BY TJ GARCIA
McALLEN – JJ Avila is about as good a basketball player from the Rio Grande Valley you’ll ever see.
He was a high school Phenom, D-1 collegiate star, European pro and now a solid NBA D-League player with a legit shot at making an NBA roster.
How many Valley hoopsters have that resume? Oh, that would be none.
Now Avila, 6-foot-8 forward with the Texas Legends (Dallas Mavericks’ D-League team) is about to do what few in pro sports get to do and that’s come back and play in front of the home crowd – although for him playing in the Valley is a business trip. If he wants to make an NBA roster full time his focus must remain on the court.
“I haven’t really thought about that (coming home) actually. It’s just another game for me to help my team win and keep helping us improving as a whole,” the 2010 McHi grad told 956sports.com in an interview Monday. But he added: “I never forget where I’m from. I always represent and shout out the Valley and McAllen whenever I can.”
The RGV Vipers host the Texas Legends tonight with a 7 p.m. tipoff at State Farm Arena.
After a stellar four-year varsity career at McAllen, where the Bulldogs went 66-10 his junior and senior years, Avila went on play at the US Naval Academy and the University of Richmond (VA) before completing his college career at Colorado State University. There he earned first team All-Mountain West conference honors in 2015.
He next went to Belgium and played professionally before being picked up by the Chicago Bulls last year. Last fall, in 2016, he went to Bulls training camp where he shared a gym and locker room with NBA All-Stars Jimmy Butler and the legendary Dwayne Wade.
“They’re great guys, incredible people and extremely talented basketball players,” said Avila. “The way D-Wade carries himself you’d never think he was one of the greatest players ever and a multiple time champion.”
Avila did not stick on the Bulls regular roster, but he made Chicago’s D-League team, the Windy City Bulls. The McAllen native was then acquired by the Texas Legends in trade on January 28. He was averaging 10.6 points and six rebounds per game with the Bulls.
So far through six games with the Legends, which play in the ultra-trendy Dallas suburb of Frisco, Avila is averaging seven points and seven rebounds per game as he settles into his role on the new team. The 25-year old Avila said he is never satisfied with his development and seeks to keep improving. He’s willing to keep playing in the D-League to get a shot despite the challenges.
“The toughest part is probably the travel in between games with back to backs,” said Avila. “Either bussing long distances after games to play the next day or waking up in the middle of the morning to go to the airport to catch an early flight to get to where we play that night is rough. But it’s all part of it.”
Avila’s travails are what all minor leaguers must deal with at one point or another. Should his play continue to improve and with more time (he’s averaging 26 minutes per game), he may get another shot at the NBA – especially given the fluidity of Dallas’ roster.
Avila said that his success is not lost on him, and Valley kids should use it as an example of how to move their own hoop dreams forward.
“First and foremost, focus on your schoolwork and academics, learn how to balance it out, and always work hard,” Avila said. “Take things day by day and try to improve daily. No telling how far you’ll go.”
Maybe the NBA? Avila hopes so.