…This piece was originally published in Dime #70. To see the feature in its entirety, check it out on newsstands nationwide…
This past season, the NBA Development League broke their previous record with 50 NBA call-ups and 64 NBA player assignments. But there was one player who was left off the NBA call-up list, despite averaging 23.7 points per game and carrying his L.A. D-Fenders to the D-League Finals. His name is Elijah Millsap and he is still chasing the dream.
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Los Angeles D-Fenders coach Eric Musselman called Elijah Millsap to the bench after he saw his 6-6 star guard wincing in pain during Game 2 of the D-League championship series back in April. Musselman wanted to take Millsap out of the game after the guard fell on his ankle. Millsap, however, waved him off and played on. The D-Fenders didn’t win the D-League Finals against the Austin Toros, but after an amazing season, Musselman couldn’t stop raving about everything he had seen from Millsap.
“His toughness, he’s got unbelievable toughness,” says Musselman. “He’s an NBA player. There is no doubt about it.”
But Millsap never did become an NBA player this season. He saw his former D-Fenders teammate, Gerald Green, find a home with the Nets, yet no such opportunity popped up for Millsap. This is nothing new for him or even his older brother Paul, the starting power forward for the Utah Jazz.
Paul and Elijah both went to non-basketball powerhouse colleges. Paul spent his three collegiate years at Louisiana Tech and left early for the NBA Draft. He went No. 47 overall in the 2006 NBA Draft but went on to have a big rookie season, only one point shy of being on the All-Rookie First Team. Meanwhile, Elijah went undrafted out of Alabama-Birmingham, where he held career averages of 12.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
“That’s the story of our lives, flying under the radar,” says Elijah Millsap. “But we just continue to work. We like to prove people wrong because we play with the guys that are highly recruited or highly touted. I don’t know why we fly under the radar but those things happen and you just can’t dwell on it.”