By: Christian Dudley (@ChristianDudley)
Memphis Tigers legend D.J. Stephens will be taking his talents abroad for the 2016-17 basketball season. D.J. exclusively shares with Blu3 World Order some info from this summer and of his future.
Following the completion of a four-year collegiate career at the University of Memphis, D.J. Stephens has been a journeyman while attempting to fulfill his NBA dream.
Known for his highlight-reel dunks, he is proving his case that he has become much more than just a show-stopper. He is a winning basketball player that just-so-happens to excel at more than one position.
To us, from the outside looking in, it seems as if they used him as a marketing ploy in the summer. He went to numerous public events to draw in Tigers fans. It was an excellent idea from the team in order to gain even more Grizzlies fans, if they were not a Grizz fan already. Single-game ticket holders were becoming season ticket holders.
A Memphis hero was playing for the Memphis Grizzlies. And the city loved it.
D.J. was assisting the Memphis Grizzlies in making phone calls to locals to encourage them to attend games. He threw out the first pitch a Memphis Redbirds game on "Grit-'N'-Grind Night." There were autograph signing sessions. To top it all off, the Grizz created an incredible 14-minute video featuring Stephens and his idol -- Vince Carter -- discussing the pair's all-time best and favorite dunks.
What seemed to be gold turned out to not be as such. En route to not only fulfilling his NBA dream, but to represent the city of Memphis by wearing a Grizzlies jersey, Stephens' plans were halted.
They released him.
It became a numbers game in Memphis. They could only have 15 players (maximum) to enter the regular season. He was the odd man out, though he had a much better NBA training camp and preseason than a few of the players under contract.
The NBA is not always fair. It is a business more than anything.
Now, D.J. Stephens tells Blu3 World Order that he is heading overseas to showcase his talents and to "win, play well, continue to improve, develop my game...and put myself in a position to play at the highest level again next year."
Stephens will be suiting up for Budivelnyk of Kiev, Ukraine. Kiev is the capital of Ukraine and is known for its history, including its religious architecture.
Though it is a beautiful city, it is not Memphis, Tennessee. It is also not his stomping grounds of Texas. However, it is another challenge that he is willing to accept. After all, Tigers fans know D.J. loves challenges and will always clear those hurdles -- regardless of high-flying being required or not.
From a basketball standpoint, Stephens is unsure about which jersey number he will be wearing. He wore No. 20 for the first time in his basketball career during his stint with the Memphis Grizzlies. "I haven't talked to the team about it, but I plan on keeping that number for the rest of my career." No. 20 was his father's old basketball jersey number, which D.J. shared with Blu3 World Order in August.
It will be a change of scenery off the floor for D.J. Stephens, but he has played internationally once before. How does it compare to NCAA and NBDL games? How will he need to adjust his game in order to show scouts he is a true NBA talent?
"From what I can remember, the style of play is slower, more fundamental, and a lot more physical. So in a way, I guess you could compare it to a team in the old Big East that plays at a slower tempo." It also sounds as if his knowledge of the Memphis Grizzlies' culture and style will pay dividends for him in Kiev.
Looking beyond 2016-17, what might be Stephens' next step? He has had quite the eventful summer, filled with ups and downs.
If you would be placed in D.J.'s shoes, how would you feel after you are released from a team that made you believe you were a surefire guarantee to make their final roster? The whole city cheering for you...and then the news comes.
Would you remain motivated? This says a lot about D.J. Stephens -- the person and the basketball player.
D.J. had already dominated competition as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies' D-League affiliate, the Iowa Energy. The next step is to face different competition in a different environment. Show scouts how tough you are. Knock down all barriers in your way.
Now you can see why D.J. Stephens is ready to represent Budivelnyk.
Being one of the Grizzlies' final roster cuts -- most definitely not an easy decision by any means -- they will keep an eye on his progress. There has been an indication from the Memphis Grizzlies to D.J. that they will have interest in bringing him in for another chance next summer.
"Time will tell," says Stephens.
Indeed, time will tell...while the city of Memphis still stands behind D.J.
The M-Town legend has received plenty of support from his Grizzlies teammates, who are good friends of his. "All have reached out to me in one way or another. I know and am pretty cool with a lot of the guys on the team."
Memphis will certainly not forget about D.J. during his adventure in Kiev, Ukraine. Stephens will not be forgetting about the city, the Tigers, or the Grizzlies either.
Memphis Tigers basketball will give him something sports-wise to focus on in the U.S. It will be a big year for the Tigers, namely Chad Rykhoek, Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Markel Crawford, and Jeremiah Martin. D.J. Stephens states "the entire starting-five could be in for breakout years, individually and collectively," yet it is early in the season.