Wizards District Gaming – the 2020 NBA 2K League champions!
For head coach Patrick Crossan, it’s a phrase that still hasn’t quite sunken in yet, even three months since The District turned in a dominant performance in the Season 3 postseason. NBA2KLeague.com hopped on stream with Coach Pat to catch up with him about his team’s successful season — all in spite of a COVID-19 — and how he plans to run it all back in 2021 (yes, just the champion part!).
Q: Has the championship run even set in yet, Coach?
Pat Crossan: You know, I don’t think it has. We won on a Friday, and then that next Tuesday, the guys left to go home (laughs). Those few days we were together, we were up late, celebrating together, and obviously with the trophy, but you wish it kind of lasted a bit longer with all the guys. We’re in the offseason now, and we’ve switched gears to scouting, retainment, watching the tournaments our teams have been running … but no I don’t think it’s settled in yet, even though it’s time now to start thinking about how we’ll grab the next one!
Q: There were a lot of highs this season, making it to the finals of THE TURN, rolling through the playoffs — but it must have taken a big effort to dig out of the lows experienced this year with the pandemic, remote play, etc. How did you keep the mentality of the team focused on winning a championship? Did you ever get to a point where you felt like “It’s Over!”?
PC: I don’t think we ever got to that point, but there were definitely times where we got stressed about the pandemic — we can’t go outside so we’re stuck inside grinding the game all day. It definitely takes a toll on you, but it speaks to the mental aptitude of our players, that they were able to get through that. Playing our game 8-10 hours a day, on top of not being able to even go outside, it would take a toll on anyone. It all goes on the players. Those guys absolutely killed it this year. We had some lows, but talked about it as a team and we moved forward. It was everyone buying into that championship mindset.
Q: You started the season in a unique way, starting out with the No. 1 draft pick. From a coach’s perspective, was there a lot of pressure to make that correct selection? You already had a talented team already, but what was it like having to make that selection?
PC: Yeah, you never want to mess up the number 1 pick, right? As Tommy Shepard, GM of the Wizards says, that’s your legacy pick. You’re known for that pick whether it was a good choice or a bad choice. Obviously, you saw the results now, it was a great choice, but at the time we had to do a lot of research on a few guys that we thought had No. 1 pick potential, their backgrounds, their psychological profiles, their interviews with me, etc. I had come to the conclusion that Jack was our guy a couple weeks to a month before the draft. I was really settled on that. And now looking back, going from the No. 1 pick to a championship, how many times has that happened in professional sports?
Q: JBM played well all year but really came into his own as the year progressed. What did you see in his evolution this year, was it a mentality thing? Was it film study? What were the little things that eventually led to JBM turning up this year?
PC: It started with the rookie growing pains that players have to go through: Moving to a city, having to play in person with your teammates, playing in quarantine, which was different of course for even our veteran players. With Jack, he never had to come in and do everything himself. He had Ryan and Reese that he could lean on as he tried to find his role. Throughout the season as he became more confident, we’re winning games, we’re going deep in tournaments, he found his role and how he could help us the best. If there was one moment that I could identify as Jack’s coming of age story, it would be THE TURN, Game 2 vs Jazz Gaming. We’re down in the 4th quarter, and at one point he goes: “Justin, you get us stops, I’m gonna get us buckets.” He ended up doing that and winning us the game, and we went on to face the Raptors in the Finals of THE TURN. Unfortunately we lost to them there, but those games were close, hard-fought battles. We knew we could beat them if given another chance, and I think that was the moment Jack realized he could do this, that he had the confidence in himself. The team rallied around that, too.
Q: What does it mean to you, to watch your veteran players like Dayfri, ReeseDaGod and Newdini finally win the chip? It must be very fulfilling to you to have watched that experience for them?
PC: All of us –myself, Dayfri, Reese, ‘Dini– we’ve been in the league three years now. Seeing them grow over the years has been a heck of a ride. Reese has probably grown the most, having been here all three years. He came into the league as kind of a quiet guy, a little reserved. Season 2, he was the third-leading scorer in the league. He had to take on more of an offensive role for us to even try and make the Playoffs last year. This year, he was a leader on and off the court for us, he was one of the best sharps in the game.
With Ryan, after his trade from Mavs Gaming, we didn’t have the best year during Season 2, but you could see the leadership qualities that we had, and if we put the right pieces around him, he was going to shine too. I think we did that for season 3. A lot of people like to say he’s toxic. I really don’t like that word. He’s what I call passionate. He loves the game, and if you don’t have someone as your leader who doesn’t love the game like that, I don’t think you’ll be able to win with that person. Seeing him as passionate as ever — you know he never even made Playoffs before, so for him, this season was a big moment. Then when we got to the Playoffs, it still wasn’t a big enough moment for him, so he wanted that championship. I couldn’t be happier for him.
For ‘Dini, watching him from afar as a member of 76ers GC for the past couple seasons, the winning attitude he brought with him was huge. He played multiple positions, which is a tough thing to do. For him to come in at Power Forward, and I know a lot of people were puzzled by him being picked in the second round because we had his other position locked up, but ‘Dini brought that veteran presence, that championship mindset, who ran the game for 20 hours a day. He’d run the game for 40 hours in a day if there were 40 hours in a day. Sometimes you had to tell him to take a break (laughs). Those three guys set the tone for our other three rookies and we wouldn’t have won without them. Everything they did for us, it’s much appreciated.
Q: You’re a good luck charm within the Wizards organization, so tell us what the vibe has been like for you all now that WizardsDG is the next DC team to bring home a trophy?
PC: It was an amazing feeling, winning the championship. I think our office staff and leadership team were thrilled. Ted and Zach Leonsis, those two are so bought into esports and this league could just be another part of the business they don’t have to think much about, but they put a lot of resources into us. Anything we ask for, they help us out. We combine resources here, and that starts at the top. That has been a tremendous amount of help not just for myself but for our franchise in general. We have help from Tommy Shepard the Wizards GM, John Thompson from an off-court issues perspective. Really, this organization is so bought into esports and we couldn’t be happier for everyone.
If there’s any year you want to win, it’s probably when the NBA 2K League gets put on ESPN2, right (laughs)? That was a big moment for the league and us. My dad’s at home, he’s getting people to watch. Even my grandparents understand Twitch and YouTube now (because I’m in the league). But for a lot of casual fans who aren’t familiar, we were playing on ESPN2 this year so it was an opportunity to get involved. I think we all did that, and did that very well. I couldn’t be happier and I know they couldn’t be happier as well.
Q: You played Raptors Uprising GC three times this season: The first was during Week 1, which was a great series. The second time was during the Finals of THE TURN where they got you again, but finally you met them again for a third time in the Playoffs and there were different results. Firstly, what’s it like having to play a team of that caliber THREE times in one season, and secondly what did you see in those first two matchups that allowed you to get the better of them when it really counted that third time?
PC: I think it’s really difficult to beat a team multiple times throughout a season. You get to know team tendencies well, and unless you switch up lineups, which neither of us were, we know the strengths and weaknesses of each player. It’s tough — if you’re 16-0 and in the Playoffs, I feel there’s a lot more pressure and expectations put on you in that situation. For us, we were the underdogs. No one expected us to win in the ‘offs, even against Kings Guard Gaming, our first matchup. It was fine, because that underdog mentality fit very well into our team. Our road was not easy. We had to play Kings Guard Gaming, Raptors Uprising GC and Warriors Gaming Squad, three of the toughest teams in the league. That is a gauntlet right there! All the experiences we had playing the Raptors this season built towards the Playoff win. The first match this season, it was probably our toughest of the three matchups but we were right there with them. We won Game 1, we should have won Game 2 and threw it away, and then Game 3 they took it out of our hands. Going into THE TURN, which I thought was the turning point for us and our season, we took them down to the wire. Two close games, a back-and-forth battle that showed us that we could beat them if we fixed a couple mistakes. For the Playoffs, we approached it as the underdogs. We were going to play our game and wanted to slow them down. They like to run and get up on teams. We had scrimmaged against them a lot so we knew their playstyle and they knew ours. It was a matter of going out to execute. Our guys were on fire that day.
Q: I had popped into the team Discords to get a feel for what the game was like in a COVID setting, and there were lots of moments where I thought your guys were screaming and yelling and generally communicating with such a deep-seeded respect for one another. Is that something that developed over the course of the year?
PC: That’s a great observation. I think it was something that needed to be found during the season, yes. There were many moments where our guys were –I don’t want to say angry at each other but when you get into these intense practices, you’re trying to win and maybe a guy isn’t taking it as seriously or having a rough day because you’re playing 8-12 hours a day in quarantine, but that’s the one thing about our team that I loved — our passion never wavered. It came from our leadership of our players, and that was a huge factor for us in moving the season forward. We had two rookies on the court at two huge positions, so they really needed to see the leadership of the team. Once you see leadership from leaders on the team, it’s kind of contagious. Our guys know that at times in games, the heat of the battle, you’ll obviously say something you don’t mean or get into it with a teammate, but you can’t let it mess with your game plan. Don’t let it linger, keep playing. After a game, if we had a bad loss, we’d come together as a team afterwards and talk about it. I never wanted us to go to another room and not talk to each other for a couple hours or days. You have to come together as a team through wins and losses. I feel like even though you’re not looking to lose, the losses can show how good your leadership is, it can show how good your communication is and how well you can gel with your teammates. Eventually, all that building and gelling led to the successful season we ultimately had.
Q: Let’s talk about the offseason so far and your decisions to retain JBM, NewDini and Dayfri. What factored into that decision? How difficult a choice was it, given you can’t retain everyone?
PC: That’s the thing, no one feels sorry for us if we’re not retaining someone over someone, right? We’re the champions. When you’re a champion, sometimes you’ll lose a part of yourself and that’s just an unfortunate part of our league, you can’t retain everyone. With JBM and Dayfri, you’re pretty locked in there, right? Their play this season showed why they should be retained, and point guard and center are obviously two of the most important positions in 2K. I think with ‘Dini in that third retainment spot, it shows his versatility playing each year in the league at a different position at a high level, never been on a losing team, back-to-back Finals appearances. That veteran leadership was something I was looking forward to bringing back. Not knowing if there was going to be an expansion team or not, were we going to lose a player, you hedge your bets a little bit because ‘Dini is a versatile guy. It wasn’t an easy choice.
Q: And you just recently retained Just_Awkward over Reese. ReeseDaGod was perhaps one of the most improved players from Season 1 through to Season 3, so what does it mean to you that you couldn’t necessarily keep him? Would you potentially re-draft him?
PC: I’m mad we can’t keep him (laughs)! It’s one of those things. The league is set up the way it is and you have to make these tough decisions. No one feels bad for us. Reese is a guy who I’ve watched for three years be a great person on and off the court. I have nothing bad to say about Reese. He is a tremendous 2K player and person. Always a smile on his face. I’d love to have this entire team back to try and run it all back. I think champions should be able to have that opportunity, but we won’t be naïve to think that a team ahead of us in this Season 4 draft won’t take him before we could.
Q: You were selected to be on the USAB Selection Committee this offseason. What’s that been like? Obviously a huge honor surely, but what was it like to be a part of the process?
PC: We had some really 2K-knowledgeable people on that selection committee (Jazz Gaming coach Comp, BlkFrankWhite, Aerial Powers), and it was an amazing process. It was a two-day process, and we watched 2K from noon to 8 pm. We watched all the games, all 30 players who competed in the trials. It was some high-level basketball, I can tell you that. There were some great final moments of games, too. At the time, I wasn’t sure how JBM would perform, but he came out on fire for USA Basketball. A lot of those players did, which is what you expect from the top players of the NBA 2K League. It was an eye-opening process that we’re now getting countries involved in esports. Hopefully in the next few years, it’ll lead to a World Cup-like event. That would be an awesome experience for our players, and to be able to represent your country, there’s no match for that feeling.
Q: Talk to us a bit about your offseason scouting in regards to watching the Draft Prospect tournaments. How have you enjoyed them so far?
PC: I think running tournaments from a teams perspective is unique and different from the combine that we’ve had in place over the past couple years. It’s tough with COVID. I would love for team tournaments to have been held in person, which would have been a great experience for the players in preparation for the league. It would have been good for coaches/GMs/scouts to be able to see players compete in person. For me though this year, it’s a lot easier drafting two players than it is four (laughs). I conducted probably a 100+ interviews last year, and this year it’ll be a little less (laughs). I can’t complain at all.
Q: How are you preparing right now to run it back and win another championship as we try to leave this crazy 2020 behind?
PC: I think for us, we can prepare now for the scenario that we’re in New York playing games, or if we’re in DC playing games remotely. In 2020, everything was on the fly. This offseason, we’re preparing for both, we need to be ready either way. Right this moment, it’s tough not knowing what the season will look like, but that’s life right now in general. Personally, I’m thankful that we can even be doing this online and in person. That’s what the job is. I don’t know how 2021 right now will go, but I hope it’s better than 2020, I can tell you that! The hardest title is your first, but I’m gonna tell the guys now that the first title was the easiest, the second one is much harder! For me personally, it’s on me to figure out what goes into professional sports teams that are able to win championships back-to-back, because that’s what we’re now looking for. What makes them unique? Why didn’t they drop off after they won their title? I think part of it is keeping the core together, which we achieved keeping 4 of our 6 this offseason. I think the other part of it is staying hungry for that championship because when next season starts, that previous championship doesn’t mean anything. We’re now focused on the next one.