(Photo courtesy Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images)

I can still remember it vividly to this day...I was playing the D-League tournament when one of the representatives for the Spurs gave me the news that I was being called up. I remember dropping down on my knees and thanking God. I knew without Him this wouldn't have been possible.

During my first game, that's when it really hit me that I was playing in the NBA. This wasn't a dream anymore. It was real. One of the things that helped keep things normal for me was my coach at the time, Greg Popovich. He treated me like I was a Spur, just like everybody else, and gave me the confidence to keep going. That was really important for me, because once my 10-day contract was up I was headed right back to the D-League.

That was, until the Memphis Grizzlies stepped in.

Here's how quickly things can change in your life when God steps in. On February 2, I'm signing a 10-day contract with the Grizzlies. On February 19, I'm signing my second 10-day contract, and by March 2, I'm signing a multi-year deal with the team.

When I first got to the league, I was scared to not mess up. I'm probably not the only player to feel that as a rookie, but when I got to Memphis, it was especially true, because I was competing for playing time with one of the most legendary players in our franchise's history: Zach Randolph.

If you were making a Mount Rushmore of Grizzlies players, Zach Randolph would be on there. He is third in this organization's history with 9,261 points, and was a two-time All-Star here. And yet shortly after I arrived, he was coming off the bench while I was starting in his place.

That situation could have imploded into some dysfunctional mess full of jealousy and bitterness, but Zach actually was the first one to tell me that I was going to be starting – even before the coaching staff had told me. He took me under his wing, and he was saying he was proud of me, with no hard feelings at all.

That took so much pressure off and allowed the flow of the game to come to me. That's probably one of the reasons why I've been able to improve my numbers every year – 2.7 points per game in my first season, then 7.4 in my second year, then 8.9, and then 10.3 last season.

I can't take too much credit for that. That's God.

 
 

(Photo courtesy Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images)

The thing is, even when I was averaging double-figures for the first time last year, that didn't mean it was easy for our team. We went through an 11-game losing streak last season, and then shortly after we broke that, we started a new losing streak of 19 games. After we won on January 29, we didn't win again until March 17.

I think the reason I didn't make the NBA straight out of college was because I wasn't ready, and I wasn't mature enough. I'm thankful that by the time I suffered through a losing streak like the one I saw last year, I had enough perspective and wisdom to get through it with my head up.

In many ways, the way we ended the streak was the same way I got into the league in the first place - keeping God first and working hard. Now we have a fresh start and a chance to make the playoffs again, but if we do, I'll know who got us there. And for all you young athletes out there, feeling like you're big break isn't coming, just remember that when you put God first, dreams really can come true. I'm proof.

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Thomas Hager1 Comment