Like many young basketball players, Taren Sullivan’s dream while growing up was always to play in the NBA. And while the odds of that vision becoming a reality are extremely steep, for even the most gifted basketball players, Sullivan has moved within one step of making that dream come true.
Sullivan, the former Bath High School and University of Findlay star, is a member of the Stockton Kings in the NBA’s G League, the official minor league of the National Basketball Association. The G League is a developmental program comprised of 28 teams, all of them affiliated with a parent NBA club. 53 percent of the current NBA players have spent time in the G League at some point during their career.
Each year, hundreds of promising players vie for the chance to grab a spot on a G League roster. Sullivan’s break came when he received a coveted invitation to the NBA’s G League Camp in Chicago. “I played well there and was named one of the top 10 prospects in camp by several pro scouting reports,” says Sullivan. The Sacramento Kings liked what they saw and signed Sullivan to a contract and assigned him to their G League affiliate in Stockton, California.
Sullivan and his Kings were in Fort Wayne Monday night to play the Indiana Pacers affiliate, the Mad Ants. It was the team’s first road trip east of the Mississippi. A boisterous crowd of nearly 200 Lima family, friends and fans made up the bulk of those in the arena and Sullivan brought them out of their chairs with two long 3-pointers and a thunderous dunk. “It felt like being back home again,” said Sullivan. “I appreciate all those people who drove over here to support me.”
Through 19 games, Sullivan has three starts but it is battling for minutes and learning the ropes of surviving the ups and downs of professional basketball. He is averaging just over five points a game and 16 minutes of action.
Sullivan described the difficult jump to professional basketball. “The biggest challenge is mental,” says Sullivan. “It’s not just about athleticism, it’s about reading defenses quickly and knowing when to go fast and when to go slow. In a lot of ways, it’s completely different than college basketball,” he adds.
Sullivan, who enjoyed an All-American career at the University of Findlay, misses aspects of his college experience. “I miss the crowds and the atmosphere of the games at Findlay,” he said. “And there was more of a brotherhood between teammates in college. Guys are friendly in the pros, but everybody is fighting for minutes and trying to catch the eyes of an NBA team.”
Sullivan does not miss the long bus rides in college. “I actually like the travel here in the G League,” he says. “We fly to our games and I enjoy playing in the large arenas and visiting big cities that I’ve never been to before.”
As one of the youngest players on his team, Sullivan feels his time is coming. “There is a lot of movement in the G League,” he says. “NBA teams send guys down and call them up all the time and that can take minutes away from you or give you the opportunity for more playing time,” he adds.
Later this month the G League rosters open up so that any NBA team can sign players from any team in the G League. “Every time you’re on the floor you have to treat it like you’re auditioning for every team in the NBA and you never know when they may be looking for a specific skill set that you have,” Sullivan says.
The Stockton Kings have another important connection to Lima. Their general manager, Anthony McClish, is a 2008 graduate of Shawnee High School. The ambitious, young McClish, who has been on an NBA payroll for the past seven years, sees great potential in Sullivan but cautioned it will take time for Taren to adjust to playing against the incredible athletes he is seeing on a nightly basis.
“You have to put it in perspective,” McClish says. “Taren has to be patient. He is seeing a new level of talent and he is seeing it every night in practice and in our games. You can swap the talent in this league with the end of the bench on NBA teams. That takes time to get used to. Taren is making the adjustment and we are very high on him.”
Sullivan talked about the challenge of staying positive through the grind of a fifty-game professional basketball season. “You do kind of hit a wall, he says, but I’m staying motivated and confident, and I get a lot of support from my family and my fianceé (Ellie Dackin).
As Sullivan and his Kings move into the heart of their schedule, he is focused on making the most of his opportunity.
“I’m just trying to find my groove and earn more minutes,” he said.
Reach Bob Seggerson at firstname.lastname@example.org.