Local basketball players given one last shot in tryout for Suns’ G League affiliate

By Kennedy Wilkerson

The Northern Arizona Suns, the Phoenix Suns G League affiliate, hosted an open tryout on Saturday, Sept. 15, to give local hoopers a shot at living out their dream of playing professional basketball.

Around 100 players showcased their talents in front of the NAZ Suns coaching staff, in their unofficial start to the season.

“This is the biggest turnout yet at a local tryout,” NAZ Suns head coach Bret Burchard said. “Because it is only our third year it is really cool to see the interest continue to grow. I feel humbled there are this many guys interested in coming out to play basketball.”

Every year the Suns have added players to their roster from the local tryout.

Josh Gray, who was brought up to Phoenix last year after Isaiah Canaan went down with injury, started his career at the local tryout.

Gray played five games with Phoenix before returning to the NAZ Suns.

“Josh Gray was an anomaly,” Burchard said. “He came in and became a star on the team. That isn’t likely with everyone. Most guys are going to have to come in and have to fill a niche role and are going to play hard and accept that position on the team. We want to see guys who are willing to make extra passes, shoot open shots, defend a number of positions.”

Northern Arizona Suns head coach Bret Burchard (left) and coaches look on at the NAZ Suns tryout at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Saturday, Sept. 15. (Photo by Kennedy Wilkerson)

With a majority of the NAZ Suns roster positions already filled, the goal of the tryouts is to find the guys that will be able to come into their own role through the process to help the team succeed.

“Our goal is to find high-character guys,” NAZ Suns general manager Louis Lehman said. “Guys who are good teammates, selfless, willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team and really do whatever is necessary to help our program win.”

In addition to looking for players who will fit into the Suns team culture, Lehman, Burchard and the NAZ staff were searching for players who were also in elite physical shape.

“We want guys that come in and are able to compete,” Lehman said. “I told these guys that the first thing that they need to have is elite cardiovascular fitness levels. To play professional basketball you must be in unbelievable shape: 48 minute games, 94 feet. It is different than college.”

Jevon Estelle brings the ball up the court on Saturday, Sept. 15 at the Northern Arizona Suns tryout at Talking Stick Resort Arena. (Photo by Kennedy Wilkerson)

A chance like this doesn’t come along every day and it was not wasted by those who attended. 

“It means everything to me, especially growing up here and playing college ball here,” Arizona native and GCU graduate, Jevon Estelle said.  “It would be a great opportunity to get into this organization. Getting seen by these guys will hopefully help me get a foot in the door because once you do that, the opportunities are limitless. Limitless.”

Lehman echoed Estelle’s sentiments about players making the most of the unique opportunity.

“You need somebody to believe in you, somebody to give you that opportunity…what you make of it is on you,” Lehman said. “Control the things that you can control. Your attitude. Your effort. Your energy. That is important to us.”