Amir Billups is going back to California in pursuit of a professional basketball career.
The former Starpoint High School star was the leading scorer for the Buffalo 716ers team in last month’s Los Angeles Summer Pro League. Billups averaged 22.8 points per game in five games, which ranked among the top five in the league and earned him an all-star selection.
Based on that performance, Billups was invited to a private workout Tuesday with the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA Developmental League.
“It’s really exciting to be able to try out for a D-League team,” Billups said.
“The whole trip to L.A. made that possible, and I really have to give most of the credit to all of my teammates. They were helping me get most of the shots, setting good screens and getting me the ball in the right spots.”
Billups, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard, scored 855 points in four years on the Starpoint varsity squad, placing him sixth on the school’s all-time list when he graduated in 2008.
He played three of the last four seasons at Fredonia State College, averaging a team-high 12.2 points per game as a senior and shooting 46.4 percent from three-point range, best in the SUNY Athletic Conference and among the NCAA Division III leaders.
“I was always planning on doing something basketball-wise after college,” Billups said. “I love the game of basketball, and I’m not just going to give it up. It’s always been a dream of mine to play pro ball.”
Undeterred by his status as an undersized guard from a nonscholarship school with an undistinguished record, Billups set out to prove himself in local leagues and pickup games with Division I and professional-level players.
“I don’t let that faze me,” said Billups, who is the nephew of former St. Bonaventure player Vory Billups and a distant cousin of NBA player Chauncey Billups.
“It’s all the game of basketball,” he said.
“People may play at different levels, but that doesn’t mean you’re better than anybody. Nobody is thinking about that when the tip goes up. You’re just playing the game.”
Victor Arroyo, a former SUNY Buffalo State player and assistant coach for the 716ers, recruited Billups to participate in a two-day tryout camp in May.
With 25 professional prospects – mostly nonlocals from as far away as the Caribbean – in the gym, Billups emerged as the best outside shooter, according to Tawan Slaughter, the 716ers’ owner and coach.
“He really stuck out,” Slaughter said. “He could shoot the three-ball very well. He was in great shape. He was a team player. I took a look at him and thought he would have a great chance to get looked at by scouts out in L.A.”
The Summer Pro League has been a proving ground for more than 800 current and former NBA players over the past 40 years.
According to the league website, 18 players secured pro contracts last summer.
The cost to try out was $150, and players had to pay their own way to Los Angeles, but Billups believes that’s a small investment for the chance to play in front of professional scouts.
“I’m looking to get my foot in the door,” Billups said. “Anything I can get, professional, overseas, wherever, and I can take it from there.”
Billups gained confidence from his performance in Los Angeles, learning that his game translated to the professional level.
After a flight delay caused him to miss the 716ers’ opening game, Billups made his Summer Pro League debut with 35 points, 24 of them coming on eight three-pointers.
“His ability to find his shot and score was really something to watch,” Slaughter said.
“You could see he was used to a structured system. He was constantly moving, coming off screens, and he was able to get into a rhythm and a comfort zone.
“He had a really great five-game series there. That’s why he is getting so many opportunities. You didn’t really see that from any other player.”
In addition to the D-League tryout, Billups caught the attention of scouts from Mexico’s LNBP league, Slaughter said, and was nominated for the “Best 1-2-3 Backcourt” award, along with D-League veteran Brandon Armstrong and Ajay Rutledge, a former Daemen College player who will also be trying out in Bakersfield this week.
Billups played with the 716ers for two exhibition games in Toronto last weekend and is likely to tryout next month for the 716ers team that plans to begin play in the Independent Basketball Association in March – unless he secures a professional contract before then.
“He took a lot from playing in L.A. against a different level of competition, 7-footers and pro players,” Slaughter said.
“I think he’s a great player, I really do. He has a good attitude, and if he continues to perform like he did in L.A., I don’t see why he won’t be playing pro ball.”