NBA training camps will soon open their doors. Well into the luxury tax and confined by the new CBA, the Los Angeles Lakers have been scooping up minimum salary free agents. There’s currently 15 guaranteed or partially guaranteed contracts, including more than a few wild cards – it will be that kind of season.
Also in play are camp invites from the outer fringes, playing for exposure and the remote possibility of bumping someone else out of place. This is part of the league’s elusive allure, for veterans at the end of their careers, perennial D-leaguers and cautionary tales. Nick Minnerath is a skinny white 24 year-old with lots of ink, hailing from a fragile east coast spit of sand. He wasn’t drafted, was never an AAU prospect and in truth, was basically a washout, even apart from basketball.
This summer, Minnerath managed to get an invite to the Lakers training camp. A couple weeks later, he turned it down. He’s not however, giving up on his hoops dream.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts is a golden place during the summer – dunes and cord-grass, harbors and lighthouses, marshy inlets and terns and wheeling gulls. The population swells to about half a million and the road over the Sagamore Bridge becomes glutted with SUVs. Town boards have long fought against commercialization and to an extent, they’ve succeeded. The forces of nature have not been as kind, with land that constantly shifts and erodes. For three months out of each year, summer residents move back into their vacation homes and relive childhood memories and perhaps make some new ones, while just as many tourists snatch up overpriced rental cottages, months in advance.
When the crowds leave, the Cape changes. The long off-season can be cold and desolate, restaurants close and traffic thins. Nor’ easters blow sideways off the Atlantic, flooding homes and knocking down trees and power lines. The population is an odd combination of retirees, fishermen, construction workers and artists. There’s generational alcoholism and drug use. Cape Cod kids either look to get out or become resigned to a lifetime of limited economic opportunity. Nick Minnerath was a typical townie, baggy jeans and a Celtics hoodie. He would have blended right in except that 6-9 kids stick out on the Cape.
Minnerath grew up in Truro, the son of Michael Minnerath, a Cape Cod National Seashore Ranger. The town is second only to Provincetown at the end of the geographic line. It doesn’t have its own high school – Nick attended Nauset Regional in nearby Eastham. He skipped regularly, got into drugs and failed off the basketball team in his freshman and junior years. He admits he wasn’t particularly into it and had no hopes for college.
Nauset’s head coach Keith Arnold saw something different, size and raw athleticism, as well as a pure jump shot. Minnerath began working out seriously the summer before his senior year. The kid who had nearly bottomed out, approached the season with a new determination. Two games in, Nick Minnerath broke his ankle. A dream that had barely come alive, was already over.
Minnerath managed to graduate, attended a semester at Cape Cod Community College and then resolutely bottomed out. He was heavily into cocaine, took odd jobs – construction worker, cab driver in Provincetown, clerk at Cumberland Farms in Eastham. Cumby’s is one of the places that doesn’t close down during the off-season, it’s where you get your gas and scratchers and cigarettes. According to Nick Minnerath, “I was 19 and I felt like my life was already over.”
A trip to Lincoln, Nebraska with his father made a difference. They were there to visit his aunt and he spent some time at the local YMCA, playing pickup ball with a few guys from the University of Nebraska. He was out of shape but the potential was still there. They asked where he was playing. The answer of course, was nowhere.
Minnerath returned to the Outer Cape, to drugs and sitting on a couch. Something had changed however, a faint flame had been rekindled. “I’d probably be dead if I continued where I was going”, he says. His dad’s girlfriend Janet, suggested contacting junior colleges. She helped him with letters and emails, over 50 of them. Only one coach responded. Steve Finamore at Jackson Community College in Michigan extended an invite to an open gym in June, 2008. There were no promises made. Nick, Michael and Janet, packed their car and drove 900 miles. On a Midwestern basketball court, Finamore watched for ten minutes and then pulled Nick’s dad aside. He offered a scholarship on the spot.
Minnerath found a new focus at Jackson. He caught the attention of Coach Ray McCallum from the University of Detroit Mercy, was offered a scholarship and accepted. He broke into the starting five his first year with the Titans. By his senior year in 2011, Minnerath was attracting national attention. Five games into the season, he blew out his right knee with torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. His father was called out of the stands. Michael said, “It was just the most heart-wrenching thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Somehow, Nick Minnerath came back again. He graduated, rehabbed all summer, returned to the Titans for a redshirt season as a graduate student. He put up an average of 14.6 points and 5.9 boards, dropped 36 on Valparaiso, 34 against Cleveland State. He got an invite to the Portsmouth Invitational in April, had pre-draft workouts for ten NBA teams including the Celtics, Pistons, 76ers, Warriors and Kings. Minnerath’s number wasn’t called in June but he played for Sacramento during Vegas summer league. He also caught the attention of the Los Angeles Lakers.
At 6-9 and 215, Minnerath can run the floor, play above the rim and knock down the three-ball. For the Lakers, he would have been one more potential swingman in a glut of swingmen. He earned an invite to camp with the additional carrot of the Los Angeles D-Fenders. Instead, he took one more detour on his unlikely basketball journey and signed with Obradorio CAB in the Spanish ACB League. Realistically, Minnerath made a decision that was good for him, both financially as well as on the floor. It would have been fun to see him give it a shot in Los Angeles. Yet for a Cape Cod kid once headed nowhere, Nick Minnerath is still living a basketball dream.