Role Players Get Paid – Atlanta Skyhawks Season Preview – The Chattanoogan

If a talented player was stranded in an intergalactic league set among the stars, Skyhawks general manager Tori Miller would know about him and have a full scouting report on his strengths and weaknesses. During the College Park Skyhawks (the Atlanta Hawks’ developmental G-League team) Wednesday media day, Miller said Hawks GM Travis Schlenk has given her total control over the team’s diverse roster.

 
“Travis has done a great job of constructing a roster in Atlanta, and he’s fully empowered me to kind of take the reins and run with the program,” Miller said.

“I have a spreadsheet of guys overseas, and I track every signing and where they’re playing. They can be playing in Lithuania or the moon, and I’ll know where they are and what they’re doing.”
 
Miller looked to Canada to find a veteran point guard, signing former NC State standout Cat Barber, who had spent the last year playing for German and Canadian teams. Now 27 years old, the still quick Barber has a more-developed ability to run a team, and should be a leader off-the-court in 2021-22.
 
“I feel like we’re in it together, so if they need to ask me something, then I’ll tell them what they need to hear,” Barber said about mentoring the younger players. “It’s a grind, so we all got to be in it together. It’s basketball no matter who goes up and who goes down, but it can be strange trying to get chemistry with guys who haven’t been here, but that’s just part of the grind.”
 
Another “older” guard on the roster is the explosive IC Iroegbu, who has played in Europe and the G-League in years past. He and Barber will be tasked with running the sets in coach Steve Gansey’s offense.  The 36 year-old coach has been involved in the G-League since 2011, and marveled at how far the league has progressed since it’s early days.
 
“I remember that I used to cut video with $50 Best Buy software, and now everybody has a sport coat and computers, and they do a good job of treating it like an NBA team,” coach Gansey said. “We are still the JV to the varsity, but I love how it’s evolved. Players are getting more money, and getting their own hotel rooms. It’s turning into something really special and we’re able to compete against some of those overseas teams.”
 
The longtime coach may have been described as “detail-oriented” by several players, but Gansey isn’t a ruthless taskmaster by all accounts. He uses a wide-open system, and encourages players to come to him with concerns and questions about their role on the team.
 
“So far, he’s been easy to play for and he’s open to communicating,” Iroegbu said. “It’s been straightforward. He gives us freedom to play our game. The biggest thing Tori and coach and everyone here has been harping on is “family” and everyone working together and being on the same page and pushing each other.”
 
Having a defined role on the Skyhawks is essential, as Miller noted that most players at that level are going to be asked to do one or two things for an NBA team, should they get a call-up. Bigman Justin Tillman has had a nomadic career since graduating from VCU in 2018. While he knows his energy and relentlessness on the boards is what will give him a possible spot on the Hawks roster, he and his teammates are also trying to expand and improve their game at the same time.
 
“Everybody on each team has a role, and a job they need to continue to hone and perform at a high level,” Tillman said. “You can continue to do that as long as you keep working on your craft and building on it. But you also have to remember what your base is and stick with that.”
 
“Something I preach is ‘role players get paid in the NBA,’” Miller said. “If you’re in the G-League, nine times out of 10 you’re not going to be a go-to guy on a nightly basis, so you have to play a role. You can master your role and be a star in your role at the G-League level, and then have a smooth transition to the NBA into that same role.”
 
Most NBA teams use two-way contracts to give talented young players a chance to get minutes with the G-League affiliate while also practicing with the top club. The Hawks are no exception, and high-profile prospects such as Jalen Johnson and Skyler Mayes will see time and probably dominate when assigned to the Skyhawks. But the most-touted prospect is easily mixtape-sensation and Auburn product Sharife Cooper.
 
“He’s a local guy, so everyone wants to see Sharife, and we can’t wait for our fans to come see him because he’s a really good player,” Miller said. “He has good pace and his ability to get his teammates involved is a rare skill set.”
 
Landon Taliaferro has considerably less hype around him, but will be asked to be a key contributor as a sniper who can space the floor for drivers. After playing a season in Kosovo and Luxemburg, Taliaferro said he felt called to come back to the United States.
 
“Part of being overseas and in Europe is that it’s such a new culture and a new world you have to adapt to,” the Fairfield alum and third-round pick said. “Being around family and being closer to home meant I could see my mom more. And honestly, I just prayed and tried to see where God wanted me to be. This is where I’m at now, and I’m enjoying it.”
 
Miller didn’t have to blast through outer space to find DaQuan Jeffries. He has spent part of the last two seasons in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings and the Houston Rockets as a spot starter. Now a seasoned vet, Jeffries knows what it takes to make it to the league, and what is required to stay at that level.
 
“I know I can play at that level, and my experience in the NBA motivates me to get back there and stay there,” Jeffries said. “The difference between the two levels are the little and mental things. Like getting extra treatment after practice, watching more film, getting up extra shots before and after practice. And something people don’t realize is that you have to have your head on straight, because there’s a lot of stress in this job that you can’t see.”
 
The Skyhawks will hopefully cause their opponents plenty of stress in the 2021-22 season, which tips off on Friday against the Maine Red Claws. The showdown with the Boston Celtics’ affiliate tips off at 2:00 P.M EST.
 
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Do you have an opinion on this article, or have a story you believe needs coverage? You can contact the author at Joseph.A.Dycus@gmail.com or on Twitter at @joseph_dycus.
 
 
November 3, 2021
November 3, 2021
November 3, 2021
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