Betting on yourself – Awvee Storey’s Road to the NBA
- Another Dunk
- a flying Elbow to the face
- a few more Dunks
- several shoves in the back while trying to get a Rebound
- and about 100 more Rebounds!
The above is my memory of mine when I think back to my attempt at guarding Awvee Storey in practice as a freshman while playing for Arizona State University. Upon signing my letter of intent to play basketball at ASU, I was excited about the opportunity to play with Awvee. Growing up in Illinois, I remember Awvee as one of the biggest named players to come out of the state of Illinois after a phenomenal high school career at Chicago’s Proviso West. While I was originally excited about the opportunity to play with such a talented basketball player, I quickly realized that Awvee would become one of my favorite people in the world and someone that would provide me inspiration. After visiting with Awvee, while I was exploring Washington, D.C. I am now in more awe with his growth and transformation as a person, a father, and a mentor to others.
To tell Awvee’s full story, it would take a novel to fit in the obstacles he has overcome to get to where he is today (I believe this book would be a bestseller, so maybe I will have to write it someday). Since no one really wants to read a novel on this blog (do you?) I want to share a tiny piece of his amazing story that I believe could inspire others to believe in themselves and place a bet on their own talents despite what obstacles might be challenging us.
Even at a mere 6’4″ and playing the power forward position at Arizona State University, Awvee’s path to the NBA looked like it would be set in stone as he was one of the best players in the Pac-10 (now the Pac-12) as a junior. In Awvee’s Junior season he earned Honorable Mention All-Pac 10, averaging 13 points and over 9 rebounds per game (his rebounding average would lead the conference, yes at 6’4″). During his senior season Awvee struggled with some personal situations, relationship issues, and also found himself in the coaches doghouse (not a fun place to find yourself as an athlete), which led to a disappointing season for Awvee and the Sun Devils.
Playing in the NBA was always a dream of Awvee’s and a realistic goal at that, as he was one of the best players in the nation in High School and a standout in college. After his seemingly clear road to the NBA hit several roadblocks, Awvee did what countless other talented players do: he headed overseas to compete around the world. Awvee would embark on a journey that would take him to places such as South Korea, China, Australia, Venezuela, and many more. He had tremendous success as an international basketball player; winning MVP awards, championship, and making a very nice paycheck in the process. Still with all of this success he still hadn’t reached that one goal/dream that alluded him, to put on a NBA jersey and play in the best basketball league in the world. Time was running short as you do not see many 28/29 year old rookies making NBA teams.
It was the summer months and Awvee found himself playing in Caracas, Venezuela. He was making great money, living in a beautiful country, and he was one of the best players in the league. The team was having tremendous success and it looked like this would just be another stop on his tour around the world. While in Venezuela Awvee received an unexpected invite to participate in summer workouts with the New Jersey Nets (Now Brooklyn Nets). The catch was that this was somewhat of a favor due to a mutual relationship with the coach. It was also only an opportunity to workout, there was no guarantee that he would even be invited to participate as a member of the summer league team or attend training camp. Another stipulation, the Nets would not be paying for any of his expenses. Awvee would have to pay all of his expenses (travel, food, hotel, etc). This seemed like an obvious decision for most, you stay in Venezuela and continue to make really great money, tear up the league, and build your international resume.
For those that are unfamiliar with the process to make a NBA team:
- Many guys get invited to workout in the summer with NBA teams and most of them don’t stand a chance in making the team. It is often a favor to an agent, to a coach, a friend, etc.
- After the NBA draft and players compete in summer workouts, NBA teams will build a summer league team. The summer league team includes rookies that were just drafted, sometimes players that were on last seasons roster that need more work/experience, and then countless free agents (most of which never make the team).
- After the Summer League, the NBA teams will have their pre-season training camp where they invite only 20+ guys to camp (They keep around 12-14 players on the inactive & active roster). Most of the players brought in to camp are on guaranteed contracts and are a lock to make the team and there are usually 1, maybe 2, spots open for 8-10 guys. So even if you make it from summer workouts to summer league and get invited to training camp, your chances of making the team are still very slim.
So here was Awvee sitting in Venezuela cashing checks and ahead of him was this long shot opportunity to possibly play in the NBA. He knew that it was an uphill battle and that he would be risking not only a paycheck, but also he would lose money trying to achieve this almost unrealistic opportunity. With some guidance from his life long mentor, Awevee just had a feeling that he needed to take this opportunity if he was ever going to have a chance to live out his dream. This felt like his last chance. Awvee purchased his own plane ticket and he snuck out of Venezuela in the middle of the night (the team did not want him to leave and to say they were upset would be an understatement). Awvee was making a bet on himself that he was hoping would eventually pay out in ways he never could have imagined.
Awvee remembers walking into the gym for the first time thinking to himself:
What did I get myself into? This is just summer workouts and I gave up a lot of money and now I am here paying for my own travel, hotel, food, and other expenses.
The coaches told Awvee that him being with the team in the summer was not a guarantee that he would make the summer league team. Awvee had made this bet and given up a lot and he decided that step one was to impress the Nets enough to get one of the roster spots on the summer league team. Awvee spent over 4 weeks in New Jersey working out with the team as the expenses continued to pile up. His confidence started to build and he believed that he would at least get an invite to play in the summer. After spending weeks in a hotel in New Jersey and competing with several players for the exact spot that he wanted, he got the call that they wanted him to participate on the Nets’ summer league team. While making the summer league team was a huge accomplishment, only a handful of guys that play on the summer league team will get that invite to camp.
Have you ever heard the expression “Bull in a China Shop?” I was originally going to utilize this expression when I was describing the way that Awvee plays and competes, but it isn’t quite accurate. While the expression is used for someone who ” is carless in their actions in a delicate situation,” the way Awvee plays is actually like a Raging Bull in SuperCenter. The dude just goes in and mixes it up. I have never seen someone compete as hard as Awvee does. If you get in his way, you will get the bulls horns. He often leaves people on the ground in his wake (a lot of them were UofA players and the Stanford Tree, still the best story of all time. Sorry this is an inside joke, but believe me it is hilarious – If you want to hear it, leave a comment with your email and I will tell you.) I am sure several of you have never witnessed Awvee play, but the one thing I can promise is that no one will outcompete him. You combine his work ethic with his freakish athletic ability and you have a very special player. Summer league only last a couple weeks and during that time the players have to showcase their ability to compete at a high level and fit into a system. Not surprisingly to any of us that know Awvee, he did exactly this and earned a spot on the Nets training camp roster. Next obstacle overcome and now on to the big one.
Now making an NBA training camp is a huge accomplishment for most, this was still not the goal and dream that Awvee set out to achieve. I mean, he had given up money and stability and if he didn’t make the team, it would have been all for nothing. Training camp is a stressful time as it feels like every week players are being let go or cut and not coming back. Everyday that you show back up for workouts you never know if there will be a face you recognize no longer there with you. Every time the coaches pull you to the side or ask to talk, you have this thought in the back of your mind “Is this the end? Are they going to cut me.”
Awvee recounted this above experience:
“It seemed like daily I would come to practice and guys would be gone. Players were being cut and sent home left and right. As less and less players were at camp, I just remember being like I am still here.”
Finally towards the end of camp there were two players left for one roster spot. Awvee was one of the players left competing for this last spot. He remembers the conversation like it was yesterday.
“The GM called me over to the side and I was nervous to hear what he was going to say. He then said Awvee – congratulations you have made the New Jersey Nets. I thanked him and walked into the bathroom and I sat down and just started to cry. I couldn’t believe it.
As Awvee was telling me this story I started to get chills in my veins. I knew the stories of his battles that he has had to overcome being his college teammate and his road trip roommate freshman year. I knew that he had battled to get to the NBA and live out his dream. I have known many of his ups and downs and I have seen how tough this man is, but the one thing about Awvee is that he has always been an emotional guy. When he is extremely passionate about something or someone you can feel it in his energy. Listening to him tell the story of leaving Venezuela, going to camp, going to summer league, and finally getting the news that he made the New Jersye Nets, I could see his emotions start to reach the surface. Still to this day when he tells this story he gets emotional. While making the NBA might seem to be what he is getting emotional about, which is an amazing accomplishment, I can tell that what makes his energy glow is this idea that he believed in himself and his ability and he went all in despite what many others would think. He made a decision that most of us would not have made, all because he did not let fear stand in his way. I am sitting there and I start having my own fear thoughts and regrets of times that I didn’t make decisions because I didn’t have the self confidence to chase down what I wanted. I have made the safe play and it has been good/bad and I have made the risky play in my play and it has been good/bad, but it is this idea that we make decisions in our life based out of love for ourself and belief in our ability that is truly impactful.
Awvee would go on to play over 4 years in the NBA (playing for the New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards, and the Milwaukee Bucks) and since his retirement as a player he has been blessed to continued his passion as a coach, trainer, video coordinator, and mentor in the NBA/WNBA. He has created a non profit organization in the Washington, DC area and he has become a father to an amazing little girl. To see Awvee’s growth from college to now is one that seems unbelievable, but if you have ever met this man you will know that nothing is impossible for him. I know one thing is that while he will continue to bet on himself and his abilities, I as a friend will be there to double down on anything he decides to pursue.