PLNU has alumni nationwide, boasting graduates who have gone on to do everything from professional soccer to create successful companies. One alumnus of the basketball program, A.J. Ussery (’14), a psychology major from PLNU, plans to add himself to that list of notable alumni.
Ussery is currently in Westchester, New York where he is competing with other recruits from across the nation for a spot on the Westchester Knicks NBA Development League (D-League) team.
After players go through initial placement in the D-League draft, the Westchester Knicks hold a training camp for all recruits. Here the players live together and play basketball for two weeks where they tryout to make the D-league team. They train at two different professional facilities, one of which is Madison Square Garden, home to the New York Knicks.
Ussery spent his summer going to multiple basketball camps, attending the Sacramento Pro Developmental League (SPDL), where he met contacts that put him in touch with the Westchester Knicks. From there, he got a call that he had been drafted and got on a plane from San Diego the next day to fly to Westchester.
“It was kind of a crazy process, but also really cool,” said Ussery.
Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach, Jordan Courneya, found out the news through social media and was quick to encourage Ussery in his pursuits.
“One of the guys on the team found out and then told us,” said Courneya. “We all sent [Ussery] congratulatory texts and wished him the best.”
Courneya believes Ussery was able to hone his skills, like guarding, during his time at PLNU and that playing here prepared him to be successful in the D-League.
“He had hundreds of practices here,” said Courneya. “And every day we worked on a variety of team concepts and individual skills, not counting competitive drills and fitness.”
Courneya said these practices, combined with Ussery’s positive response to coaching and selfless playing style, are what set him apart on the court.
“From day one, he was very coachable, [and showed] versatility on offense and defense,” said Courneya. “He is able to guard any position on the floor and he enjoys passing and assisting rather than scoring, which is rare in a player these days.”
Ussery knows that he has ability offensively and defensively, and said PLNU’s athletic environment was very helpful for him.
“Playing at PLNU helped me with my fundamentals, [which] a lot of players don’t have,” said Ussery. “I believe I’m really versatile, and I feel like I pick up stuff quickly, and I work hard.”
Ussery’s abilities on offense and defense were crucial to the men’s team during his time at PLNU. During his senior year, he started 24 of all 26 matches and helped the team to victory as NCCAA Champions in 2014 by leading the team in blocks.
Danny Barnts, assistant athletic director for communications, said it was this defensive ability that characterized Ussery’s playing style.
“A.J. was a standout player defensively for Point Loma,” said Barnts. “He had the ability to guard the other team’s 2-5 spots and regularly made an impact on the game with his size and agility.”
Barnts manages the social media and marketing aspect of all sports on campus and believes that A.J. is a good example for other recruits looking at PLNU who wish to continue their career beyond college ball.
“To see that players have the opportunity for basketball after school is always great,” said Barnts. “A.J. is even more impressive because he was able to come to PLNU with raw talent, and through effort and hard work, develop his game to the point where he earned the right to be drafted in the development league.”
The 6’10” player will find out the Nov. 13 whether he made the official D-League team for the Westchester Knicks. For now, he is just focusing on his basketball career.
“I’ve always wanted to play basketball,” said Ussery. “My plans are just to continue to get better and better, and from that point on hopefully get called up to the NBA.”