Dre Baldwin: No Excuses

If you haven’t heard of Dre Baldwin, prepare to be impressed. Dre, known to his Twitter followers as @DreAllDay, is a self made professional basketball player and trainer, who went from barely making his high school team as a senior to playing on several pro teams in multiple countries just a few years later. Dre has written about of all his experiences and philosophies on his site, DreAllDay.com, and you should definitely check it out.

This week we caught up with Dre to get his thoughts on his own career but also to pick his brain on playing pro ball outside of the NBA.

Dre Baldwin

You have written extensively about your playing career overseas, and you’ve also written about how you didn’t make your high school basketball team until your senior year, and only got a little playing time. Can you pinpoint a moment or point in time when you felt that you could play professionally?

Definitely. In my senior year of high school (after basketball season), I went to a tryout for a team in the Sonny Hill League, the biggest and best amateur league in Philadelphia. This is the same league Kobe played in when he & his family returned from living in Europe, same league Wilt Chamberlain dominated, Dajuan Wagner, any big-name player form Philly or the surrounding area, played in Sony Hill in high school, guaranteed. All of the best players in Philadelphia were there at this particular tryout which was more like a practice for all of them, these were the guys who never got cut from basketball teams. There were so many of us that they actually had to split it up into two teams. The club was sponsored by Philly legend and former NBA player Aaron McKie. This team was so talented, you could’ve grabbed the newspaper, ticked off the names on the all-city hoops teams and used it for roll call at practice, seriously. I wrote about this experience in my book Buy A Game (which is free in PDF version) One of my teammates on this team was Eddie Griffin, who (at the time) set the Philly scholastic scoring record, went on to Seton Hall and the NBA as the 7th pick — he died in a car crash a few years ago while with the Timberwolves. Eddie was so dominant that coach Joh Hardnett (another Philly legend in coaching who died a couple years ago) brought in Kevin Freeman — then a power forward at UCONN — to guard Eddie all practice.

Anyway, playing against those guys, I was making plays — dunking, getting a steal here or there, making a jumper — to the point that even though none of them knew me, I was respected to some degree. I didn’t even play much and we didn’t practice often once the games began, but the experience of just being there, amongst players so good, so confident, was huge for me. David Thorpe of ESPN talks about this: the best way for a player to improve is to be playing with/against guys better than him, every single day. Almost all of those guys went D1 the following fall. That experience was my turning point. Their energy, their confidence, rubbed off on me.

Knowing what you know now, what is a piece of advice or information that you wish someone had given you when you before you started trying to be a professional player?

Nothing really. I knew what I was up against — D3 school, no great video, unimpressive stats — I knew I’d have to hustle my way in the door, sell myself to the fullest, and then deliver. But I’m better at hustling and selling than I am at hoops! Haha… so I knew I’d end up where I wanted to be, one way or another. Players these days need to understand these realities and know that no one gives a damn about what you want or need or are dreaming about. Pro sports is an adult business, so be an adult and take 100% responsibility for your outcomes. No hand-holding here.

What is the biggest misconception you see from players who want to be professional basketball players?

That playing overseas is like their local LA Fitness pickup run, weekend pickup game, or that because they scored 30 in some rec league (against a team who had an overseas player, even), that they can go play overseas. If that were the case a lot of ball players would be playing for money, if that’s all there was to it. First off it’s a business — you have to get in the door before you get on the floor (which is the real hard part). And once you’re in, understand that every country and league is unique — some leagues, like Mexico, want Americans to go wild, scoring 30-40 points and shooting every time marks you as “good” even if you team gets killed. I know because I did it: I once led a tournament in scoring — shooting every time, EVERY TIME — playing center for my undermanned club, and was an absolute star out there, even though my club didn’t come close to winning a game. In Montenegro, on the other hand, the team is the star. One on one play is frowned upon — it will get you benched immediately. your job is to help the team win, regardless of your stats (or if you even play much). I was clearly the best player we had in Montenegro yet never started a game.

Given that the U.S. minor league basketball system is often considered inferior for players who want to earn money outside of the NBA, what are your thoughts on the NCAA and the current thought that the lack of a true farm system for basketball is due to the collegiate teams serving this role, and what are your thoughts on whether players in the NCAA should be compensated beyond scholarships?

We could go back and forth on that topic forever, but the fact is this: The best way to get to the NBA, for an American basketball player, is through the NCAA. And until someone comes along with a better option, the NCAA will be the route most will take. Personally I think a 2-year minimum should be the requirement, which indirectly mandates players be real students: you can’t BS through 3 semesters of college courses and still be eligible, but you can BS through one semester (like a one-and-done player could do now, since the last spring semester wouldn’t matter when you’re leaving early). On top of a 2-year requirement, allow high school-to-the-NBA again. Baseball players, gymnasts, and golfers skip college routinely and no one cares. The fact that these are young Black men making the NBA millions is a factor, whether one wants to admit it or not. If an individual wants to enter the working world at 17 or 18, so be it, who’s to say (s)he can’t? You mess up, you mess up. Live your life and the choices you made.

Do I think NCAA players should be paid? Not until some system that makes sense comes along. Understand that basketball and football are, for the most part, the only two sports that turn a profit, they pay for the other sports to even exist. The volleyball and golf team should not be paid a cent. And some players contribute more than others. So that must be factored in, LeBron should get more than Joel Anthony. All players are not equal. The most capitalistic solution: pay players based on performance and have negotiations. Leave straight from HS if you wish, or stay for 2 years.

Further, look at what they do in Europe: when a player expresses interest in a sport, he’s put into a basketball program at age 14 or 15 and thats where he stays for 5-6 years until college or the NBA comes calling, or the pro club he’s been with in Europe. You specialize early in Europe, unlike our one-size-fits-all educational system which is at the root of all of this, actually. An entire other discussion, haha…

One thing that’s obvious from the writing on your site and in your book that you are a prolific reader and an excellent communicator. Do you feel this has been an advantage in your professional pursuits?

Thank you and very much yes. I honestly don’t use anything I was taught in college in my current life — basketball, online, marketing, anything. And I have a business management/marketing degree from Penn State University. The American educational system is designed to create employees, nothing more. The world we are in now is nothing like the 60s and 70s, when this educational system was created. There’s no school for creating a website and marketing yourself, or using social media to get your message out, or handling competitors in business, or sales of any sort. Schools can’t or don’t teach any of this. But all of those things exist — heavily — in our current world. Again, another topic…
To answer your question, I read a lot. Websites, blogs, magazines, books. That’s been my real education, along with real-life experiences and human interactions. School cannot teach you how to communicate a message clearly, or how to explain a complicated concept in a way anyone can understand, or how to sell to a person who didn’t even know they needed what you’re offering. Those are life skills. School teaches employee skills. Books and life are the real educators.

Is there any person or persons outside of the world of sports who you admire, or see as influential?

I look to business people, not athletes. Since I have grown up with hip hop — my dad blasted Public Enemy and Poor Righteous Teachers as far back as I can remember — I look to the moguls and the business they do, Not the moves themselves, per se, since I’m not a musician — but the principles. Sean Combs (Diddy), Shawn Carter (Jay-Z), Curtis Jackson (50 Cent), Russell Simmons come to mind. Steve Jobs, Tim Ferriss, Robert Greene, Tucker Max are others, either from their lives or their writings or both. As far as athletes, not really. Becoming a superstar athlete is like winning the lottery and not everyone can win it, no matter what efforts you put in. Can you game-plan to do what Michael Jordan has done with Jordan Brand? or LeBron or DWade or Kobe or Beckham? No. They didn’t plan it, or strategize, until they realized they’d won the lottery. So I don’t look up to any athletes.

You’ve written about how players can balance school and sports, something we’ve written about on Basketball Elite quite a bit. Do you feel this is an area that is lacking in how we approach high school athletics?

No, I think people using that “finding time” excuse are just lazy. Fact: there are 24 hours in a day. You don’t “find” time for things, no one in history has ever had a 25-hour day. You make time. If it is important, you will get it done. If not, you will find excuses. Simple as that. How much TV are you watching, video games are you playing, how long are you hanging with friends doing nothing?

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