Alfonzo McKinnie and His Incredible Journey to the NBA

On Thursday, May 30, 2019, Alfonzo McKinnie stepped on to the hardwood floor at Scotiabank Arena. He was preparing to play his first minutes in the NBA Finals as a member of the Golden State Warriors. Just four years prior, he had gone undrafted and was so desperate to play professional basketball that he found himself competing in Luxembourg’s semi-professional second division.

At 26, McKinnie is older than most second-year NBA players. That’s because he had a longer road than most to reach the NBA. From an almost un-recruited high school player in Chicago to the NBA, McKinnie faced all sorts of trials along the way. This is the incredible journey of Alfonzo McKinnie.

Alfonzo McKinnie’s Incredible Journey to the NBA

College Years

McKinnie averaged a respectable 11.2 points and 8.5 boards in his senior year of high school. That left him largely un-recruited by division one college programs. He played two years at Eastern Illinois before transferring to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

With Wisconsin-Green Bay, McKinnie suffered a meniscus tear in his first season, which he was redshirting. After tearing it once again, McKinnie had his meniscus removed. In his senior season, the 6’8” forward averaged 8.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

Stint in Europe

After his senior season in college, McKinnie declared for the 2015 NBA Draft. He went undrafted and unnoticed. In desperate pursuit of his dream to play professional basketball, McKinnie went to Luxembourg, where he played for the semi-professional league’s second-division team, the East Side Pirates. Never knew Luxembourg had a basketball league? You’re not alone. Never even heard of Luxembourg? Still not alone. 

With the Pirates, McKinnie competed in middle school gymnasiums. To some, that might seem humiliating or annoying. To Alfonzo McKinnie, it was his only chance to play basketball professionally. So, he grabbed it. After dominating the league and being his team’s primary scorer, McKinnie moved on to the next step in his journey.

Stint in Mexico

In 2016, McKinnie found a chance to move on from the middle school gyms and obscurity of Luxembourg. He signed with a Mexican team in the Northwestern Mexican league, the CIBACOPA, where he again shined. 

McKinnie led his team to a CIPACOBA championship bid before again deciding to move on.

Entrance to the G-League

In the fall of 2016, just a few short months after joining the CIPACOBA, Alfonzo McKinnie took part in a paid tryout with the Chicago Bulls’ G-League affiliate team, the Windy City Bulls. He made the roster and, once again, shined for his new team. Over 50 games, the young forward averaged 14.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, shooting 50.8 percent from the field. 

Time with the Toronto Raptors

The year after his breakout G-League season in Chicago, McKinnie was called up to play in the NBA by the Toronto Raptors. Finally, his dream had come true. He was an NBA player. However, McKinnie spent most of his time playing in the G-League with the Raptors 905. 

Alfonzo McKinnie averaged 14.0 points and 7.5 boards in 35 games with the 905. With the Toronto Raptors, he put up just 1.5 points in 3.8 minutes per game. He was typically a garbage-time player with the playoff-contending Raptors, only seeing the court in the dying minutes of blowout games. He was most often seen at NBA games on the bench, watching play unfold in a suit and tie.

The Raptors cut McKinnie in July, a couple of months after they had had their playoff hopes crushed once again by LeBron James. 

Joining the Golden State Warriors

McKinnie kept his NBA dreams alive after being cut by the Raptors, fending off offers from various European leagues. The Golden State Warriors came calling just before the start of training camp. 

The team offered him a one-year minimum deal and a guaranteed spot on the roster of G-League affiliate Santa Cruz Warriors. McKinnie took the deal and, after an impressive NBA Summer League performance, won the team’s final roster spot. 

With the two-time defending champion Warriors, McKinnie averaged 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in 14 minutes per game in the regular season. His defense was tight and his shooting efficient. 

The Journey

It all led to that aforementioned moment — his first NBA Finals minutes. He wasn’t supposed to be there. A kid from one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America. A two-star high school recruit. He went undrafted out of a tiny university that is most definitely not a basketball school. He played in middle school gyms in the Luxembourg league’s second division and eventually paid 175 dollars to try out for his hometown G-League team. And now, just days removed from the Warriors’ NBA Finals loss to the Raptors, Alfonzo McKinnie is an NBA Finalist.

Whether you respect his game or not, one thing should now be clear after learning Alfonzo McKinnie’s story. You have no choice but to respect his hustle.

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