Every basketball fan out there has heard of the D-League. It’s essentially the minor league to the NBA and its focus is to develop talent so that players might one day reach the NBA level and contribute as players. But what is the D-League really like? What does it take for a player to achieve his dream of one day playing in the NBA? Is it worth it? These are the types of questions that intrigued filmmaker Jeff Camarra and so he set out to create a documentary about it all. He eventually was hooked up with aspiring player Trey Johnson (you might remember him from his days at Jackson State where he was consistently among the top ten scorers in the country). He followed him around for eight straight days this past year in order to put the film together.
We recently caught up with Jeff to discuss all of it:
Generation Y Sports: What was your inspiration for the documentary?
Jeff Camarra (JC): I’ve loved basketball my entire life and like the guys in the D-League, I dreamed of playing in the NBA. The stories of players coming directly from college and even overseas are common, but I wanted to explore the players who take the less conventional route. Trey had such an impressive resume and was picked by many to be the first player to be called up to the NBA after the D-League Showcase. I thought it would be a great story to document a player on the verge of achieving his dream.
Gen Y: Can you give the readers a brief background on Trey and how you came to meet him?
JC: After gaining access from the Bakersfield Jam and the NBA, I got Trey’s number from the owner of the Jam. I had to get him to allow me to literally live with him throughout the D-League Showcase. I didn’t know him prior to filming, but I gave him a call. I think he was reluctant at first, mainly as to why I wanted to follow him. Trey had played overseas, with a few NBA summer teams and was the second leading scorer in college. He was the player I wanted to document.
Gen Y: Admittedly I don’t know much about the D-League. The league has a stereotype as a place where everybody just tries to pad their numbers in the hope that it will get them noticed. Is that a fair assessment? How would you describe the league?
JC: The D-League is a true development league; where developing parts of a player’s game to make him NBA ready is the main goal. I don’t know if padding their stats is truly a fair assessment. The league is a minor league for the NBA, with 20% of the NBA coming from it. The level of play is very high and it’s mainly for guys looking to work on specific areas to make themselves more complete players.
Gen Y: You’re on record as talking about the sacrifices these guys make in the hope of one day playing in the NBA. Can you give us a short glimpse into some of these and the not-so-glamorous lifestyle these guys have to adopt in order to survive?
JC: The first day I met Trey he scored 31 points to lead his team in beating one of the best teams in the League. After the game he signed autographs, took pictures and did a few post game interviews. I saw that he was a pretty big name in Bakersfield, CA. After the game, we went back to his apartment and I saw examples of his transient lifestyle. He shared a modest two-bedroom apartment with another player. Aside from a 20’’ TV, single couch and a folding chair, there wasn’t much. Trey simply had a mattress and a stack of clothing in his room. When they traveled, they didn’t get first class amenities. Shortly after takeoff the taller players tried to get into exit aisle seats for the extra legroom.
Gen Y: What were you hoping to achieve with the documentary?
JC: I hope people get an idea of what’s at stake for these guys and can appreciate the struggle to achieve their dream. I think a lot of people think all NBA players are well off and have been given everything. After seeing the sacrifices that D-League players have to make in order to achieve their dream, I can say that is certainly not the case. The most a player in the D-League can earn is 25 thousand dollars, so they are not there for the money.
Gen Y: Do you have a favorite moment from your time spent on the documentary?
JC: One moment that really resonated with me was when Trey showed me a home video of him and his children that he had on his phone. Trey hadn’t seen his children in months and this was something he kept with him. That meant a lot to me for a couple reasons. For one, I was glad that he wanted to let me into his life a little deeper. Two, it really humanized his story. It’s easy to watch a game and just see these guys as basketball players. A lot of them have families and children that they don’t get to see as often as they like. Seeing the video really put things into perspective and showed a sense of urgency that I hadn’t seen from Trey. He is making it not only for himself, but to support his family.
Gen Y: Will the NBA lockout affect the D-League play this year? How about the release of the film?
JC: The NBA lockout will not affect the D-League season this year, but it will affect the release of the film. The NBA has reviewed the footage, but we are unable to move forward with the distribution processes until there is a new CBA.
Gen Y: At any point did you feel like you crossed the threshold from being an objective filmmaker into a person who had something emotionally invested in Trey’s future?
JC: Staying completely objective was difficult, given the circumstances. I lived with Trey for eight days so we developed a friendship. I wanted to see him make it to the NBA, beyond purposes of the film. After hearing his story; bouncing around from overseas and summer league teams, having two children to support and a true love of the game it was hard not to want to see him succeed. He is a very genuine guy and has worked hard to achieve his dream. In the end, I just wanted to see my friend achieve his goal.
Gen Y: What’s in store for Trey’s future at this point in time?
JC: Trey has spent the bulk of his time in Mississippi, with his family, since the season ended. I spoke with him the other day and he is going to play in Italy at the end of the month.
(Editor’s note: you can learn more about the documentary by checking out its facebook page here. Thanks again to Jeff for sitting down with us.)