By Will Brown
This November, the Memphis Grizzlies are forming a team for the NBA’s Gatorade League, which will play at the Landers Center in Southaven, Miss.
The Gatorade League, which is the branded name of the NBA’s developmental league, is similar to that of minor league baseball. The teams are made up of young, recently drafted players looking to improve before being called back up to the big leagues, as well as undrafted players hoping an NBA team will notice them and give them a contract.
Over the summer, the Grizzlies announced the name and logo for their developmental league team. The team is called the Memphis Hustle, and beginning this November, they will play 24 home games at the Landers Center in Southaven, Miss., which seats over 8,000 people. The team will train at the Grizzlies team facility in Memphis, which is located just 13.2 miles away from Southaven.
For Mississippi, the addition of a G-league team is significant because it is the first time the NBA has ever set up a team of any kind in the state. The success of the Grizzlies in Memphis has led to increased interest in the mid-south, and the players have taken notice. During the NBA lockout in 2011, a charity pick-up game was held at the Landers Center. The game was put together by then-Grizzlies player, Rudy Gay, and featured some of the NBA’s biggest stars such as Lebron James and Kevin Durant. Last August, the Mississippi Braves held a promotional “Memphis Grizzlies night” where fans who wore Grizzlies gear received a $5 field pass. The team mascot and dancers were in attendance, and a player came to sign autographs and throw the first pitch.
Bringing a G-league team to Mississippi makes sense for the Grizzlies on many levels. Up until last season, the Grizzlies had an affiliation with the Iowa Energy, where they sent a number of young players to develop in recent years. The Iowa Energy are now set to partner with the Minnesota Timberwolves while the Grizzlies are now affiliated with Southaven.
In an interview with Grind City Media when the move was announced this past January, Grizzlies Executive Vice-President of Basketball Operations, John Hollinger, said the formation of a team in Southaven was “a complete game-changer.” Hollinger said, “To operate our own D-League team in your backyard—the direct access to the development process of our player talent—makes the process so much more efficient.” The close proximity between Southaven and Memphis is efficient since it will reduce the travel time from a four-hour connecting commercial flight from Memphis to Iowa to a 20 minute drive down I-55. Since the Memphis Hustle will share training facilities with the Grizzlies, players and coaches will not have to commute to Southaven on days when there are not games.
Since players are constantly getting called up and sent down from the NBA, it is unclear what the Memphis Hustle’s roster will look like next season. However, the Grizzlies have several young players they have drafted in recent years who may spend time playing for the Hustle before they get minutes for the regular roster. Some of these players include rookies Ivan Rabb, Dillan Brooks and Rade Zagoravic, as well as second year players Wade Baldwin IV and Deyonta Davis. The Grizzlies selected the rights to 11 other players in the recent G-League expansion draft, but some of the players have deals in other places and may not join the team immediately, if at all.
The Memphis Hustle open their season on Saturday November 4 with a home game against the Sioux Falls Skyforce and another home game against the Salt Lake City Stars the next night.