On April 13, Trey Johnson came off the bench for the Lakers and scored six points in 13 minutes. At the time, it was a cool story that had some fans wondering if Johnson could be the answer to the Lakers point guard woes. For Jeff Camarra, this was the end of the story.
Camarra, a Knicks fan, read about Trey Johnson after learning that the Knicks were looking to pick up a D-Leaguer, and became intrigued by his story. He emailed the Bakersfield Jam owner, then got Johnson and the NBA on board to film a documentary on Trey’s road to the NBA. After approvals across the board, Camarra lived in Trey’s house for eight days to get a feel for what the day-to-day life is for Trey and all D-Leaguers. All of this resulted in a documentary that could be released shortly after the NBA Lockout ends.
Jeff talked with ForumBlueAndGold about Trey, the D-League and his documentary.
Forum Blue & Gold: What was it about Trey Johnson that initially interested you in making this documentary?
Jeff Camarra: Trey’s perseverance in making it in the NBA was what really intrigued me. He has been the last player cut by the Hornets, Heat and the Lakers. Everyone was picking Trey to be the first player called up after the D-League Showcase, a week when all D-League teams play infront on NBA scouts. This past season was his fourth season in the D-League; most of the players in the development league only play a year or two before going overseas. Because of this, there was more of a sense of urgency with Trey. That’s the big tradeoff for the players in the development league. Players in the development league don’t make the money that they could make overseas, but opt to play in the states for the NBA exposure. Some players might have given up after a couple years in the development league, but its Trey’s commitment that sets him apart from the rest.
FB&G: Were there any other D-Leaguers who caught your eye?
JC: A lot of guys in the D-League have intriguing stories; one player that caught my eye was Antoine Walker. Walker was a NBA-All Star for a few years with the Celtics and won a championship with the Heat and is now trying to get back into the NBA through the D-League. I recognized a lot of names who were great college players; Patrick Ewing Jr, Scotty Reynolds, Cole Aldrich, Hasheem Thabeet, etc. But with 20% of the NBA coming through the D-League, I expect the development league getting more recognition.
FB&G: Were you thinking about making a similar documentary before you came across Trey?
JC: I grew up a basketball junkie and dreamed of playing in the NBA. Although my playing days ended after high school, I always wondered what it would be like to live that dream of playing in the NBA. I thought there was a story in the players that take the unconventional route. I knew about the development league, but didn’t learn about Trey until a couple of weeks before we started filming. I read the New York Knicks were interested in calling up a player from the development league and Trey was one of the players the Knicks were interested in. I did some research on Trey and found this diamond in the rough talent who never really got a legitimate shot in the NBA, but he was believed to be the first player called up to the NBA after the D-League showcase. D-League president Dan Reed compared the Showcase to American Idol and I think that’s a very fitting comparison.
FB&G: What was it like living with Trey for eight days?
JC: Living with Trey was interesting because it gave me a glimpse into the life of a D-League player. These guys all make enormous sacrifices to achieve their dream. I think a lot of people have a preconceived notion that professional athletes have it easy and everything is handed to them, but that’s certainly not the case for players in the development league. Trey has two children who live in Mississippi, where he is from, who he doesn’t get to see as much as he would like. He’s constantly working on his game and in the gym, all to make it to the NBA. He could go overseas and make a very good living, but he always dreamed of playing in the NBA. Overseas has great basketball, but he said he didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in Europe. Seeing someone with so much at stake was inspiring. I hope that’s what people get out of watching this, that what it’s about, a guy working to achieve his dream with so much on the line.
FB&G: How long did it take to put the project together from start to finish?
JC: The planning and preparation of this project was done in just a couple weeks. I first emailed the owner of Trey’s D-League team to get the ok from him and then he put me in contact with Trey. After Trey was onboard, I had to convince the NBA to allow me to film the D-League games, because they own the content. I think they were initially reluctant to allow a group of 20 year olds to film their product, so it took some explaining on our end. I filmed it with three friends (Jonah Quickmire Pettigrew, Nayim Saati and Dan Zinn) with financing from brother Chris Camarra and his business partner Bryan Kobel. Editing down the 100+ hours of footage we got took a few months, from start to finish it was about a five month project.
FB&G: Was Trey open to the idea when you presented it to him?
JC: I think he had some concerns at first, but we spoke through them. I didn’t know Trey at all before calling him and asking to live with him and film him 24/7, so I understood where he was coming from. We documented Trey throughout the D-League Showcase, which is a week when all the D-League teams come to one venue to play in front off all the NBA scouts and GM’s with the hopes of being called up to the NBA. Everyone in the league assumed Trey would be the first player to go up, but he was still under pressure to perform.
FB&G: What was your biggest challenge in putting this project together?
JC: Editing this has been the most difficult. After our last day of filming I flew back to Florida, to finish my last term of college, while the other three guys flew back to New York. Nayim and Dan did the editing and we were sending clips back and forth from January to nearly May.
FB&G: Were you a little disappointed that he ended up on the Lakers and not a Knicks?
JC: When I left Trey and returned to college to begin editing this he was still with the Jam, so I was just hoping a team would called him up. Living with him for a week, we built a friendship and still keep in contact. In those regards, it would’ve been cool for him to play in New York, but I’m glad he got with a team that fits his style of play. A couple weeks after filming he was called up to the Raptors and played under two consecutive ten-day contracts. I thought they would’ve kept him around, but they didn’t. That was a big blow. In the end the Lakers signed him and it looks that situation will be better for him in the long run. The first night I met Trey he scored 31 points and after the game we watched the Lakers play the Hornets in a regular season game, four months after that he was on the Lakers playing the Hornets in the NBA playoffs. I couldn’t think of a better
FB&G: What do you hope people learn about Trey and the D-League after watching your film?
JC: I hope more than anything people see the grind these D-League players go through and why they do it. I think it’s hard to learn Trey’s story, what he has gone through, and not pull for a guy like this Trey to make it; it’s a real life “Rudy.” The maximum salary a D-League player can make is $25,000 so they certainly are not there for the money. I think when people think of the NBA, they think of the star players with the huge contracts and sponsorship deals. This film isn’t about that. It’s about the guy laying it all on the line to fulfill his dream.
FB&G: When can we expect this documentary to be open to the public?
JC: It’s completed and has been submitted to the NBA for review. It’s tough to say with the lockout, but I would say shortly after the work stoppage.
(For more information about the documentary, you can check out the Facebook page. You can also follow Jeff on twitter here. Photos provided by Jeff Camarra.)