Change is a big part of being a professional athlete.
The ones who best adapt to new situations and adjust their temperaments to fit new or bigger roles often can carve out long careers.
Jarvis Gunter hopes he is on the path to realizing that goal.
The former Columbus High School standout recently completed his third season in the NBA”s Development League. Billed as the league”s official minor league, the 16-team D-League features players from major Division I programs to smaller schools like the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, where Gunter graduated from in 2008.
The school they attended doesn”t matter. They all have one goal: To make it to the NBA.
While Gunter shares that dream, he knows he has the potential to realize plenty of other basketball opportunities out there.
“I feel blessed to be even going into third year (in the D-League),” Gunter said. “I see teammates do for it for one or two years and give it up. I feel blessed to do on a daily basis. I try to take advantage of it on a daily basis. I see the progress I have made from day one, and I am looking forward to getting better.”
Gunter played for the Erie Bayhawks in his first two seasons in the D-League. He averaged 3.0 points and 3.4 rebounds in 38 games in 2008-09 and 2.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 44 games in 2009-10. Three games into this season, Erie waived him on Dec. 17 to pick up forward Jeff Adrien. On Dec. 20, the Springfield Armor, who are coached by former NBA player Dee Brown, signed Gunter.
The move turned out to be a good one for Gunter, although he didn”t know it at the time. Gunter said he received a phone call late that night after the team had practiced informing him the Bayhawks were going to bring in another player and that he wouldn”t join the team on the road trip the next morning.”
“It shocked me,” Gunter said. “I didn”t have any idea until it happened. Coming in with a new coach, I kind of figured the way things were going (that something was going to happen) because I really wasn”t playing that much.”
After averaging only eight minutes in three games with Erie, Gunter averaged 17.8 minutes and scored 4.2 points and grabbed 4.1 rebounds in 34 games with Springfield, which finished the season 13-37 and sixth in the Eastern Conference. The Armor lost to Rio Grande Valley 122-103 on April 2 in their season finale.
Gunter said his time in the D-League has given him a greater understanding of professional basketball. He admits he thought it would be easy in the D-League, but he discovered it is a different level and that he learned a lot in his first season.
Gunter isn”t the only player who learned a lot about himself. NBA teams assigned a record 37 players to their affiliates this season, the D-League”s 10th. Top-10 draft picks Hasheem Thabeet and Jonny Flynn were included in that group. Twenty-two percent of players on current NBA rosters have D-League experience, also a record.
Better offensive production could be the key for Gunter in his quest to get to the NBA. He averaged a career-best 9.0 points per game as a sophomore at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but he never was a scorer in his four seasons there. He sat out the 2006-07 season. As a senior, he averaged 6.6 points and 7.7 rebounds.
At 6-foot-10, 225 pounds, Gunter has honed his skills at forward and at center. Brown said Gunter”s attitude and willingness to be coached are assets, as is athleticism and quickness, which typically give him advantages against other post players.
“Jarvis is one of the hardest workers I have been around,” Brown said. “He has definitely improved on the offensive end. In college and in the first couple of years in the D-League he wasn”t known as an offensive player. … Jarvis has evolved into a better pro on the court. He always has been a pro off the court.”
Gil Thompson, who works as Gunter”s agent, said he has heard similar comments from other coaches and scouts in the D-League and in other leagues. His job now is to help Gunter determine what will be the next best step to take. He said Gunter could have a chance to play professional basketball overseas. With so many leagues in Asia, Europe, South America, and Australia, to name just a few, Thompson said Gunter could wind up there or he could return to the D-League. He said many leagues in foreign countries are in playoffs right now, so he doesn”t anticipate finalizing a deal for Gunter until May or June.
Thompson agrees with Brown that Gunter has made significant progress since his days at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He said it will be important for Gunter to change his attitude and to realize he has to be more of an impact player on offense. He said it is something former Jackson State standout and former NBA great Lindsey Hunter conveyed to him long ago.
“Lindsey said, ”Score as many points as you can and then you can pass when you get to the pros,” ” Thompson said.
Thompson understands it isn”t that simple for a post player like Gunter, but he said Gunter sees he has to be a little more selfish when he is on the court to help change the perception some coaches or scouts might have about him.
“He is an exceptional rebounder,” Thompson said. “I think he just needs a little more polish on his offensive repertoire. He has to develop a couple of signature moves and make sure initially he can go to a team where he can put up numbers or has to put up numbers.”
Gunter attracted interest from teams overseas last season, but he decision this season could be different. He said he planned to play in a Pro-Am League in May in Florida and consider all of his options before making a decision.
After a season filled with plenty of changes, Gunter isn”t afraid to go through more change if it helps him realize his dream.
“I think I have improved a lot,” Gunter said. “I am going to stick to the same principles and play hard. Every day I am trying to get better and to work at things I need to work on and things I am good at.
“I am going to take it year by year. I try not to look at it like I am going to be in the D-League for 10 years. I am always trying to progress to get to the next step.”
Associated Press reports were included in this story.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.