The Brooklyn Nets broadcast team is one of the best in the business and they have a lot of fun during the games. During their “Who am I?” game a few weeks back, a controversy brewed over little-known point guard Donald Sloan’s dogs name. The media guide had his bull terrier’s name listed as Chico, but that wasn’t accurate.
“Sarah (Kustok) came up to me and was like, ‘Hey so quick question, this has nothing to do with the game, but is your dog named Chico.’ I think they were having a debate on who’s, who,” said Sloan, whose dogs name really is Delta. “She’s a pretty big part of my life. I’ve had her since college and she’s become part of the family. She travels just like I travel, when I go somewhere she’s there.”
Delta must have racked up plenty of frequent flier miles over the years because it’s been a long journey to this point for Sloan, whose vagabond journey has taken him from the D-League to the NBA and back with detours to China and the Philippines. The Sherveport, Louisiana native went undrafted in 2010 after four years at Texas A&M where he graduated as a member of the winningest class in school history.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Sloan worked his way into receiving a one-year non-guaranteed contract from the Sacramento Kings and was part of their 2010 Summer League roster. He ended up getting cut prior to the start of the season and found himself in the D-League as a member of the Reno Longhorns, where Sloan first experienced doubt about his NBA future.
“The only time I had any doubt was when I first got into the D-League because I was playing behind a soon-to-be called up D-League All-Star who was averaging like 20 and 11 assists a game in Aaron Miles,” Sloan told me in the Nets locker room. “I wasn’t seeing much time and I’m like well this is the D-League, I’m not playing much here and I’m thinking it’s going to be a little better, different than what was going on. So when it wasn’t happening I kind of got a little discouraged and thinking that it wouldn’t happen for me, but again Aaron Miles gets hurt, tears his ACL and I have to step right in and play.”
After his stint with Reno, Sloan headed overseas during the 2011 offseason and landed in Manila as a replacement import for the Barangay Ginebra Kings. He ended up playing only seven games in the Philippines, averaging 22.6 points, 5.3 assists while leading his team to the Governors’ Cup tournament semifinals. Sloan refers to Manila as his “second home” and he still keeps in contact with several of his former Ginebra teammates.
During the lockout, Sloan played in the 2011 Pan-American games, an experience that provided a bridge to the starting point of his NBA career. After helping the U.S. team win a bronze medal, he played with the Erie Bayhawks of the D-League until the lockout ended. Sloan then landed a training camp invite with the Atlanta Hawks and he hasn’t stopped tweeting “I’m up” since. He made the team, but was waived in late January after playing in only five games.
Soon after, Sloan signed a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Hornets, but was not offered another contract and he returned to the BayHawks. He landed with the Cleveland Cavaliers late that season and appeared to find a home, playing well enough to start 11 games and stick with the team to open the 2012-13 campaign. He appeared in 20 games before being waived on Christmas Day of 2012, becoming the nineteenth player in league history to be fired on the holiday
Sloan went back to the D-League and was acquired by the Sioux Falls Skyforce. After playing in just two games with the team, he signed another 10-day contract with the Hornets, which was not extended upon completion. He returned to the Skyforce, where he averaged 22.1 PPG, 7.4 APG, and 6.5 RPG, before making a return to Asia, this time as part of the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.
“When those decisions have to be made for your career a lot of guys think it’s necessarily a bad thing or I failed so I have to go over here, “ Sloan said. “But that’s not necessarily the key because a lot of times you have to take those steps to show people that you’re willing to do those things in order to make it and I took the chance.”
When he returned stateside, Sloan was finally rewarded with a two-year, $1.8 million contract from the Pacers in the summer of 2013, briefly putting a halt to his nomadic ventures. With injuries to George Hill and C.J. Watson, Sloan put together the best season of his professional career with the Pacers last season, averaging career highs in games played (53), starts (21), points (7.4), rebounds (2.7), and assists (3.6).
Sloan went into this past summer thinking he finally would find the long-term security he sought. But he eventually settled on a partially guaranteed deal with the Nets, who had only two point guards — Jarrett Jack and Shane Larkin — assured of making the roster, so it was an easy choice for Sloan to come to Brooklyn, where he saw the potential to both make the team and earn playing time.
“I knew wherever I was going to end up I was meant to be there and I’ve always been one to have to prove and show and compete and outplay guys just to get playing time and get spots on rosters,” said Sloan, who battled youngster Ryan Boatright for a roster spot “So it wasn’t new to me having to come here and do that is what I had to do. So I didn’t feel shafted at any time, I didn’t feel more deserving than what I was at any time, I just keep working, keep proving, keep showing people and eventually what’s due to you will come.”
Playing time was sparse for Sloan, the team’s third-string point guard during the first few weeks of the season. He played just 38 total minutes through Brooklyn first 24 games, but Larkin suffered a concussion and Jack tore his ACL. After 23 starts in 40 games, the 28-year old journeyman has become a valuable asset for the Nets and is clearly over-performing his $947,276 salary by averaging 9.3 points, 4.1 boards and 4.9 assists in his starts. He isn’t flashy, but he knows his role and gets the job done.
“Well I’m a pretty tough critic of myself so I wouldn’t really go into depth with how I think I’ve done so far, but I think just finding a new role, kind of putting guys in positions to do more, getting guys more shots, getting the offense going, kind of being that bulldog/pitbull to kind of get in there and just show strength, show toughness, bring all that to the first unit,” Sloan said.
“I know our core is Thad, Bogey, young guys, Brook, so my role is not to go out there and take away from them, it’s to add to them. It’s to make sure they’re job is easier, not making it so tough where they have to create so many one-on-one shots, maybe get in there and create so that I can draw their man and give them an easier looks so I know that’s my role”
Of all the cheap free agents signed by the Nets in the summer, Sloan is the most productive and only one Brooklyn doesn’t have signed for next year or hold Bird Rights to. During a lost season for the franchise, Sloan has a chance to open eyes around the league and earn a backup job next season somewhere with a couple of good weeks of basketball.
It has been a circuitous journey thus far for Sloan, but he has taken something from each experience and wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I definitely wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Sloan. “Going to the Philippines has taught me to be a pro, taught me to be a man. Going to China has done the same thing. Those were definitely stepping-stones for me because I actually played in the NBA, started some games and played, and then had to go to China so that’s a little different than starting out overseas so it’s humbling and it just goes to show you, wherever there is basketball to be played for me if it’s not in the NBA, I would try to partake in it, so if that’s China, the Philippines, or wherever, if it’s not here I’m going to try to continue my playing career.”