The new NBA G League Ignite club is among 18 teams that will play later this month in Orlando, Fla. Like the NBA did last summer, these squads will play in their own “bubble” at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Former Gopher Jordan Murphy is one of four returnees on the 2021 Iowa Wolves roster. The 6’6” forward is in his second year with the Timberwolves’ G League affiliate.
The Ignite, based in Walnut Creek, Calif. is not a typical G League club—it is in its first year, established to develop top young prospects that opted not to play in college but get ready for the NBA Draft. It also provides life skills training, financial literacy education, and community service involvement to the players, many of whom just finished high school last spring.
“Being able to develop my own program is nice,” Ignite Coach Brian Shaw stated recently on a Zoom media call that included the MSR. The former NBA player and coach noted, “The NBA situation … everybody has different agendas—general manager, president of the team, the head coach. I was given a blank slate to do it the way I saw fit. You often don’t get to have it that way. It made sense for me to come.”
Six top prospects: Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix, Kai Sotto and Princepal Singh have been training with Shaw since last August.
“Whether you like it or not, school isn’t for everybody,” Shaw explained to a reporter’s question on the age-old debate to play one-and-done college ball or go straight pro after high school. “There’s guys who are going to school and guys go overseas. Some will take the G League route,” he pointed out.
NBA and NBA G League veterans Amir Johnson, Reggie Hearn, Brandon Ashley, Cody Demps, and Bobby Brown later joined the club to provide a veteran presence.
Shaw later told the MSR that his program and the G League’s overall purpose are to not only better prepare players for the big league, but also others seeking basketball-related jobs. “We’re starting from A and building to Z,” he responded. “We preach to the players that everything they do on the floor … We want to show them a blueprint on what it takes to be a pro, both on and off the court.”
Shaw also relishes his responsibility as a coach, being a pseudo-parent for his young charge. “I’ve always been honest and straight, whether they want to hear it or not,” he said.
Furthermore, Shaw stressed, “Me as a Black man who is coaching a lot of young men, I feel more of a responsibility, an obligation to prepare them for a lot of things outside of basketball.”
Shaw surmised that his players haven’t completely ruled out attending college at some point. “When you can still get the work done and get paid for your lifelong dream of making it and playing in the NBA” it’s something the young men can’t pass up at this time, he concluded.
The Ignite’s first game is Feb. 10 against Santa Cruz.
Bits and pieces
The USA Women’s National Team will hold its first mini-camp of 2021, Feb. 4-7 at the University of South Carolina. Nineteen players, including Lynx players Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier, are expected to participate.
South Carolina HC Dawn Staley is the U.S. Olympic coach and Dallas Stars’ first-year HC Vickie Johnson is among the coaches working during the four-day camp.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.