Josh Selby emerges from the Stevenson University locker room, his hot pink sneakers with silver trim sparkling as he takes the floor.
The Lake Clifton graduate's eye-catching shoes — which he says he wears to raise breast cancer awareness — quickly become an afterthought once play begins and his flashy game is on display.
In the first quarter of Ravens wide receiver LaQuan Williams' charity basketball game late last month, Selby finds himself stuck in a corner beyond the arc, tightly guarded. The former Kansas point guard draws contact as he launches up a prayer of a 3-pointer while fading away. He gets up and brushes himself off without ever glancing to see his shot fall through the hoop. The 2010 Baltimore Sun All-Metro Player of the Year is used to things going his way when he's home.
"Any time I can come back to my city where I grew up and that made me and give back, that's a blessing," Selby said.
Selby played with such intensity in the exhibition that it looked like he was fighting for precious minutes with an NBA team.
And he is. When Selby departs for Las Vegas to play in the NBA's summer league Tuesday, he will have an opportunity to state his case for the Memphis Grizzlies' backup point guard job behind starter Mike Conley.
During his rookie season with the Grizzlies, Selby bounced between the NBA and the Grizzlies' Development League affiliate in Reno, Nev. After making his NBA debut in late December, Selby struggled to adapt.
Coach Lionel Hollins' offense was tough to grasp. Selby, a natural scorer, earned few minutes. With limited playing time, Selby was unable to find his shooting touch.
"I imagine that it was a bit of a struggle trying to figure out what his role was in the few minutes that he did get," said Pete Pranica, play-by-play TV announcer for the Grizzlies.
Selby's basketball identity was also scrambled by a lack of a set position. He's a self-described "combo guard," but it's nearly impossible to find a rhythm when alternating between the two.
With Selby averaging just 2.9 points, Memphis general manager Chris Wallace sent him off to Reno in February — but not without some words that changed the direction of Selby's development.
"You're part of our future," Selby recalled Wallace saying. "Your time is coming."
It meant a lot to Selby, who saw the pep talk as genuine, and it helped make sure his stay in Reno was a short — but not unproductive — one.
"I don't know if [Wallace's comments] were just smoke, but it sounded like they were serious about it," said Scottie Bowden, Selby's former Amateur Athletic Union coach and a close family friend. "I think it was tremendous for Josh because he consistently heard it. When that trade deadline came last year, and his name never came up, that was reassuring to him too for him to say, 'I must be part of their future.'"
Selby, who according to Bowden has always possessed "a supreme self-confidence," had no problem embracing the floor general role in Reno.
"He never took that [demotion] as a negative," Bowden said. "He wants to play to get better. If this meant getting sent down, he was fine with it. They wanted him to work on decision-making and ball handling. He went down there and did that and some."
In eight games with the Bighorns, Selby, averaging 34 minutes, began to show why exactly he remains part of the Grizzlies' future. He scored 25.1 points per game, and it wasn't long before he was back in Memphis.
"If Josh had sat in Memphis and not gone to Reno, he wouldn't have learned much," Pranica said. "You don't learn much by watching. He was able to be out on the floor, starting games. He was able to set the pace of games, set the tempo of games and get a rhythm for himself."
With the season quickly approaching — Selby plans to report to Memphis at the end of August — he's begun to take stock of the Grizzlies' backcourt situation. While Reno was a suitable proving ground for Selby, he'd like to stick with the NBA team this season and contribute.
Memphis chose not to make a qualifying offer to O.J. Mayo. Gilbert Arenas' future with the team is unclear. The in-flux guard rotation leaves floor time up for grabs.
Pranica said summer league will likely determine who has the edge in the "tremendous fight" for minutes behind Conley. Memphis, a passionate basketball city at the college level as well, will be pulling for Selby.
"I think the fans would like to see more of him," Pranica said. "They do like his personality. They do like his passion for the game. Those are personality traits that play very well in Memphis."
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