The dream of playing in the NBA dies hard for those who played major college basketball. And that’s exactly what J.J. Moore’s dream was doing at about this time last year.
The 6-6 Brentwood product had played college ball at Pitt and Rutgers, where he was a solid player in perhaps the nation’s two toughest conferences. He had a tryout with the Kings but he didn’t make the team and decided to play 2014-15 professionally in Mexico. Last year he hadn’t gotten an NBA nibble and was going back to Mexico.
“I felt like the NBA was far away. I felt like it was just going to be a black hole, me having to play overseas for the rest of my life. There wasn’t going to be a good career for me,” Moore said. “I thought when I came back after a year, I would have a shot I didn’t get invited to work out for NBA teams.”
A different kind of tryout is keeping Moore in the states this season. The 25-year-old swingman was drafted by the fledgling Long Island Nets of the NBA Development League after an open tryout and made the roster. The Brooklyn Nets’ affiliate will play its debut season at Barclays Center before relocating to the Nassau Coliseum.
Moore hadn’t considered the tryout at LIU Post about a month ago. A workout buddy from L.A. Fitness, Nick Frank, pushed him to go. “He told me ‘we’re going!’” Moore said.
So did about 145 others, most of them players on Frank’s level. Moore stood out.
“You could see he was in the top two percent right away,” said L.I. Nets coach Ronald Nored, 26, the former Butler star.
Moore’s experience in college — as a Rutgers senior he averaged 11.6 points in 26 minutes — and his seasons in Mexico weren’t factors in the L.I. Nets drafting him. That day at LIU Post turned out to be the only chance he had to make an impression.
“I didn’t know really anything from his college. I didn’t know he played in Mexico. We wanted him because of what we saw at the local tryout,” L.I. Nets GM Trajan Langdon said. “We look at his physique and think he can be a physical player. We liked his toughness at the tryout. . . . He has a great attitude. He’s present, alert passionate about being here.”
Life in the D-League can be an odd existence, not exactly like minor league baseball. Everyone on the roster wants to develop his game and make an impression on NBA front offices. But the team’s main function is to take the players the Brooklyn Nets send them and refine them to where they can rejoin the team.
“Everyone knows what we’re doing here,” Nored said. “We’re playing the same system as the Brooklyn Nets. This year we’re in the same practice facility and playing games in the same building. Players should be able to transition seamlessly.”
“This is an opportunity for me to keep chasing my dream,” Moore said. “Here I have a chance to work in an NBA system with great coaches. They can make me better, maybe give me a shot at that dream.”
He is also getting a lot of encouragement from the Pistons’ Tobias Harris, who comes home to Long Island and has some summer workouts with Moore. “We’re talking all the time and he keeps me pumped up,” Moore said.
Moore shares a home in Commack with his fiancee, Kristina Matos, and their children, 5-year-old Justina and 1-year-old Savannah. He likes the situation he’s in this year.
“I’m here to work and keep striving,” he said. “Having my family close will be the best reminder to keep pushing for the dream.”