Entering the 2009-2010 season, Will Conroy was the NBA Developmental League’s career leader in the following categories: Minutes Played, Field Goals Made, Field Goals Attempted, Free Throws Made, Free Throws Attempted, Assists, Turnovers, and perhaps most importantly, Points Scored.
He was amongst the top ten in six other categories: Games Played (8th), 3-Point Field Goals Made (6th), 3-Point Field Goals Attempted (5th), Steals (3rd), Assists Per Game (4th), and Assist Percentage (8th).
And yet in spite of all he has accomplished in basketball’s minor leagues, Conroy, the Crash Davis of the hardwood, cannot get a job in the NBA.
No matter that the D-League was established to reward players like Conroy for their efforts.
No matter that the former University of Washington point guard has enjoyed stints (usually in 10-day intervals) with NBA ballclubs.
No matter that he has refused lucrative contracts overseas to fight for his lifelong dream of an NBA career.
To put it bluntly, Will Conroy is the victim of a system that isn’t working out.
The D-League was designed to give worthy players a chance. And here we have arguably the most worthy player of all, unable to catch a break.
If there was an NBDL Hall of Fame, Conroy would be a first ballot inductee. He’s the LeBron James of the basketball underworld. The king of the could-bes. The czar of the almosts. The biggest of fish in the smallest of ponds.
He’s a testament to the league he plays in, the league he embodies, the league he represents. He has sacrificed for that league, sweat for that league, bled for that league, worked for that league. And yet that league has yet to give back to him. Not that you’d ever hear him complain. Will Conroy enjoys playing basketball too much to waste his energy complaining.
But someone needs to complain for him. Because this guy isn’t a D-League basketball player. He’s got A-League written all over him, and why 30 NBA teams can’t see that is, quite simply, beyond belief.
The NBDL is now in its ninth season. Conroy, now 27 years of age, has been there for over half the league’s existence, totaling five years of service time with three different franchises (the Tulsa 66ers, Albuquerque Thunderbirds, and Rio Grande Valley Vipers).
Since the former walk-on departed Washington as a decorated four-year player and three-year starter, over 5,000 regular season NBA games have been played. Conroy has been a part of nine of those contests, totaling 72 minutes of playing time.
He has four career points, all accrued in one 10-day stint with the Houston Rockets earlier this season.
He has played for the Los Angeles Clippers, one of few players to do so willingly.
He has mustered 11 assists to just six turnovers in those fleeting opportunities, proving he can dish at the game’s highest level.
And yet as we speak, Conroy remains a D-Leaguer, a Viper of the Rio Grande Valley (based in Hidalgo, Texas, for the uninitiated). A guy that has been rumored as a potential call-up on numerous occasions. But has only actually, for real, no joke been called up thrice.
If the NBDL wants legitimacy, it needs to make examples of its stars.
If the NBDL wants respect, it needs to be more than just a storage shed for future first-round busts and current second-round projects.
If the NBDL wants to succeed, it needs to promote from within. Give guys like Conroy a real shot. Propel them to the NBA, and allow fans to cheer for the true underdogs, the ultimate survivors, the feel-good stories of a league that rarely gets such positive press.
Will Conroy is the greatest player in the history of the D-League.
But he’d gladly trade that honor for a life in the NBA.