No matter how circuitous the route, whether straight out of college or after touring multiple professional leagues around the globe, all 15 players in the Capital City Go-Go training camp earlier this month hope they’ll be playing in the NBA in the future. It’s a worthwhile dream, but only a few, if any, will achieve it. The Go-Go will give some a chance.
After an offseason which involved launching a franchise from scratch and opening a new arena, the Wizards staffed their G League affiliate with former local hoops stars Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Jarrell Christian as the general manager and head coach, respectively. The two spent the offseason filling up their staffs and putting together the roster. The newly formed team will begin play on Saturday, Nov. 3 at Entertainment and Sports Arena in Congress Heights.
“Going into [the G League Draft] we had 80-90 percent of our team,” Mensah-Bonsu says. “Luckily for us we were able to stumble upon some of our top-10 guys.”
The Go-Go added Darel Poirier, a French forward who will be eligible for the 2019 NBA Draft, with their first pick.
“He’s a development guy,” Mensah-Bonsu says. “But obviously we feel like he can develop into something special.”
The Go-Go’s other draft-day acquisitions included the versatile Noah Allen, who played three seasons at UCLA before finishing his collegiate career in Hawaii as a graduate transfer. He played for the Golden State Warriors’ Summer League team in 2017.
Allen falls into a common profile of a G League player, one that is a couple of years removed from college and looking to play professionally in the United States in order to keep the NBA hope alive despite going undrafted.
Isaiah Armwood played at Montrose Christian in Rockville and finished his collegiate career in 2014 at George Washington University. Armwood has some of the strongest local ties on the team and was playing professionally in Europe before joining Capital City. Former Butler standout Kellen Dunham was invited to training camp after a year in Belgium. He also had a short stint in the G League at the beginning of his career, with the Iowa Energy. The league’s new two-way contracts allow NBA teams to expand their rosters from 15 to 17 for two players who compete mainly in the G League.
“I’ve seen the history [of the league], even from last year, they’re breaking records with call-ups [to the NBA], and obviously the two-way contracts have been giving us a little bit more hope,” Dunham says. “So it’s exciting to play in the G League this year.”
Two other players on the roster, Pe’Shon Howard and Quinton Chievous have previous G League experience and played Division I basketball.
Point guard Chris Chiozza joined the Wizards fresh out of his senior season at Florida for summer camp. Former Morgan State shooting guard Tiwian Kendleyalso graduated in 2018 and attended Wizards camp. These two were both waived, but took advantage of the Exhibit 10 rule, which allows players who were invited to NBA summer camp to receive a significant bonus for signing with that team’s G League affiliate.
Former Stanford starChasson Randle also joined under the Exhibit 10 contract. He’s one of two players on the Go-Go who has played in the NBA, making a handful of appearances for the Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks. Randle was a big pickup for the Go-Go—he has the skills and charisma to be a leading face of this new franchise.
“The [Exhibit 10 bonus] money definitely played a little bit of a factor, but for me the goal has always been, since a little kid, was to play in the NBA,” Randle says. “I was fortunate enough to taste that a couple years ago, and it’d be great to have that feeling back.”
Randle is coming off a one-year stint in Spain, where he was part of a EuroLeague championship team with Real Madrid.
“I got better,” he says of his experience in arguably the best basketball league outside of the U.S. “They’re more team-oriented over there, so I got a chance to learn a lot from the guys around me. I think I can take those experiences back here”
One of his new teammates, Lavoy Allen, compiled up 388 NBA appearances from 2011-2017, spending over two years with the 76ers before losing his roster spot after three-plus seasons with the Indiana Pacers. The former Temple star was the 50th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
He’s not the only seasoned vet around. Mike Davismade his way to training camp by way of the local tryout. He’s played in Ukraine, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Turkey. Now the T.C. Williams High School alum will be playing just a few miles away from his high school gym.
“I can’t wait to have my family to come actually watch me,” he says. “I’ve been overseas most of my career. So playing home locally is amazing.”
Devin Sweetney played high school ball at Riverdale Baptist in Upper Marlboro and has 12 international teams listed on his resume before Capital City. A Southeast native, he feels a special pride that affects his goals as part of this organization.
“It means everything,” he says about coming back home. “Being a D.C. native, particularly growing up in Southeast, 10 mins away from this arena. If I had thought of this 20 years ago, I couldn’t imagine. For me being here, being in this position … it’s bigger than anything else, it’s just a matter of giving back and creating an atmosphere for these kids in this neighborhood.”
The NBA may appear to be a distant dream, or even beyond reach, for some of these players. Those who go undrafted face steep odds of making it in the league, and even if they do, holding on to a roster spot is a constant battle. But that’s not deterring Go-Go players from giving it a shot.
“It could be a guy that started off as a tryout player that made the roster,” Christian says. “It could be a guy that’s been on the roster and got an overseas contract. That’s why I think the G League is so special, because it can launch people into different directions. Everybody has their own individual success story. …Once guys understand that this is a direct pipeline to the NBA, a lot more players are going to take this route.”