Doing Everything To Make It

If you’re a 6-0, 180-pound, Wall Street intern, having pro dreams to play in the NBA may not seem like the most realistic of goals. Just don’t tell that to Brian Kortovich. Having got his start on the hard-court as a youngster in Cleveland, Ohio, Brian quickly rose the ranks to become one of the best young talents in the city.

After making a name for himself on the Shooting Stars AAU team and playing high school ball at Holy Name High School – one of the top private Catholic schools in the city – he had to transfer to Brunswick High School because of financial hardships. Having ambitious hopes at the beginning of the season, his senior year there proved to be a bit of a disappointment, and as a result had no offers from any D-I schools and had to settle for the few D-II offers available to him.

Still, he made the best of it. Hoping it would lead to a Division I scholarship, Kortovich chose to attend hometown Cuyahoga Community College – and this time he didn’t disappoint. Over his tenure there as starting point guard, he put up 17 points and six assists per game while leading the NJCAA in three-point field goals made (111) his freshman year. (He even drew comparisons to a young Mark Price.)

In case you were wondering, he crossed paths with LeBron in Cleveland during his summer breaks from college during the James’ first few years in the NBA. Through a mutual friend, they were able to play together in a couple organized pick-up games, earning praise from King James on one occasion after leading his team to a string of victories while putting on a shooting clinic. “Yo kid, you can really shoot the lights out,” was all that James said, though the words still reverberate within Kortovich to this day.

After his sophomore year at Cuyahoga, he transferred to Division I Manhattan College, choosing them over the likes of Cleveland State, Delaware State and Auburn. On a full scholarship and expectations at their highest, Brian suffered a bout of injuries that kept him from progressing as anticipated.

Would that deter him? Not even in the slightest. After graduating college in ’06 back in Ohio, Brian decided that in order to pursue his dream and connect with the right people, he needed to take his talents to the Mecca of everything basketball, New York City. He found a job interning on Wall Street in the commodities exchange during the day, while exploring the NYC hoops scene at night – a double life even Clark Kent would admire.

He quickly began earning his respect on the playgrounds of NYC – not an easy task for a six-foot white kid from Cleveland – and was able to get burn at Rucker Park, Pro-City, West 4th Street, Tri-State and Dyckman. He even earned the nickname “Smokin’ Aces,” given to him by EBC’s Hannibal for his sweet stroke behind the arc.

All his hard work and networking paid off when Brian landed his first pro gig in Kuwait. Subsequent to that he’s found himself playing pro ball all over the world, landing on rosters in Italy, France, Israel, the Dominican Republic and eventually getting drafted into the D-League.

His time spent globally branding his name and honing his game was not an effort in futility, as it eventually led him to the grandiose stage of the NBA. In the summer of ’09, he was invited by the Knicks for an individual workout. He impressed coaches and staff so much that they invited him back for preseason workouts that year and the following year, scrimmaging with the likes of Amar’e Stoudemire, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler.

“Brian is a lights out shooter and has a great understanding of the game,” Knicks assistant coach Dan D’Antoni said. “He has been overlooked for whatever reason. He can play in the NBA and proved it against our guys. There’s a spot for Brian on every NBA roster.” Even Knicks assistant GM Allan Houston – who himself was a sharp-shooter during his playing days – had only praise for the young Ohioan. “Brian is a tough competitor who knows the game and has a great stroke,” Houston said. “He has seen the level of energy and commitment that it takes to play at the highest level. I love his passion.”

After word spread of his impressive workouts, the New Jersey Nets extended him an invitation to their preseason camp where he caught the eye of assistant coach Sam Mitchell. “Brian is an extremely hard-worker who can really shoot the basketball with the best of them,” Mitchell said. “He can definitely be an asset to teams at the NBA level.”

The Knicks and Nets both went in different directions, but Kortovich gained the invaluable exposure needed to help him get to that next level. Though not always the fastest or strongest player out there, he has a work ethic that is boundless, a drive that is unparalleled… and did I mention he can shoot the lights out? He’s just a regular guy waiting, make that working, for that next big break.

Follow Arie on Twitter at @arnie_starkish.

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