But Blalock is more circumspect about his prospects. He'd love to be back in the NBA, but he's thinking about going overseas, where the money is better. "If this is a game of cards, my hand really ain't that great right now," he says. "[Europe] is an opportunity to make money for me and my family. I realize in the back of my mind there's not a lot of teams picking up 26-year-old point guards."
Mingled with the 4000 paying customers to watch Wall's debut are scouts, general managers, and coaches representing every level of professional basketball, both here and abroad — and quite possibly his next employer.
You might think this would make someone in Blalock's position nervous, but very little fazes him when it comes to basketball. He battled Chris Paul in his AAU days and was one of the top 100 college recruits in his high-school class. He made SportsCenter's top plays twice while at Iowa Stateand lives on in the school's record book alongside Cyclone heroes like Jeff Hornacek and Jamaal Tinsley. He was a second-round draft pick and spent a year with the Detroit Pistons when they were still championship contenders.
As the game begins, Blalock's face is stoic, unmoved, and he betrays exactly zero emotion. If he is frustrated by his circumstances, he learned long ago not to let it show. This is his credo: "When the bell rings and it's time to go — 'Will, get in there' — you can't think like that because it messes up your whole situation."
All things considered, his situation isn't that bad. He is, after all, making a living playing ball and everyone here whose opinion matters about basketball knows his name — he's not so much auditioning for teams as reminding them. Beyond all that, there is something else that makes him see this encounter as just another in a long line of possibilities. Two years ago in an airport terminal, Will Blalock came perilously close to losing everything.
'I wake up and everyone's gone'
In the spring of 2008, Blalock was sitting in Logan Airport with a first-class ticket to Seattle and an invitation to the Sonics mini-camp. (This was just before the franchise was relocated to Oklahoma City.) The invite carried no guarantees, but Blalock was feeling good about his chances.
He was only a year removed from the NBA, where he absorbed as much as he could from veterans like Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace. From Chauncey, he learned how to run a team and think two or three steps ahead on the court, and from Sheed he learned to see beyond the hype when he was away from it.
He split his time shuttling between the Pistons and their D-League affiliate in South Dakota, an experience he found useful, if not humbling. The D is bus rides through the Badlands and airplane connections in Atlanta, always Atlanta, zigzagging across the country with a game somewhere in Texas one night and another in New Mexico the next. The NBA is tantalizingly close and yet another universe away.
Blalock spent one season with Detroit, playing in those 14 games, but when the Pistons didn't renew his contract he did a brief stint in Israel and spent the rest of the next year back in the D with Anaheim. It wasn't glamorous, but he was gaining experience. The young team in Seattle represented a great opportunity to get back in the league.