Minutes from now, the NBA Developmental League (NBDL, or “D-League”) Draft will start and, according to agent Ara Vartanian, it is very likely that his client Kris Rosales, a 6’0” 165-lb Filipino-American point guard hailing from Bellflower in Southern California, will become the first “Fil-Am” player ever drafted into the D-League.
Last year the Santa Cruz Warriors, an affiliate of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors drafted the 6’9” 210-lb power forward Japeth Aguilar with the 13th pick of the seventh round, making Aguilar the first “pure” Filipino ever drafted into the D-League. Rosales, who was born in Long Beach, CA, would be the first American-born Filipino drafted into the D-League.
Rosales was named to the NAIA All-America First Team this past 2012-13 season, his senior year, but while journeys of Asian-American basketball players have been celebrated since Jeremy Lin, Rosales does not want to be known as “The Next Jeremy Lin”, even though ever since “Linsanity” happened, Rosales has been motivated to make it to the NBA.
In fact it was because of Aguilar that Rosales got noticed.
“Don Sellers worked out Japeth and Kris happened to be working out with him,” NBA player agent Vartanian said, “I really didn’t know much about Kris, really didn’t think much of it.”
Sellers, a former advance player scout for the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, and New Orleans Pelicans (then the Hornets), is currently a basketball trainer working with clients playing in the Chinese Basketball Association.
“The first time I saw Kris play, I noticed that he could get down into the lane, slow the game up where I looked at Don and said, ‘How did he just do that?’” Vartanian said, “He just got into the middle, the game looked like it paused, and he passed the ball to the open guy.”
While it’s always a risk to make comparisons, Vartanian thinks that Rosales’s game has a little bit of Jason Kidd’s and Chris Paul’s.
“He’s always pass-first, get the team involved,” Vartanian remarked, “He basically knows how to run the team, play really hard defense, and give it his all. Scoring isn’t his top priority. It’s more about getting his team going, although he has to work on his shot a little more, kind of get that threaded into himself. That’s his one negative. But once you see Kris play, within five minutes you’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah, he can play.'”
Apparently, some NBA teams think he can play as well. Rosales has already had workouts with the Clippers, Sacramento Kings (twice), Brooklyn Nets, and Toronto Raptors.
“They were pre-Draft workouts, so there were draft-eligible guys,” said Vartanian, “The one he had with the Clippers, Jeff Withey (7’0”, 235 lbs), he’s from the Kansas Jayhawks (currently signed with the NBA Pelicans, picked 39th in the NBA Draft this past June by the Portland Trailblazers) and was in his workout, the guy from the University of Miami, Kenny Kadji (6’10”, 244 lbs) who was waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers, he was in that workout with him. It was all pre-Draft actual workouts but he was building full exposure, full experience. Brooklyn flew him out from LA.”
Most basketball players seeking a pro contract, let alone being Fil-Am, dream of working out for NBA teams. “This summer will be something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Rosales said, “But I’ve got a long way to go. I want to thank Don Sellers and (trainer) Guss Armstead for their guidance and willingness to push me physically and mentally this summer. ”
This after breaking his wrist in mid-March, only a week after completing his college career at Hope International University of Fullerton in Southern California, an NAIA-division school consisting of just 1,700 students.
Rosales first had an interest in basketball playing against his brother Nayton in the backyard of his Bellflower home, where his parents Nielon and Jean Rosales, built a hoop when Kris was 4. He eventually played for St. John Bosco High School, under Coach Chris Madigan. Like Lin, but also many other unheralded players coming out of high school, Rosales wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school.
“I only went to one showcase which was for unsigned seniors. The only teams that were interested were San Francisco State, Hope, and some local junior colleges,” Rosales said, “I hurt my knee six games into my senior year so it was tough to get looked at by colleges. I did come back and play two league games and earned 2nd-Team All-Trinity League. I also received the Coaches’ Award on our team.”
As it turned out, he would have an even stellar career at Hope.
The first three years under Coach Bill Czech weren’t very successful, but in Rosales’s senior year, the Hope Royals went 26-8 and, despite losing in the semifinals of the Golden State Athletic Conference, a trip to the NAIA national tournament for the first time in school history. Rosales averaged 13.4 points, 4.4 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game.
SEASON GP FG-FGA Pct 3FG-FGA Pct FT-FTA Pct Off Def Tot Avg PF FO A TO B Stl Pts Avg
2012-13 33 172-376 .457 12-45 .267 86-121 .711 33 98 131 4.0 70 0 146 102 10 67 442 13.4
2011-12 30 125-297 .421 22-54 .407 107-142 .754 35 103 138 4.6 82 1 120 96 5 59 379 12.6
2010-11 33 151-316 .478 11-33 .333 78-112 .696 19 88 107 3.2 91 4 77 96 4 57 391 11.8
2009-10 30 122-295 .414 6-37 .162 80-122 .656 28 90 119 3.9 85 4 71 108 2 46 330 11.0
The Royals made it to the second round of the tournament, only to be ousted by just two points against the #1-ranked NAIA team in the nation, Columbia College of Missouri, which would lose as well by two points the very next day to the eventual national NAIA tournament champion Georgetown College of Kentucky. Against Hope, it was Columbia’s 35th consecutive win that season against zero losses.
“It was a hard fought game,” Rosales said, “They had size on us. Our big men Austin Sanford and Orlando Collins were warriors.”
Rosales led all scorers with 19 and the game came down to the wire.
“We had the last possession and I didn’t capitalize,” said Rosales, “I didn’t pull the trigger on a jumper I should have taken. A senior at the time, I take full responsibility for that last possession. It was a learning experience.”
But even though it was Rosales who should have taken the last shot that might have sent the match into overtime, Rosales’s game has evolved over the last two years to become more of a distributor. You wouldn’t know that by the recent article from SLAM Magazine Philippines, which included a YouTube clip showcasing his offensive scoring talents, made by his brother Nayton, from his sophomore year at Hope.
“My brother made the video for fun,” said Rosales, “My game has grown within the last two years. I’ve learned to be more of a pure point guard and find my teammates.”
“I’ve been doing this for so long, you kind of have an idea of ‘Can he play at that next level?’” said Vartanian, who has been a certified NBPA (NBA Players’ Association) agent since 2002, represented former NBA No. 5 overall draft pick Nikoloz Tskitishvili (7’0”, 245 lbs), and currently represents Daniel Orton of the Philadelphia 76ers.
“So many times when you go see guys workout, everybody’s trying to showcase themselves, score points, not realizing that you can be a better player if you’re getting everybody else involved, run the team, and that’s one thing I’ve seen with Kris is that he basically knows how to pass to the open man,” said Vartanian.
As far as the workouts were concerned, Vartanian says that Rosales did very well.
“The plan for Kris has always been to go to D-League, get a chance to develop his game, get stronger, faster, work on his shot, and then take it to the next level,” said Vartanian, “
Enough teams have seen him to kind of know how good of a player he is. Rosales was just in Sacramento at the Kings’ facility on the 20th of October and worked out for them on an invite-only workout. Their D-League affiliate is the Reno Bighorns, whose head coach is Joel Abelson, who has worked with Vartanian in the past.
Also, the D-League Draft consists of 17 teams. There are up to eight rounds of picks and the first six rounds are mandatory. So, in effect, Rosales is hoping that his name is among the first 102 or more.
Rosales said he’s ready for whatever comes his way.
“Don Sellers told me that you have to be ready for any situation, that is part of being a pro,” Rosales said. “I’m very excited and anxious at possibly being drafted. The waiting game is tough, but it is almost here.”
Rosales also had to spurn, at least temporarily, what would probably be a very lucrative career as a pro in the Philippines Basketball Association (PBA). Fellow Californian and Fil-Am player Josh Urbiztondo is now a fan favorite in the PBA and lives a life in the Philippines equivalent to that of Stephen Curry in the States.
Rosales even has friends who currently play in the PBA, such as Ryan Reyes, Karl Dehesa, and Alex Mallari, who just won a championship there recently.
“I would love to play in the Philippines some day and experience the culture, learn the language, and be a part of a country that truly loves basketball,” said Rosales, “It was sort of last minute decision to spurn the PBA, but I am only young once and I don’t want to grow old and look back saying I should have chased my dream. Getting drafted (into the NBA D-League) is the only thing that matters, so I can get a chance to compete for a roster spot.”
And yet it’s still about situation and the right fit.
“I think if he gets in a situation where he’s on a team and with a coach that wants to work with him and grow and develop him, one more year of working on his game, because the NAIA level of basketball is a lot different than the D-League and the NBA,” said Vartanian,
Rosales is currently working on his physical strength and having a consistent jumper. After breaking his wrist, his upper body strength dropped. With the guidance of Don Sellers, training Kris in the weight room as well as on the court, Rosales just recently started working out at S.T.A.R.S. in Orange County to further improve his strength and conditioning. After the workouts, he also gets in the gym everyday to work on his jumper, shooting while he’s tired.
“The NBA’s a lot quicker, stronger, bigger,” added Vartanian, “There’s things that he’s going to have to develop in his game to transfer it into being an NBA point guard one day. But I think with his hand being hurt, his path would’ve been a little bit different. Having a broken wrist for as long as he had kind of kept some opportunities from happening. I think the D-League will be good for him this year to kind of see what he can do.”
Rosales had gotten the cast off of his right hand, his dominant shooting and dribbling hand, only three days before his workout with the Raptors on June 2nd, so having the broken wrist made being ready for the workouts a bit tougher than usual. He trained with his cast on, which forced him to work on his left. Rosales would work out on June 17th with the Clippers and with the Nets on the 19th.
It might be noted that Lin’s path to the NBA took a similar twist of fate, as he had broken his foot late in his high school junior year, forcing him to miss all of the summer AAU activity which would’ve gotten him noticed more.
The similarities to Lin don’t end there. Not only was Hope a private Christian school (Lin, as most of us know, is a devout Christian), but also Rosales has a very mature demeanor. He listens, is open to criticism, and is very polite and respectful.
“As much as players are interviewing agents,” Vartanian said, “I’m also interviewing them to be my client, to see if we can be a good match. If we don’t get along, no matter how good you are, no matter what I can do, the relationship won’t be as successful.”
But despite the similarities with Lin, Vartanian draws the line at a certain point.
“When you’re six feet tall and you’ve always had to fight an uphill battle, everybody questions your abilities. I think having Jeremy Lin come into the NBA brought a lot of attention, a lot of guys like Kris, but it doesn’t necessarily mean good attention,” Vartanian said, “Now you’ve got, ‘Oh he’s the next Jeremy Lin.’ Well, not really. He’s just Kris Rosales. He’s got to work on his game. “It’s not really fair to say he’s Jeremy because Jeremy’s game is a lot different than Kris’s. So I think there’s all these little factors because he’s of Asian descent.”
With a game that’s different than everyone else’s, Rosales has to prove that he is just himself and that, Vartanian explains, has been the hardest thing for him to do, not only because of the simple fact that he doesn’t look like your typical NBA hopeful, but also due to the growing attention from the Philippines.
“I didn’t use the fact that Kris is Filipino at all as a ploy to get him workouts. He’s a first-team All-American NAIA. He happens to be Filipino, you know?,” Vartanian said, “I tell Kris all the time, because with all of the Philippines media’s requests that he’s had, the most important thing to remember is that your game should present who you are, not your nationality. Kris is a basketball player. At the end of the day, that’s all it is.”