Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Basketball

Meet The Globetrotting Undrafted Free Agent Who Paid $175 For a Tryout on His Way to The NBA

How a lightly-recruited high school player became a G-League All-Star and made his NBA dream come true.

The amazing underdog story of Alfonzo McKinnie, from struggling high school player, to injured college player, to overseas star, G-League All-Star, to the NBA.
Credit-AP/NBA/Joker Mag

“You don’t need a big college. You don’t need to be highly recruited. If you work hard, someone will notice.”

Averages of 4 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 0.3 assists while playing 11.6 minutes over 182 games does not scream superstar by any means.

Heck, it hardly screams serviceable bench player when it comes to the NBA.

But, the fact that Alfonzo McKinnie made it to the highest level of basketball is a win on its own. It’s far more than many expected for the Chicago native.

Growing up just minutes from the United Center in East Garfield Park, McKinnie was no different than any other young basketball player. He envisioned himself like Michael Jordan and one day dreamed of being a member of the Chicago Bulls.

After playing for the Curie Metropolitan Condors for the first couple of years of his high school career, the 6’7” forward moved across town to play for the Marshall Commandos where he finished his senior year averaging just 11 points and 8 rebounds.

Without the flashy handles or highlight reel dunks to turn heads and gain media attention, it was his hustle, heart, and work ethic that captured the eye of Eastern Illinois University coaches.

That, and according to McKinnie, it was one of his only options because of his grades.

Panthers coach Mike Miller (not the NBA player) was excited to add McKinnie to his roster noting, “He has the tools to develop into a very good player for our program with his athleticism and energy to make things happen.”

After a freshman season that saw McKinnie come off the bench, his sophomore season would open eyes around the NCAA as he more than tripled his scoring (3.6 to 10.2ppg and doubled his rebounding 3.6 to 7).

Looking for a better opportunity, McKinnie transferred to Wisconsin Green Bay to play for the Phoenix and coach Brian Wardle.

While sitting out his transfer year, McKinnie found himself on the surgeon’s table after tearing his meniscus. After four weeks of recovery and rehab, McKinnie was looking forward to finally taking to the court with his new teammates.

Unfortunately, his official debut was put on hold as he wound up tearing the same meniscus once again during the Midnight Madness dunk contest.

Rather than repairing it once more, McKinnie and the medical staff decided it would be best to completely remove the meniscus, which sidelined him for over two months.

Alfonzo McKinnie quote says "You don't need a big college. You don't need to be highly recruited. If you work hard, someone will notice."

Now he was armed with a cumbersome knee brace, which if you have done any damage to your knee and have had to wear one, is A) not comfortable and B) limits your mobility and explosiveness. 

Alfonzo had to fight to earn playing time.

In the nine games that would make up his junior season, McKinnie averaged just 12.8 minutes, 4.6 points, and 2.8 boards.

Finally, in his senior season, McKinnie started most of the time, trotting out with the first five in twenty of thirty games, averaging 8 points and 5.3 rebounds.

Just as his numbers weren’t very impressive coming out of high school to college coaches, McKinnie’s college stats didn’t draw attention from NBA scouts and coaches.

After going undrafted in the 2015 NBA Draft (along with other names such as Quinn Cook, Royce O’Neale, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and Christian Wood), McKinnie managed to catch the eye of the East Side Pirates in Luxembourg after attending several EuroLeague camps in Las Vegas. 

“When people found out I went to Luxembourg, they didn’t know where Luxembourg was,” McKinnie laughed.

“I didn’t know where it was, either. You go to a place like that and people kind of fall back and forget about you; no one checks in. Nobody wants to know what’s going on in Luxembourg…But at the time it was my only option and something I had to get through every day and improve.”

For the first time in his basketball career, McKinnie was not only in an unfamiliar land – having never left the United States – but also playing the role of a go-to scorer.

“There were times when I was in Luxembourg I wanted to give up,” he told NBA.com.

“I wanted to go home and not come back. I had to fight through it.”

Averaging over 25 points, 16 rebounds, and 2 assists per game, he was tasked with being the team’s only American player, one that came with the assumption that he would be their best player as well.

“I had to really grow mentally, and expand my role as a leader because I was the only American, so all the guys pretty much looked at me to lead the team and do a lot of stuff that I wasn’t used to. I took it as a learning experience, and I actually learned a lot from being in Luxembourg.”

A move to the CIBACOPA to play for the Rayos de Hermosillo came after his time in Europe, which was followed by the unique opportunity to play with a traveling 3-on-3 team, who eventually ended up finishing second in the FIBA World Championships.

Many would have scoffed at the idea of playing 3-on-3 rather than suiting up for a traditional professional program. But the US team was coached by former Chicago Bulls guard and current assistant coach Randy Brown.

Every night, he’d sit in front of the TV, watching the NBA.

“I would keep telling myself, ‘Yo, I have to get under the bright lights,’” he told the New York Times. “I just felt like that was where I wanted to be in life, and that was where I belonged.”

After completing the FIBA circuit, McKinnie shelled out $175 to try out for the Windy City Bulls, Chicago’s G-League affiliate.

Having a connection with Brown may have helped make the selection process easier, as McKinnie quickly found himself transitioning from a sixth man to a member of the starting rotation.

While familiarity with his assistant coach made for a smoother transition, his intangible qualities helped him stand out most.

Statistically, McKinnie’s averages of 14.9 points and 9.2 rebounds earned him both a G-League All-Star and an invite to the year-end G-League camp for prospective NBA talent. 

Of the teams that expressed interest in McKinnie, it was the Toronto Raptors who pushed for him the most, offering him a two-year guaranteed contract.

Although he spent much of the season with the 905 Raptors, McKinnie did manage to make fourteen appearances with the main roster.

“You got to a minicamp, you like some players, and [McKinnie] was one of those we liked,” said Raptors president Masai Ujiri.

“He’s athletic and plays hard all the time. It seems to me that maybe he can figure out how to be a two-way player, and that’s kind of what intrigued all of us.”

Considering he was once a lightly recruited high school player, a role-playing, injured college player, to a short career overseas, and even a transition to a 3-on-3 player, looking down a guaranteed NBA deal was a monumental accomplishment for McKinnie.

Around that time, he bought his mother a house.

“I’ve been telling her to find one she wants at a reasonable price,” he said at the time.

“She found one.”

A quote from Alfonzo McKinnie: "It doesn't matter where you start. You just have to keep working hard day in and day out. Wait for the right opportunity to present itself."

But the Chicago native still wasn’t content with his accomplishments.

Over a five-year period from 2017 to 2022, Alfonzo McKinnie found himself pulling on five different NBA jerseys as the result of either a trade or free agent signing.

While some view this in a negative light, others take it as, “Well, someone wanted me.”

Unfortunately for McKinnie, he was in the right place at the wrong time. Not just once, but twice in his NBA career.

During the 2017-18 season, he played for the Raptors but relocated to Golden State the following year, one in which Toronto captured their first NBA title.

In 2019-20, McKinnie was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers but found himself traded early in the 2020-21 season to the LA Lakers, just months after LeBron James helped bring a “bubble” championship to Hollywood.

At the end of the 2021 season, the Lakers waived McKinnie, a move that sent the combo forward back to the G-League to suit up for the Capitanes de Ciudad de Mexico.

Less than two months later, McKinnie had his ultimate basketball goal come true as his hometown Chicago Bulls signed him to a number of ten-day contracts before adding him to their roster for the remainder of the season.

“Man, to be honest, it’s the biggest dream come true,” McKinnie told NBC Sports Chicago.

“I’m a West Side kid. I grew up like 10, 15 minutes down the way…Watched the Bulls growing up. So just being able to compete on the highest stage in my hometown, on my favorite side of the city, the West Side, it’s been surreal, to be honest. Just putting that jersey on has been everything for me.”

Chicago (to date) has proved to be the end of the line as far as McKinnie’s NBA career goes.

The fall of 2022 welcomed a third trip to Mexico for another run with the Capitanes. Then in 2023, McKinnie inked a deal with Dinamo Banco di Sardegna Sassari in Italy’s top-tier league.

Alfonzo McKinnie traveled all over the globe to make his vision a reality.  He invested in himself and stuck with it through all the ups and downs.

“It doesn’t matter where you start,” he said.

“You just have to keep working hard day in and day out. Wait for the right opportunity to present itself. And when it does, take full advantage of it and see what happens.”

For more great stories like this, join thousands of subscribers on our free Underdog Newsletter 👇

Written By

Life-long sports fan and avid basketball junkie in every sense of the word. The same passion I have for the Lakers translates to my extreme dislike for the Duke Blue Devils. As much as I cheer for the favorite and the dynasty, I appreciate and applaud the underdog and the grind whether you are a weekend warrior or a professional, both on and off the field.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related

Baseball

Talent can emerge from unexpected places. It isn't always confined to the powerhouse programs you see on ESPN.

Quotes

Through grit and determination, Kelce defied the odds to become the greatest center of all-time.

Football

He was a college dropout driving for DoorDash. Now he's on the cusp of football's highest level.

Athlete Hub

The coach slammed the door shut. Every kid in the locker room rushed toward the piece of paper taped to the door. I scanned...