When you come from a Division Two program, they arrive 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. The tryout is designed to give a chance – at the cost of $175 – to players just like Maldonado searching for that golden ticket to the NBA.
“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,” the Valley Stream native told BQE Media on Monday, two days after the tryout. “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 basketball from 2013-2017 and was a three-year starter before graduating. As a senior, the 6-foot-4 guard averaged 13.3 points while shooting a very efficient 43.8 percent from three and 45.8 percent from the field.
Maldonado’s already had a taste of the pros, having played for the San German Atleticos for Baloncesto Superior Nacional, the premier basketball league in Puerto Rico.
Maldonado came off the bench for San German, where he played alongside former NBA 20-point scorer and eight-year veteran O.J. Mayo. 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 extremely wise and accommodating.
“That was the biggest thing that really helped me,” Maldonado said. “I got a little close with him here and there, worked out with him every chance I could, and picked his brain often.
From 2008-2016, Mayo played in 573 regular season and playoff games for the Memphis Grizzles, Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks. As a rookie, he averaged 18.5 points per game en route to All-Rookie First Team honors.
“We talked about everything he learned in the NBA from all these different players and coaches like Jason Kidd and Rick Carlisle,” added Maldonado. “He talked about details, offensive schemes, defensive schemes, what the scouting reports are like, what the coaches looked for with different players.
“I learned more about basketball down in Puerto Rico than I did my whole life,” he said. “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 who’s been a pro since 2014, and former 2010 MAAC Player of the Year Ryan Franklin was a 2012 BNS Finals MVP and 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, and his perspective is just very different,” said Maldonado of Carrillo. “A lot of ball movement, passing the ball from side-to-side before you even think about taking a shot, being able to pass with either hand.”
All of which prepared him for this past Saturday on Long Island, where 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 use the pro experience I gained in Puerto Rico to try to show what I could do on the basketball court,” said Maldonado.
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.
JJ Moore is also the Nets 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 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.