Greg Stempin always has wanted to play in the NBA.
And if the 22-year-old former University of Toledo standout keeps playing the way he has been for the Fayetteville (N.C.) Patriots of the National Basketball Development League, he may get that opportunity.
Stempin, a 6-8, 220-pound small forward, ranked ninth in the league in scoring (14.1 average), and sixth in rebounding (7.5) through Sunday's games.
"If Greg keeps working hard and keeps improving in the areas he needs to improve in, I think he has way more than a 50-50 chance to get to the NBA," said Fayetteville assistant coach Sam Worthen, who played two seasons in the NBA.
"Since he got here, he's been improving every day. Most of that just comes from Greg working hard. He gives it 100 percent all the time. He will spend all day and all night in the gym, working on his game.
"A lot of times, guys in his position are pretenders. That's not true with Greg. He's very serious about trying to get to the NBA."
Although Stempin's defensive play has improved in the NBA-sponsored NBDL - he is ninth in steals (1.2), and 139 of his 188 rebounds have come on the defensive end - he realizes his shooting percentage must improve in order for an NBA team to come calling.
Stempin is shooting 44.9 percent (117-of-267) from the field while starting 24 of 25 games, but he is hitting just 13.3 percent (6-of-45) of his shots from 3-point range and 62.7 percent (81-of-129) from the free throw line.
"I'm doing all right as far as coming into the league in my first year and starting," said Stempin, who is third on UT's all-time scoring list with 1,705 points. "I'm not shooting the ball as well as I'd like to be, obviously, but I am rebounding the ball well. I'm also handling the ball pretty well.
"If I can just start shooting the ball better, I think I have a chance to get called up to the NBA this season."
A real bright spot
In the past two games Stempin has shot 69.2 percent (18-of-26) from the field while averaging 24.5 points and 10 rebounds for the Patriots, who are 7-18 and in last place in the eight-team NBDL.
Stempin also holds the first-year league's record for most field goals attempted in a game (23), most field goals made (12), and most steals (six).
"It's not that Greg has been taking bad shots; it's just that his shots weren't falling early in the season," Worthen said. "Recently he's starting to shoot much better. And he's been attacking the glass and being very aggressive. He's really been pursuing rebounds, and has been going after them very strong.
"Greg's been a real bright spot. Not only for our team, but for the whole league."
So far three players have been called up to the NBA from the NBDL, including 6-10 power forward Chris Andersen, a teammate of Stempin's who was signed by the Denver Nuggets in November. The others are 6-3 guards Jason Hart (San Antonio Spurs) and Anthony Johnson (New Jersey Nets).
Players in the developmental league must be at least 20 years old, and they are eligible to play for any of the NBA's 29 teams.
"It's just a matter of being in the right situation and the right place at the right time," said Stempin, who was selected in the sixth round of the NBDL draft by Fayetteville last November. "There could be 10 NBA scouts who don't like me, and one that does, and that could be the day that I get called up, or signed."
Each NBDL team plays a 56-game schedule that concludes in March, followed by the playoffs. Fayetteville's longest bus ride is an 18-hour roundtrip. The shortest is six hours.
"The bus trips don't bother me," Stempin said. "I hate flying."
All players in the league are paid a salary of $27,500. They also are provided with housing, and they receive money for meals when they are on the road.
"It's a pretty good league; a competitive league,'' Stempin said. "The guys here are a little bit quicker than they were in college, and everyone here is a little more aggressive. But the centers aren't as good as they were in college. It's a guard-forward league.
"You don't play in this league for the money. You're playing for the chance to be seen by the NBA scouts," said Stempin, who is averaging nearly 34 minutes a game for the Patriots. They are averaging just 1,961 fans per home game in 7,868-seat Crown Coliseum.
"We're struggling," he said. "We've got a lot of talent on our team, probably as much talent as anybody in the league. But we just can't seem to put it together and get everybody on the same page."
Tiny liked his game
Until last week, Stempin was coached by Nate "Tiny" Archibald, who was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991.
Archibald resigned as Fayetteville's coach last week and accepted a position with the NBA's community relations department. He was replaced by former Old Dominion University coach Jeff Capel.
Archibald was impressed with Stempin's play and work ethic.
"Greg certainly was one of our instrumental players and he played hard every game," he said. "He gave me everything I wished every player would, and more. His shooting was off a little, but his defense was very good.
"The shot eventually will come for Greg. But some NBA scout's got to look at him and say, 'He gets it done in other ways. We can work on the shot.' "
Stempin was a three-time, first-team All-Mid-American Conference pick at Toledo, and led the Rockets in scoring (18.3) and rebounding (8.2) as a senior last season.
The last UT player to wear an NBA uniform was 6-11 center Casey Shaw, a second-round draft pick who played sparingly for the Philadelphia 76ers in 1998-99. Shaw is playing professionally in Italy.
"I'm happy things are going well for Greg," UT coach Stan Joplin said. "If he can get stronger and continue to improve, he might eventually get a shot at the NBA."
Stempin, who is represented by Cleveland-based agent Mark Termini, attended the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational, an NBA-sponsored camp, last April, but by his own admission he didn't perform well there. Then he was bounced from the NBA pre-draft camp in Chicago in June after numerous underclassmen declared for the league's draft.
Stempin eventually managed to earn a spot on the Dallas Mavericks' summer league team through a free-agent tryout camp.
He averaged 0.5 points and 2.0 rebounds while playing a total of 25 minutes in Dallas' four games in the Southern California Summer League. In Rocky Mountain Revue play, he averaged 7.3 points and 2.5 rebounds.
"I feel like I've improved a lot since Portsmouth, and since the summer," Stempin said. "I'm playing harder now, and I'm playing better."