A roster spot isn't assured. Just another chance. Strong will try not to jump when his cell phone rings.

Quinn McDowell, 23, tries not to think of the odds. He graduated from William & Mary last spring and left quickly with his wife for Australia. He joined the Willeton Tigers in a development circuit for Australia's National Basketball League.

McDowell was named to the league's "All-Five" team at shooting guard. He grew up in Cincinnati and went to Archbishop Moeller High, where Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr. played baseball and Gerry Faust won five national football titles before going to Notre Dame.

"This is my third tryout," said McDowell. If his phone doesn't ring, he'll head back overseas. If Australia beckoned, he'd probably go back.

Saturday, they all played pick-up ball for an hour while Taylor and his staff took notes. Then they were placed on teams and given simple, set plays.

"You do put yourself in their shoes," said Taylor. "You know they're nervous. You've got to understand the game can be sloppy. You take a lot of that into consideration.

"In the end, you have to remember this is a business. Putting a team together every year is a puzzle and right now we're looking for the right pieces. You've got to make the best basketball decisions you can."

Meaning, if Carlos Strong gets his call it's because he's one of the best five players. Not one of the best hometown players.

Taylor told the candidates they represented themselves very well and he meant it. He reminded them that the D-League was "an extremely competitive league." He urged them not to give up if they don't hear his voice on the phone.

The hopefuls separated, but not before they shook hands, bumped fists or embraced. Strangers, but brothers. Each wants another chance.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

 

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