Wizards District Gaming Head Coach Patrick Crossan wasn’t expecting much during the NBA 2K League Draft Lottery this fall. WDG had a 7% chance of being awarded the No. 1 overall pick on the NBA 2K League Season 3 Draft in February of 2020, but “that’s why you play the games,” as the old sports adage goes. Now blessed with the freedom to pick the best player available, Coach Crossan is excited about the prospects of improving his already-strong roster (featuring ReeseDaGod and Dayfri who will return for a third and second year with the club, respectively).
Between draft prep, roster construction, gameplay strategy building and off-the-court chemistry maintenance, Coach Crossan has adopted a formula that’s working for him and WDG: Take it one day at a time.
Question: What’s your honest assessment of Wizards District Gaming’s second season?
Patrick: I’ll start with the pros. We had a tough start (0-4 out of the gate in Season 2), and then the Vegas tournament happened (THE TURN) and we got destroyed by Magic Gaming in the first round. I remember talking to the guys afterwards and I said look, we’re not playing well right now. It’s on us to turn it around. The guys I think responded after that. We went on a little bit of a run in between THE TURN and THE TICKET. Yeah, it is tough when you start 0-4. We still had a shot at Playoffs at the end, but every game matters in the 2K League. It’s one of those things where we’re not playing 82 games, so if you go 0-4, you still have a chance to make the Playoffs, but in our 0-4 case, that’s a steep hole to climb out of. I was just happy the guys didn’t give up no matter what. I think the last week or two (after WDG were eliminated from Playoff contention) the guys still wanted to go out and get some wins, which is great momentum for next year. And as you know, we have the No. 1 pick. I think having that No. 1 pick is bittersweet. It’s great that we have our option to select whomever we want, but it also means that we didn’t have the best season in Season 2. Obviously our goal every year is to make Playoffs and compete for a championship.
Q: In terms of Dayfri and ReeseDaGod, what from your perspective factored into the decision to retain those two to build around for Season 3?
P: I’ll start with Reese. He was a huge reason that we were able to have a change in the Playoff chase last year. His turnaround last year was huge for us. We put him on the small forward build, he was a better shooter. He didn’t have to bring up the ball at point guard. If you look at his Season 1 (7 PPG, 1.5 APG, 59% FGP) stats and you look at Season 2 (20 PPG, 3.8 APG, 57.8% FGP), he’s the most improved player across the whole league in my opinion. He’s just a great kid, always having a smile on his face, always laughing. He brings real enjoyment to the team. You need guys like that obviously in the locker room. That’s a positive for him too. We’re still young in this league heading into Season 3, and it’s kind of weird to say that he’s a vet, but he is realistically. To have a guy that’s been with us for all three seasons, I think that’s very important to us. He knows what it’s like here in DC, he knows what the travel schedule is like, what gameday is like… he’s molded into a well-rounded individual for us. With Dayfri, he’s another vet. Obviously we made a big trade for him after Season 1. In 2K, I think you really do need a good point guard and a great big big man, someone who could play the 4 or 5 at a high level. That’s what Dayfri brings. He’s a tremendous defender, he’s able to study opponent tendencies and pick up on those instantly. He’s a leader on our court. So really, I want guys who’ll be locker room leaders, and Ryan and Reese are probably the two biggest guys that any team could bring on in that regard. We’re really excited to have those guys. We’re hoping they both have big years, and they just want to win at this point. That’s the best thing about them. They don’t care about personal stats, the only thing that matters for them is winning.
Q: Do you think Reese can have an even better Season 3 than he had during Season 2? There’s so much momentum for him to build off of, especially after his second half scoring spree.
P: I know many out there watch Pro-Am games, and he’s been hoopin’ in the offseason here. He doesn’t look like he’s missed a step at all, and he’s put a lot of time into the game, which I like to see because in the offseason, you as a player should be getting better. There are a couple things we’ve told him to work on, work on your playmaking here and there. Obviously, you’re the third-leading scorer in the league last year, so teams will start double-teaming you or put the best defensive player on you, so that’s one thing you’ll have to look out for (next season). The game changes every year, but I still expect him to be the same old Reese, a straight shooter. One of the reasons why we took him is because I remember he wasn’t huge in the community before Season 1, but he just got hot running pick-ups with some of the other guys in the draft pool that year. You could tell there was talent there. Season 1, maybe there was a bit of timidness there with his play, and a lot of guys have that. It’s a whole new league, they’ve never gone from playing in their parents’ basements to playing on the stage before, so it was an adjustment for him. From Season 1 to Season 2, he took a huge leap. If he averages 50 points next year and we pick up wins, I’m not gonna complain either way.
Q: What will you miss most about DemonJT’s presence on the team, now that he’s a part of Pistons GT for Season 3?
P: JT was a huge help to us in the locker room. I love JT. He does his job. Shows up to compete every game. Last year was a little bit of a struggle for him at the point guard spot, but at the same time he brought other things outside of the game and that’s what he’s bringing to Detroit. I think it’s better for him. He’ll be with his former teammate and good friend Ramo, so I think pairing those two up will help him out a little bit more. I’m still rooting for the guy, except when we’re playing against him (laughs). I really do want to see him have success in the league.
Q: In terms of the No. 1 pick in this upcoming draft, what is the true value to you in holding this very important pick? Is this a potential franchise-changer, even though 2K (the game meta) is tough to predict from year to year? Are you feeling pressure to get the pick “right,” particularly when teams in the past have picked #1 and not gone to the postseason in that same year?
P: It’s hugely important. The No. 1 pick, you’re in a position to select anyone from the pool. We don’t have to wait for someone to drop or say oh, hopefully this team doesn’t take our guy. I wouldn’t say there’s pressure. I think it’s exciting. I’ll tell you a funny story. During the draft order lottery process and the League Ops guys were holding up those ping pong balls, I had a list of all the combinations and I was just waiting to hear our name called up. They called out the first three numbers and I couldn’t find the fourth number to align with the first three. I thought some other team secured that pick. I told everyone in the room ah man, we didn’t get the No. 1 pick! And the next thing you know, they announced us and everyone in the room went crazy. I felt bad that I lowered their expectations in that moment (laughs), but it was a surreal experience. I had no expectations going into the draft lottery. I think we had a 7% chance of being awarded that first pick.
Q: Let’s talk more about the rest of your draft picks this year. What sorts of players, both skills-wise and personality-wise, are you looking to bring into the WDG fold this season?
P: Usually there’s been a consensus about the No. 1 pick in the past (in terms of the Top 3 choices), but this year, I’d say four or five guys are really, really good and realistically, the top seven or eight guys could go No. 1. This draft is very, very top-heavy at point guard, and a lot of teams do need a good point guard. I’m looking for confidence in that No. 1 pick. We’re gonna make sure that person picked first doesn’t feel that pressure from outside sources. They just have to come in here and play their game. That’s it. Dayfri and Reese can handle their own and they’ll help the new players become better persons and players off the court. We just need someone to come in here and play ball for us.
Q: Washington DC sports have had a good run over the years. Does it give you confidence and motivation to see other teams around the neighborhood doing well?
P: I don’t want to say it’s because of me, but… it is a coincidence that when I got hired, the Capitals won the Stanley Cup (laughs). No, they’re a really good team anyways, but it’s kind of funny how you have all these DC teams taking the next step, competing for and winning championships. Obviously we’re hoping we can do the same thing here. The Washington Mystics (WNBA) just won their championship which was amazing. We got to go to their Finals games, and that atmosphere being in the championship, having your fans root for you, seeing the players perform to their absolute best is something that hopefully, WDG can do in Season 3. That’s the ultimate goal.
Q: What is it like to coach in the NBA 2K League from your perspective. It seems like you coaches have to bring a unique mix of 2K knowledge and IRL basketball experience to the table. How do you balance that and manage the team/travel, etc.?
P: I think team chemistry is extremely important while managing a team. In other sports, there’s free agency, guys can be added or dropped during the season. With us, it’s just six players in a room playing video games for 10 hours a day. They’re in a high-intensity space where they really need to gel, I think. After Season 1, we took a step back and realized team chemistry is huge. You can look at the most successful teams in the league and those players absolutely gel on and off the court. Coaching in the 2K League… I wouldn’t say it’s a lot different than coaching in the NBA, but things you can do in real basketball don’t always translate to 2K. You have to find out how to adapt that, and like you said, the game changes every year, so if the G League (as an example) wanted to experiment with a 4-point line one year, or they wanted to say hey, dunks are worth five points now, the game could change every year and you’d have to adapt to that.
Q: In regards to that player/team chemistry, how can coaches help improve and nurture it? What sorts of things can you impact off the sticks, since coaching is more than just an on-the-sticks responsibility? What sorts of things do you bring to WDG’s chemistry building?
P: Tell me a team that won a 2K championship that hated each other? I can’t think of one in the history of sports. We have a smaller team, only six players, there’s no free agency, so these players are usually with the team and with each other all year. You have to like coming in every day seeing the same players’ faces. Chemistry to me is just really important, we want high-character guys who are high-character players and persons. At the end of the day they’re players, but I like to treat them as people. They have ups and downs, maybe things happening outside of the game, you really have to be there as a person for them if they ever need it. If you’re there for them, they’re there for you, and everyone feels better about coming into work every day. I host one-on-one meetings every week to check in before game days and seeing how they’re doing outside the game. There were a couple times throughout the season where I felt we needed to come together a bit more as a unit. We were going through the 0-4 spurt at that point, and you have to bring the team together. I think talking to them individually helps, and we give them anything they need. We have a team doctor, sports psychologists on staff, really anything they need that will help them become a better player and person. When it comes from the top down (that we’ll prioritize taking care of players), not that it doesn’t happen in other organizations too, but I see it here… that they want to take care of these players on and off the court, it’s something really special. And I see that here.
Q: You mentioned the need to come together more tightly last season. Is there anything YOU as a coach made improvements in year-over-year that you’re excited to now bring to the table during Season 3?
P: Yeah, I mean burnout is a huge element when you’re sitting in front of a computer screen for 10 hours a day. This past season I experimented with quality practices over quantity practices and scrimmages against other teams. We might go for four hours a day instead. It’s like the NBA, they pull back on the practice schedule intensity a bit during the season because they don’t want their guys to wear down. That’s something that I’ve learned and taken to WDG. I’ve worked with Ryan Richman, the head coach of the G League team here in DC (Capital City Go-Go), super-smart Basketball-minded guy. He’s helped me on watching film, tendencies to pick up on, and naturally I still have to adapt that to how I want our 2K team to play. It’s great to pick their brains. I’ve talked to Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards GM. He’s helped instill in me how important team culture is. It’s interesting to see that these guys really care about us and want us to do well.
Q: Do you ever stop to take stock in the fact that you’re coaching in an esports league that’s growing each and every year?
P: Every day. The fact that they’re playing managers and coaches to be able to compete in a video game we all love and a sport that we grew up loving too, it’s an amazing experience. Esports in general is still so new, so untapped. Every day is a blessing to come here and compete for a championship. We’re trying to do it for our players, our fans, our staff here who help us out to become better people and players. Every day I just have to pinch myself, I still can’t believe it.
Q: When Season 3 is all said and done, what will define a successful third campaign for your organization from your perspective?
P: I think it’s one day at a time. We just have to take things one day at a time, win that game that week. That’s all you have to do. I’ll tell the guys to win the quarter, win the possession. Really what it comes down to is winning every possession. You don’t have to worry about the future, you have to worry about your present, where you’re at right now. We’re working on a lot of things for the draft in February right now, we’re really excited about that, but one day at a time. Obviously the goal is always Playoffs, and always compete for a championship. That doesn’t change no matter what happens regardless of whether you were the first pick or seventh pick, which we were slotted to get. We’ll still be in that position to compete for the Playoffs. I want a championship, I know all of our staff does too. The players do. It would be a great experience, and hopefully the Mystics rub off on us a bit and give us some good luck.