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#ThisIsWhyWePlay: Meet the 2016 Champion Sioux Falls Skyforce

By Brian Kotloff | May 2, 2016

The Sioux Falls Skyforce’s 2016 championship culminated the best individual season in NBA Development League history — a record-setting 46-11 run through the regular season and playoffs.

MORE: Finals Hub | Playoff Central

It validated the Miami Heat’s investment in their affiliate 1,500 miles across the country and cemented their status as one of the NBA’s top organizations for player development. It also gave the small town of Sioux Falls, S.D., a reason to celebrate a franchise that has been a fixture in the city since 1989.

But as Heat player development coach Octavio De La Grana said while watching his player celebrate, “This is all about them.”

“It’s pure,” he added. “These guys are pure.”

NBADLeague.com asked each of the 10 players on the Skyforce roster — from MVP to tryout player — to detail their journey to the title:

Jarnell Stokes, Forward/Center
From: Memphis, Tenn.
Age: 22 Years Pro: 2
College: Tennessee
Overseas Experience: None

“When I got the news [that I was MVP], it really made my season kind of surreal. Because there was a certain moment where I was almost in tears thinking about, ‘Will I ever be in the @NBA again?’ When I got waived by the Pelicans, I had offers overseas. I had teams that said … ‘You’re very high on our board.’ I thought I was just a clear-cut NBA player, so that kind of hurts a guy just turning 22 years old. This @SFSkyforce team has been great. One of the biggest things that stuck out about this team is how tough we are with each other. We’re almost like demons the court. My mindset right now is to enjoy this for a week or two and then really break down film – break down guys’ games to a science. I look at guys like David West and Paul Millsap. I feel like I have the potential to be one of those guys. It’s all about hard work from here – and opportunity.” 💭 @JarnellStokes #DLeagueChamps #ThisIsWhyWePlay

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Nigel Spikes, Center
From: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Age: 26 / Years Pro: 2
College: Marshall
Overseas Experience: Canada

“I was in Atlanta at my apartment working out and getting ready for @NBADraft workouts [two years ago]. My arm went numb and my chest and my heart got really tight. I called the paramedics and I went to the hospital – Emory Hospital. I had blood clots in my arteries. It was a minor setback, but it was all about the comeback. It’s great to be here today. It was hard because coming out of college, sitting out a year kind of kills any buzz your name has. But if it was really my dream, I just had to keep fighting for it. I played in the national league up in Canada. Then I went to a tryout down in Miami and made the @SFSkyforce through that. [College roommate] @HassanWhiteside showed up and we caught up and kicked it for old time’s sake. They welcomed me with open arms and taught me the things that I may have forgotten. They helped me get a rhythm and get my confidence back.” 💭 Nigel Spikes #DLeagueChamps #ThisIsWhyWePlay

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Jabril Trawick, Guard/Forward
From: Philadelphia, Pa.
Age: 23 / Years Pro: 1
College: Georgetown
Overseas Experience: None

“The block where I grew up in Philly was right across the street from a basketball court. It’s called The Pit – around 52nd and Market Street. From my house I could walk to the court in like five seconds, so I would be there every day, nonstop. I was the younger dude trying to play with the older dudes. I would have to wait my turn a lot, which is something I didn’t want to do. I’m like, ‘I could play with y’all now.’ So I just had that mindset; it was like a chip on my shoulder. It molded me into something naturally from there. I heard the term ‘Philly Tough’ a lot when I went to @georgetownhoops. They started using it to describe my game. I think it’s just about never backing down from the opponent, no matter what the level is. If you’re playing against somebody with a big name and a lot of people have praised them, you shouldn’t be scared. You should go at them and look at it as an opportunity and a challenge that you should embrace.” 💭 Jabril Trawick #DLeagueChamps #ThisIsWhyWePlay

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Greg Whittington, Forward
From: Columbia, Md.
Age: 23 / Years Pro: 1
College: Georgetown
Overseas Experience: None

“I went to Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, Maryland. I was 6-9, like 190. That summer (2009) I was down in Orlando for a little AAU. Nobody knew who we were, but we played everybody – all the top schools. And we were beating them. So people were asking me, like, ‘Who are you? Where have you been?’ I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m just a small-town kid in Columbia, Maryland,’ you know? We don’t get no recruiters coming there; most of the kids from my area would go to private schools. After that I just blew up. I went to Georgetown University, where I played two years until I was academically ineligible. Then the next year, I got hurt. Tore my ACL, actually. I was about to come back, but then I hurt my ACL again. So I had surgery twice. I was out for two years after that. I play for my family. I want to do it for my mom ’cause she’s provided for me for 23 years and my dad also – I want to do it for him ’cause he’s fighting through prostate cancer. So if he fought through that, I can fight through anything.” 💭 Greg Whittington #DLeagueChamps #ThisIsWhyWePlay

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Rodney McGruder, Guard
From: Landover, Md.
Age: 24 / Years Pro: 3
College: Kansas State
Overseas Experience: Hungary

“@KStateMBB was the best time of my life, just the brotherhood that I built with my teammates from college. The people of Manhattan, Kansas are wonderful people. I couldn’t have picked a better place to go to college. There have been ups and downs [since], but you’ve just got to keep the faith and keep pushing, keep working because anybody could be watching. Don’t give up on your dream. When it’s my time, it’ll be my time. It’s crazy the things that I can happen in a year. Things have just been better this season, the way that coach Dan Craig runs everything – hard-nosed. He believed in me in Summer League as well. It’s just belief from him that helped me out a lot.” 💭@RodneyMcGruder22 #DLeagueChamps #ThisIsWhyWePlay

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Larry Drew, Guard
From: Encino, Ca.
Age: 26 / Years Pro: 3
Colleges: North Carolina, UCLA
Overseas Experience: France (Monaco)

“[My dad] coached with the @Lakers, so I came up Lakers and Kobe all day, man. I remember being at the practice facility at 7, 8 o’clock in the morning watching the Lakers play and just being around the game. Seeing everything I saw at that age definitely prepared me to be where I am today. Basketball kind of runs in my veins. I’ve had my eyes set on the League ever since I can remember. Coming back to the States, I’m more focused now than ever. Playing at the Lakers’ practice facility [in the #DLeagueFinals], it’s funny how life works. The @sfskyforce organization has done wonders for my career over the last two years. For them to have their arms open for me coming back from Monaco and accept me the way they did means a lot to me. I feel like I owe them a championship.” 💭 Larry Drew II #DLeagueChamps #ThisIsWhyWePlay

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Keith Benson, Center
From: Cleveland, Ohio
Age: 27 / Years Pro: 5
College: Oakland
Overseas Experience: Italy, Philippines, Belarus, China, Lithuania, Estonia

“Last year I played in Estonia. I played in China before. I played in Italy. Just being away from home makes you stronger. I played this year trying to stay in the U.S. and get my foot in the @NBA here. At a smaller school [like @OaklandU], you get up for the big games. Like in my state, we play Michigan State so we had real good games against them. You only have a couple of shots to get seen on the national stage. A lot of us came from training camp with the @MiamiHEAT, so we knew each other before everything started. I don’t think people were expecting us to be this good, but I knew the type of talent we had. … Despite how deep our team is, I think somebody will notice if you’re playing well. So I just try to pursue excellence and keep going hard. I’ll get my shot.” 💭 Keith Benson #DLeagueChamps #ThisIsWhyWePlay

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Bubu Palo, Guard
From: Ames, Iowa
Age: 24 / Years Pro: 2
College: Iowa State
Overseas Experience: None

“I think you might’ve heard of these guys: McBuckets – @dougmcd03 – and @hbarnes. They were both my high school teammates. We won state championships together. They had great careers and they prospered right away. In life, people have different paths. They’ve been trying to keep me up because they know what my abilities are. It’s great to have them to lean on, whether it’s working out together or just giving words of encouragement. The D-League’s been everything to me, to be honest with you. It’s an individual league, but from the very beginning Coach D.C. and the @miamiheat preached a selfless approach. We played team ball the whole year. To at the end of the year be rewarded with a championship means everything to us.” 💭 Bubu Palo #DLeagueChamps #ThisIsWhyWePlay

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Toure Murry, Guard
From: Houston, Texas
Age: 26 / Years Pro: 4
College: Wichita State
Overseas Experience: None

DeAndre Liggins, Guard
From: Chicago, Ill.
Age: 28 / Years Pro: 5
College: Kentucky
Overseas Experience: Russia, Germany

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