NORMAL — The video clip is all over the Internet for everyone to see. Those who watched him at Illinois State figured it was really just a matter of time.
Osiris Eldridge accomplished the ultimate jam for his new team, the Bakersfield Jam, in an NBA Development League game last Saturday. Eldridge found himself alone on a fast break, took off from just inside the free throw line and threw down a 360-degree dunk.
“It was kind of like the dunk I tried to do at ISU,” he said, referring to a botched attempt in a November 2009 game that drew the ire of Redbird coach Tim Jankovich. “I took off too far when I was at ISU.”
Eldridge still has that high-flying ability he showed as a Redbird. Yet he knows any path to the NBA won’t come from jaw-dropping dunks.
After a season of playing overseas in Turkey, the 23-year-old Chicago native has taken a hefty paycut in hopes of reaching his dream of playing in the NBA.
The 6-foot-3 Eldridge is averaging 16.2 points through the first six games for Bakersfield. After playing on the wing most of his career, Eldridge is being used part of the time at point guard.
“Osiris has the ability to play in the NBA one day. As with most young players, he is just starting to learn about all of the things that go in to being a pro,” said Bakersfield coach Will Voigt. “We believe strongly in him as a player and a person, and look forward to helping him reach his ultimate goal.”
Eldridge appreciates Voigt’s help. After making about $100,000 in Turkey, Eldridge said he’s earning around $25,000 this season.
But he figures it’s worth it for a chance to play at the highest level in the world.
“He (Voigt) lets me make mistakes and corrects me. A lot of teams I wouldn’t have the chance to play the point because overseas they want to win, win, win,” said Eldridge on Wednesday before the Jam’s game later in the day at Idaho.
“Here he wants me to play on the next level. To do that I have to be a person who can play some point guard and he’s giving me a chance to do that.”
Eldridge has averaged 3.3 assists thus far for the Jam. Sliding over to the point hasn’t been that difficult, he said, although Eldridge knows he isn’t a traditional play-maker at the position.
“I can handle the ball. My decision-making was bad, but now I understand the game a little more and am getting better at it,” he said. “I can bring the ball down, run a play and make sure guys are in the right spot.”
Eldridge, who wears No. 17 with Bakersfield, appears in the best shape of his life. He reported to Bakersfield at 230 pounds, but said he has trimmed down to 221.
A three-time all-Missouri Valley Conference first-team selection, Eldridge finished as ISU’s No. 5 all-time scorer with 1,838 points when his Redbird days ended in 2010.
He said playing in Turkey “was a good experience” for his first crack as a pro, although having rocks and smoke bombs thrown at the players during a game in Greece was an eye opener.
Eldridge’s boyhood friend from Chicago, former California guard Jerome Randle, was signed by the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday. That gives Eldridge hope that maybe his name will be called soon.
If Eldridge doesn’t get summoned to the NBA this season, he isn’t sure if he would stay in the D-League another year or get more money overseas. He will sit down with his coaches after this season and see what they think.
“I know I can play at that (NBA) level,” said Eldridge. “But there are certain things teams are looking for and certain things teams need at that time that maybe you just don’t fit. There’s nothing you can do about that. It’s hard to say. It’s just life and you have to move on.”