By David Mullen
Among the key players on the Dallas Mavericks 2021-22 roster, Jalen Brunson, Spencer Dinwiddie and Dwight Powell were second round NBA draft choices. Sometimes, future NBA stars don’t need a second chance, they need a chance at being second.
Former college star, EuroLeague player and NBA scout Pete Mickeal knows firsthand the feeling of being a second-round choice. After a stellar high school career in Rock Island, Ill., Mickeal played two years as a forward with Indian Hills Community College and was named National Junior College Player of the Year. He transferred to the University of Cincinnati, where he was named an Honorable Mention All-American by The Associated Press.
Mickeal was selected by the Mavericks in the second round (58th pick) of the 2000 NBA Draft but was traded to a New York Knicks that had just competed in the NBA Finals. He spent the season on injured reserves. Later stops in Houston and Orlando proved unsuccessful in his quest to play in an NBA game.
With Ernie Cambo, owner of Humacao in Baloncesto Superior Nacional, a professional men’s basketball league in Puerto Rico, Mickeal organized an international basketball combine called “The NTX Combine,” held May 8 through May 11 at the Duncanville Fieldhouse. It featured former NBA Stars Mike Bibby and Mo Evans, and coach Bob Thornton mentoring top NBA prospects and collegiate players.
“The idea came from me being drafted and going through the pre-draft process,” said Mickeal, 44, who had a successful career in European basketball leagues. “Sometimes a player goes undrafted or doesn’t get looked at. That’s why I decided to create this idea to be able to give those guys — those second-round draft picks — an opportunity to exhibit [their talents]. There are so many good players, it is sometimes hard for the NBA to see.
“Being drafted, being in combines and being a former NBA scout, I understand this process just as well as anyone in the world. I lived every angle of it.”
Throughout the three days of the combine, the NBA pre-Draft event included games, individual skill sets and dunk and three-point shooting contests. Top NBA Draft prospects David Azore (UT Arlington), JD Notae (Arkansas), Jacob Young (Oregon), Taze Moore (Houston), Royce Hamm Jr. (UNLV) and Jordan Shepherd (California) were scheduled to participate. The 2022 NBA Draft is Thursday, June 23.
“The 2022 NTX Combine is filled with high level prospects that will be evaluated by NBA personnel. A lot of these players will play themselves onto a summer league roster, and possibly an NBA exhibit 10 contract, two-way or G League contract,” Mickeal said. “We are giving 32 young men a real opportunity to get exposure in front of millions of fans on cable TV.” This year’s NTX Combine will be broadcasted to 75 million households nationwide, including AT&T Sportsnet Southwest, NESN, MASN, NBC Sports Chicago and more.
Mickeal serves as the president of Mickeal Sports Group, which specializes in marketing and placing professional basketball players worldwide. Mickeal is considered one of the greatest American players to ever play in Europe. He won 12 cup championships in Liga ACB (Spain), which is widely considered the second-best league in the world. He won a Euroleague Championship in 2010 with Barcelona and is a member of the Junior College Hall of Fame.
Some teams draft on need. Others draft to fill out a young roster for the future. The NBA Summer League and the G League (formerly the D League for “Developmental,” before Gatorade bought the naming rights) serves as a proving ground giving players a chance to hone their skills and mature.
“Nowadays, what’s great is that second round picks are free agents and can sign two-way contracts,” Mickeal said. Two-way contracts give a team “player control,” with the ability to shuffle the player from the G League to the pro roster. “They couldn’t do that back when I played.”
The NBA has become a 12-month league. The NBA Summer League is another opportunity for second round draft picks and undrafted players to showcase their talents to all teams. “Say, for example, you go undrafted, play and have a great Summer League,” Mickeal said. “You are auditioning for every team in the league. People have this thing that “I am playing for the [Los Angeles] Lakers.” Well, you are not really playing for the Lakers, that’s just the team you are on. When I was a scout, I worked from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day of summer league. We scouted every single player. You are going to be seen.”
Versatility is key in today’s NBA. Players are asked to have ball handling skills and be great shooters, able to play inside and outside. But many collegiate players leave college early and face a professional life they are not ready for and are expected to learn on the run.
“The mentorship program is very important to me,” Mickeal said. The combine includes talks from former NBA players, coaches and retired union executives. “I didn’t have it when I came up. We have financial planners coming in to discuss the type of money they are going to come into and how to protect themselves.”
A combine traditionally is a measurement of basketball skills. Mickeal makes sure that a player’s off-the-court knowledge is measured as well. “This is truly a one-of-a-kind experience from the mentorship program we have in place.”
As a Minnesota Timberwolves scout, Mickael expected players to know the team’s roster, the contract status of players and team needs, not just the coach’s name and past history. “The interviewing process is the most important in making a team. We rank you from one to 10. That’s what I prepare players for. Whenever you leave that room, that’s how we feel about you. There is no way to change that the rest of the way moving forward. You have to educate players.
“One message I always give my players is ‘You only need just one of everything. Not two, not three, just one. One car, one home …’ That is the message I get across to all players. Basketball always takes care of itself, but it is the mental aspect that defines you as a person. I have lived every moment of it.
“If you go to an NBA team as a second-round pick, how many points are you really going to score? You have to find your role … your niche.” Being a second-round pick who never got the chance to play in the NBA, Mickeal (pictured above) has finally found his niche. He is providing insight to the players of tomorrow.