When you come from a Division II program, it arrives infrequently. But as a young man fighting to make a career in the game, it’s all you want.
Diego Maldonado was one of the many participants in this past weekend’s Long Island Nets open tryout at LIU Post in Brookville. The tryout is designed to give a chance – at the cost of $175 – to players just like Maldonado – a native of Valley Stream on Long Island – searching for that golden ticket to the NBA. Both Long Island and Brooklyn front office types were on hand.
“I figured, how great of an opportunity it is to have an NBA G League team 20 or 30 minutes away from where I live,” he told NetsDaily on Monday. “It was a great opportunity, I’m thankful for it and we’ll see what happens.”
Maldonado is a product of Queens College in Flushing, where he played from 2013 to 2017 and was a three-year starter before getting his degree. As a senior, the 6’4” guard averaged 13.3 points while shooting a very efficient 43.8% from three and 45.8 percent overall from the field.
Maldonado’s already had a taste of the pros, having played for the San German Atleticos in the Baloncesto Superior Nacional, the premier basketball league in Puerto Rico.
That helped, he said, when trying out for Long Island. Unlike a lot of the others on hand, Maldonado was only weeks removed from high level basketball.
Players were evaluated through a number of drills, such as full-court scrimmages, pick-and-roll situations, weak side defense, defensive communication, spacing, versatility on both ends and more.
“I made sure to sign up early to get an opportunity to do what I can and use my pro experience that I gained in Puerto Rico to try to show what I could do on the basketball court,” said Maldonado of his experience.
Maldonado, who is of Puerto Rican descent, came off the bench for San German, where he played alongside former NBA 20-point scorer and eight-year veteran O.J. Mayo, who’s trying to resurrect his career after a year long ban for drug use. Through 35 games, San German finished 14-21, but Maldonado described his rookie campaign as a phenomenal learning experience.
“My teammates were all very good basketball players,” Maldonado insisted. “Everyone at least had one major skill that I can learn from. The veterans had multiple skills. The league was very competitive, a lot of former NBA guys.”
In particular, Maldonado sought out advice from Mayo, the most accomplished of the Atleticos, whom he described as both extremely wise and accommodating.
“That was the biggest thing that really helped me,” Maldonado says in regards to being taken under the wing of Mayo. “I got a little close with him here and there, worked out with him every chance I could and picked his brain often.
“We talked about everything he learned in the NBA from all these different players and coaches like Jason Kidd and Rick Carlisle. I just learned so much from him. He talked about details, offensive schemes, defensive schemes, what the scouting reports are like, what the coaches looked for with different players,” continued Maldonado.
All that, he said, should help him if he gets to the next stage of G League tryouts, an invitation to the Long Island training camp which opens in October 23.
“I learned more about basketball down in Puerto Rico than I did my whole life. I worked out with him as much as I can … it wasn’t just me it was all my teammates. Everything that came out his mouth, if you weren’t listening, you’re an idiot.”
The BSN season runs from May through August, and over time Maldonado played with other well-versed basketball standouts who shared the floor representing San German.
Raphiael Putney is a former G League All-Star (then D League) who’s been a pro since 2014 and former 2010 MAAC Player of the Year Ryan Franklin was a 2012 BNS Finals MVP and a part of three-time NCAA Tournament-bound Siena from 2008-2010.
The Queens College sharpshooter was also under the tutelage of Pedro Carrillo, a 10-year assistant coach in the Euro League, who was on the San German staff under head coach Ferdie Toro.
“His basketball intelligence is through the roof. It was just very different; the way his perspective of basketball is,” said Maldonado of Carrillo.
“A lot of ball movement, playing off your I.Q., passing the ball from side-to-side before you even think about taking a shot, being able to pass with either hand. It was just different.”
The Nets have made a considerable effort to utilize the G League, more so than the common NBA team, with the goal of finding additional talent to cultivate.
Spencer Dinwiddie, one of the league’s most improved players of 2017-18, was initially a G League signing in December of 2016, for example.
They also are committed to getting involved in Long Island. The tryouts, which continue September 22 in Brooklyn, are part of that. JJ Moore is the most-noted product of the Long Island tryout. Moore, also a Long Island native, tried out in 2016 and played two seasons with the G League Nets through 2018, even suiting up for the Brooklyn Nets summer league squad this past July.
Elsewhere, Jaylen Morris, a standout at fellow division two Molloy College from 2013-17, is currently with the Milwaukee Bucks on a two-way contract and spent six games with the Atlanta Hawks last season.
As Maldonado waits to see if his number will be called (literally), as he hopes to be next in the line of feel good for two islands; both Long Island and Puerto Rico.