Still chasing basketball dream with Vegas Ballers, Roscoe Smith is ‘in too deep’


Roscoe Smith, like a lot of other players in The Basketball League, is in too deep.

That’s why he recently went through a tryout for the league’s new franchise, the Vegas Ballers, and that’s why he found himself at the Tarkanian Basketball Academy on Wednesday for the team’s first media day.

Smith, 29, still wants to play basketball.

He doesn’t know any other way.

“Just love of the game,” Smith says when asked why he’s still grinding away, seven years removed from a productive college career. “I’ve invested so much into basketball, I’m too deep into this game. I don’t have a backup plan. I’ve been playing ball since I was 6 years old. That’s all I know. I’m in too deep.”

The Basketball League has all the do-it-yourself charm inherent to minor league sports.

The fledgling league, now entering its third year, has upward of 30 teams (it’s difficult to pin down the exact number) and this season’s 20-game schedule is set to tip off today (though the location of the Ballers’ first contest was still up in the air 48 hours before tip-off).

At the media day event, players shared one jersey as they took turns posing for team photos. While that went on, regular Joes ran a pickup game on an adjacent court on the other side of a dividing curtain.

And the “owner” of the Ballers? Ten-year-old Jeremiah Williams, the son of NBA veteran and former Findlay Prep coach Jerome Williams (the man who is actually running the team).

It’s small and it’s charming and it’s fun.

But to the players — to men like Smith — this is very serious business.

“I’ve been around,” Smith says. “I played in the NBA. I played in the G-League, the D-League, played high-major college. This is a new league. The Vegas Ballers, we’re transitioning to a pro team. Everything we do is pro-like as far as our travel, our conditioning, our mindset. We’re taking a professional approach to this.”

Smith, a 6-foot-8 swingman, has lived the life of a basketball journeyman. As a freshman he started on UConn’s 2011 national championship team. He transferred to UNLV for one season (2013-14), where he averaged a double-double with 11.1 points and 10.9 rebounds. He went undrafted in 2014, but played in the NBA Summer League and subsequently signed a training camp contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.

He was cut before the season began.

Since then, Smith has bounced between four G-League teams and also logged time in the Israeli Premier League and the Greek B League.

None of that has deterred Smith from continuing to pursue his pro basketball dream.

“It’s easy to slip through the cracks,” Smith says. “With the game of basketball, sometimes the situation might not work out for you. You might not be on the right team or in the right situation or whatever the case may be. You’ve got to be mentally strong.”

Smith’s story is not uncommon. There are a lot of players like him who need a platform, and with the COVID-19 pandemic eliminating G-League and overseas opportunities in 2020, those players were left out in the cold.

“Obviously it’s been tough with the pandemic,” Smith says. “All over the world, a lot of people losing a lot of things. This is a great opportunity for a lot of guys right now. It’s a lot of college guys who didn’t get a chance to play in the G-League because of the pandemic. To have this opportunity, this is a blessing.”

The Vegas Ballers are doing what they can to make this a legitimate operation. Jerome Williams has serious NBA credentials, as does the team’s head coach, James Robinson. Assistant coach Keith Starr was a UNLV assistant under Jerry Tarkanian and also played in the NBA.

They all know how important this is to Smith and all the guys like him in the TBL.

“Once you finish college there aren’t many opportunities,” Robinson says. “Whether you’re trying to get to the G-League, overseas or the NBA, this is a great opportunity.”

What Robinson, Starr and Williams also understand — certainly more than the current players — is that the career window for a professional athlete is narrow. For someone like Smith, who will turn 30 in May, it’s getting close to now-or-never time.

“You can only play so long,” Robinson says. “Roscoe is at the age, 28, 29, that’s your prime. So he ain’t got much longer. In about four or five years when you’re 34 or 35, the love is still there, but [physically] it’s not the same.”

Starr was 30 years old when he suited up for a semi-pro team in Las Vegas in the 1980s. He performed well, he says, but tore up his knee, effectively ending his playing career.

So Starr gets why Smith wants to stave off his basketball mortality for as long as he can.

“Roscoe still has an opportunity,” Starr says. “He’s young enough and he’s in pretty good shape. But there’s going to come a time when he’s going to have to put it down, and then he’s going to have to use schoolwork and whatever to get a job. But it’s hard to give up.”

Smith believes his break could come at any moment. It just takes one coach, one scout, one executive to see him play and give him a chance at the next level.

He is determined to keep going until that happens.

“I’m still young. I’m 29. This group of guys, we’ve got a chance to keep doing what we love to do.”

Smith is in too deep to do anything but keep playing.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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