At home in North Carolina, Los Angeles D-Fenders Coach Chucky Brown began receiving phone calls before training camp in November about a diminutive blur of a player in L.A. named Horace Wormely.
The 5-foot-6 point guard turned in dominating performances against some NBA and overseas pros in the Drew Summer League, where Wormely was picked as the “most inspirational player.”
One call came from former UCLA star and 12-year NBA veteran Tracy Murray, who was effusive about the small point guard. After Wormely worked out at the Lakers’ training facility, assistant general manager Ronnie Lester also called. “Ronnie told me how good and how tough he was,” Brown said.
After Brown finally saw Wormely toying with opponents during open workout scrimmages, he was sold.
“My first thought was, ‘Why haven’t I heard about this guy before?’ ” Brown said.
Wormely, 25, has been the D-Fenders’ starting point guard most of the season and is averaging 8.1 points and 4.2 assists, shooting 44.2% from the field and 87.5% from the free-throw line, while playing 32.4 minutes a game for the NBA Development League team.
Not surprisingly, Wormely looks up to a player even smaller than him, 5-5 Washington Wizards guard Earl Boykins, now in his 11th NBA season.
“The fact that he’s been able to persevere and last as long at the top level inspires me,” Wormely said. “I’ve been able to show people that I can get up and down the court and finish at the rim like a 6-3 guard. Now I just have to hone that . . . and I believe I’ll get an opportunity at the next level.”
Wormely is used to hearing that he’s too small.
At Pasadena Muir High, Coach Don Grant was convinced that Wormely would never play a varsity game and suggested he transfer to a private school. Grant apologized four years later when Wormely, as a senior, led the school to a 28-3 record and a Southern Section semifinal appearance.
Although Wormely had the grades to attend a university, he attended the only school that offered him a chance to play, Pasadena City College.
“Horace is similar to Magic Johnson in terms of his hunger, intangibles, leadership and making other guys successful,” said former PCC assistant coach Idris Jones. “He just comes in a smaller package.”
Then Wormely transferred to Vanguard University, a Christian school in Costa Mesa that competes in the NAIA’s Golden State Athletic Conference.
“Every major college backed away from me because they thought I was too small,” Wormely said.
As a senior at Vanguard in 2005-06, he averaged 17 points and nine assists, and was named GSAC player of the year.
But after college, with no pro basketball prospects, Wormely played in various summer leagues and did some telemarketing work. “I questioned my life’s direction,” he said.
In 2008, after a strong showing in the Drew Summer League, he was invited to tour Germany with a Christian travel team. A few weeks later, Landshut, a German pro team, signed him. Wormely led Germany’s Pro B league in assists and averaged 21 points per game.
Last summer, he played again in the summer league, and Brown’s phone started ringing.
The D-Fenders got off to a good start with Wormely running their offense. But his NBA dream appeared derailed once again, because of questions about his size. He was waived on Dec. 16.
“The decision knocked the wind out of me for a minute because we were winning,” Wormely said. “But it motivated me, just like all the other disappointments I’ve experienced in this game.”
Wormely kept working out, preparing for the next opportunity.
“I guess the thinking within the organization was that we needed someone bigger,” Brown said. “But without Horace, we didn’t have that true point guard and leader who could get us in our offense, take charge.”
On Jan. 14, the D-Fenders waived former USC and Boston Celtics guard Gabe Pruitt and re-signed Wormely. “I was definitely lobbying to get him back,” Brown said. While many in the D-League have heard since high school that they will make it to the NBA, Wormely has grown accustomed to fighting the perception that he’s too small to hold his own.
“I see Horace having an NBA opportunity because of his work ethic, skill set and attitude,” said Brown, who played 13 seasons in the NBA.
“To play point guard at the next level, you have to have great anticipation and the ability to see plays develop in advance. He’s already proven that he can do that. . . .
“And I can’t believe how much heart he has. He’s defying the odds. . . . You always pull for a guy like that.”