JamesOn Curry (Getty Images)
JamesOn Curry has had a rough go of his basketball career thus far, but he says every bit of it is motivating him to reach the NBA once again -- even if it involves breaking down into tears while talking to his dad about his experience in training camp with the New Jersey Nets.
BISMARCK, N.D. -- "'Do you still play basketball?' That's the question that irks me the most. Even in my home town ... even in Oklahoma, people still ask if I play ball," JamesOn Curry recently told me while swinging through Bismarck, N.D., in the midst of a 17-day roadtrip that saw his Springfield Armor play a total of seven games over the holidays. "I'm like 'What? You think I'm working at Walmart now?'"
Curry is a player many basketball fans are familiar with when someone mentions his name -- he's ahead of such luminaries as Michael Jordan, James Worthy and David Thompson as the top scorer in North Carolina high school basketball history. Unfortunately for him, however, he's also a guy many in the NBA community have forgotten about despite being his being just 25 years old and entering the prime of his career.
The 6-foot-3 guard is working on changing that, though, as he continues to work toward escaping his past while playing in the NBA Development League.
Curry, a second-round pick of the Chicago Bulls in the 2007 NBA Draft, has spent parts of the past five seasons playing in the NBA's official minor league. He's split time between the Iowa Energy -- while on assignment from the Bulls -- before moving to the Springfield Armor the past three seasons. Aside from a four-second stint with the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2009-10 season, however, the talented scorer hasn't been able to convince NBA decision makers that he deserves another chance.
The North Carolina native has made strides this season this season and is currently filling up the box score by averaging 18.9 points, 5.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Those numbers, along with the New Jersey Nets' decision to buy the Armor this past offseason, allowed him the chance to be signed by the Nets this preseason as one of three training camp invitees along with Armor teammates Jerry Smith and Dennis Horner (who eventually made the roster). Camp didn't quite go as planned for the sharpshooter, however, as he was caught up in a numbers game from the outset.
"I went to New Jersey and then I realized I had no shot in hell of making the team the way their guaranteed contracts were structured," Curry said as recalled the first few days of training camp.
"What hurt me was the second or third day there, I had a conversation with (Nets general manager) Billy King and he was like ‘I heard you guys are doing good. I haven't came out and watched you play yet, but that's awesome. When you guys go back down, I'm gonna make sure you guys get meals on the road, everything. We're going to make sure we treat you guys more like the NBA, more like a true minor league system.' The only thing I got out of that conversation, though, was ‘when you guys go back down.'"
Curry had been cut a few times in the past -- he lost his scholarship to the University of North Carolina following an ordeal in high school, he was released by the Bulls following a solid Summer League performance in 2008 and was even waived by the D-League's Iowa Energy -- but the veteran guard wasn't initially prepared for it to happen again this fall.
"It was on my third day of camp and I was actually playing well. I was mad about it at first so I called Coach [Chris] Carrawell (a former Duke Blue Devils standout and current assistant coach of the Springfield Armor)," Curry remembered. "I asked Coach, since he'd been in meetings, to be honest with me and tell me if I even have a chance here. He said ‘To be honest with you, man, it's a long shot.' I started getting down, feeling sorry for myself while I was talking to him but he said, ‘Don't stop. You're gonna be there when it's your time,' but I was still pretty disappointed."
After talking to Coach Carrawell -- even if it was unofficial news, it wasn't what the guard wanted to hear -- Curry called his father and did something most athletes aren't willing to talk about.
"We had that afternoon off from practice and I said I wasn't going to sit in my room mad, but I called my daddy and I was in tears ... serious," Curry said. "I was in tears. It was the first time I had cried about basketball since my sophomore year in high school because we had lost a game -- I skipped school the next day. I scored 20 points but I was like 5-for-20 from the field, we lost, I cried -- It was the same thing in the hotel room. I was crying because I was mad. The tears were just flowing."
Curry has learned in the past that he has to be proactive when dealing with a negative situation, however, so he took matters into his own hands following the tearful phone call with his father.
"I decided I didn't want to sit there alone and mad so I called one of the managers up and was like ‘Can you come get me?' so Joe came and picked me up and took me to the PNY Center out in East Rutherford," Curry said. "I got in the gym and put up some shots and worked on the drills we were working on during practice because I was more motivated than I was mad."
Curry has brought that fire back with him to the D-League as he's shooting 49 percent from the field on his way to averages of 19.2 points, 6.2 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game since returning from Nets camp. In a nice change of circumstances, he's found the bright side to his latest setback.
"I think all of that has made me more professional. Some things you can't control, but the things you can control are busting your tail, working hard, trying to be a great teammate, being a friend to the rooks, being a leader for this team ... those are the things you can control," Curry said as he looked back on some of his setbacks. "The things you can't control? You can't pull your hair out about it so that's how I learned to accept that and make sure I'm controlling what I can control."
For more on Curry and the D-League, visit SB Nation's Ridiculous Upside. The full transcript of the interview can be found here.