Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell got his first NBA chance with the Brooklyn Nets earlier this season after impressing Brooklyn’s brass in the Summer League and in training camp. He appeared in 10 games with the Nets, averaging a modest 5.4 points and 1.7 assists in 15.1 minutes per game. Ferrell spent his time yo-yoing between Brooklyn and their D-League affiliate, the Long Island Nets, a place where the hard-working guard learned a lot from a 26-year old rookie head coach.
“They definitely got me in the mindset of pick and roll different reads that I need to have, especially coach [Ronald] Nored with finding guys getting into the lane, making the right passes, on time, on target, finding the big man in the roll,” Ferrell told NY Sports Day. “So being in that D-League, especially with coach Nored and that stint helped me out.”
When Ferrell was on Brooklyn’s active roster, the Nets mostly used Coney Island native Isaiah Whitehead instead of the undrafted rookie point guard out of Indiana, even though Jeremy Lin was on the sidelines with a hamstring injury. The Nets waived Ferrell on Dec. 8 and signed 6-foot-6 guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was playing with the Windy City Bulls. The 23-year old found himself back in the D-League and he made the most of his time there, averaging 18.7 points and 5.8 assists in 18 games with Long Island.
“A lot of guys got misconceptions about the D-League that it’s just you got to go out and score a bunch of points,” said Ferrell. “But it’s just all about making the right plays and finding your niche and you get to the right team, I was very fortunate for Dallas to pick me up and you know, starting to learn and find my ways.”
With the Mavericks desperate for point guard help with Deron Williams and Jose Juan Barea on the shelf, and another 10-day contract player, Pierre Jackson, going down with a hamstring injury, Dallas signed Ferrell to a 10-day deal seven weeks after Brooklyn waived him and thrust the diminutive point guard into a starting role.
“They made it pretty smooth,” said Ferrell, who the Mavericks found in Erie, Pa., six hours before tipoff of a D-League game there. “Coach [Rick] Carlisle just telling me to be aggressive and play my game, don’t overthink the game, just make it simple and that’s what I try to do.”
In Ferrell’s first game with Dallas, he finished with nine points and seven assists in a 105-101 win against the Spurs – the Mavs first since in San Antonio since 2011. The next night, Ferrell had 19 points and five assists in a 104-97 win over the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Dallas won its next two games as well, beating Philadelphia and Portland, which was his coming out party.
During the nationally-televised game against the Trailblazers, Ferrell poured in 32 points, tied an NBA rookie record by making nine three-pointers (in just 11 attempts) and buried the clinching 3-pointer with 19.3 seconds left. Until he did it to Portland, only two undrafted rookies in the NBA or ABA history had reached 30 points within their first 15 games (Connie Hawkins in 1967 & Anthony Morrow in 2008).
Within hours of the Portland game, the Mavericks replaced the initial 10-day contract Ferrell signed with a two-year deal that pays him $1.3 million next season. That same day Dallas waived Williams, a former Net, signaling to Ferrell that he’d shown enough in just a few days to take the point guard reins and he’s been the Mavericks’ starter pretty much ever since.
Ferrell’s fairy tale season almost never was. Before he joined Dallas, the former IU guard considered his options elsewhere with his first professional season not going the way he’d hoped it would. He gave his agent the OK to begin exploring options abroad, where he could earn more money before coming back stateside for Summer League. The day before the Mavs called to offer a 10-day contract, Ferrell was contemplating joining a team in Russia.
“I was thinking about it,” Ferrell admitted. “My agent had called me about it the day before the Mavericks called, so just in like the beginning talks of it, didn’t know if I was going to go when, if it was going to be this year or next year but yea that was actually an idea. I wanted to see what was going to happen this year and next year was probably when I was going to give serious thoughts about it.”
Back in the preseason, Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson referred to Ferrell as the “energizer bunny” because of his high motor. The Mavs were 16-30 before acquiring the sparkplug point guard. But since then, they are 16-18 and he’s given the Mavs a huge boost. In 34 games for Dallas, including 27 starts, Ferrell has averaged 11.5 points, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals in 28.9 minutes per game, shooting 41.4 percent on 3s.
Ferrell spent his college years at Indiana, where he produced 1,986 points (sixth all time at IU) and 633 assists (first) – and earned Big Ten All-Defensive honors as a senior. Despite his success, nobody picked him in the 2016 NBA draft and if you had to speculate you’d probably look at his height.
“I always play with a chip one my shoulder, one just because of my size,” said Ferrell, who is generously listed at six feet tall. “Size isn’t a big thing that the league like so I just try and go use my size to my advantage, play with heart and just go out there and give it my all.”
Ferrell has turned into the diamond-in-the-rough type of player the Mavericks so famously mine around the league. He was the Western Conference rookie of the month in February and Yogi Mania became perhaps the NBA’s most unlikely coming-out party since Jeremy Lin gave us Lin-sanity in 2012. While Yogi-sanity has died down a bit, he projects as a nice backup point guard and he’s found a home in Dallas.
“It’s been a crazy past couple of months, almost a full year now,” said Ferrell, who became the first undrafted player to win either conference’s Rookie of the Month since Chris Copeland won for the Knicks in April of 2013. “So just thankful for it, thankful for this opportunity.”