Road Most Traveled

NBA: Tony Massenburg, who played at Maryland, has had a remarkable pro career that includes stints with 12 NBA teams and stops in Italy and Spain.

March 07, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

MILWAUKEE -- Hundreds of teammates and opponents have come and gone, many of them drafted higher and paid significantly more than Tony Massenburg. Several of Massenburg's coaches have left the NBA, too.

Even one of his former teams, the Vancouver Grizzlies, changed towns, only to invite Massenburg back to add to his list of employers after the franchise moved to Memphis.

Ask Massenburg, now 36 and a member of the Sacramento Kings, to talk about his 12-year, 12-team NBA career, and he'll ask you how much time you have to spend dissecting this odyssey.

"It's a long story," he said. "It's a very long story."

Sitting in the lobby of a hotel here one afternoon last month, Massenburg is careful not to sound bitter or to overstate his abilities. But he believes his career might have turned out differently had he not spent those five tumultuous years at the University of Maryland.

In the fall of 1985, Massenburg saw his freshman year end with the death of All-American Len Bias from a cocaine overdose in June 1986. By the time Massenburg's college eligibility was completed, he was the only player to have been coached by Lefty Driesell, Bob Wade and Gary Williams.

"The stigma that was attached to everybody that played with Lenny is something that followed every guy, including myself," Massenburg said. "I'm just the last man standing."

But that extra year at Maryland, the result of Massenburg being declared academically ineligible in the scandal that followed Bias' death, proved beneficial. It helped Massenburg mature, get physically stronger and work on his offensive game.

In a strange way, it also prepared him for his nomadic life in the NBA.

"It was another year to let that stuff with Lenny die down a little bit more," Massenburg said. "Playing for three coaches, it was constant change. I always had to rely on myself because there was no one looking out for me except for my parents and God."

While being drafted in the second round in 1990 by the San Antonio Spurs (43rd overall pick) remains the highlight of Massenburg's career, little did he know it was only the beginning of his remarkable, resilient journey, which has included playing parts of two seasons in Spain and one in Italy.

Until he landed in Utah last season after being cut by the Memphis Grizzlies in training camp, Massenburg had never been on a team that made the playoffs and rarely suited up for a team that won more games than it lost. His longest stint was 104 games with Vancouver in 1997-98 and 1998-99.

"I think a couple of things always worked against Tony. He was always coming off the bench so he was never really a primary option for a lot of teams, so he really didn't have the opportunity to show what he could do from an offensive standpoint," said former Grizzlies coach Brian Hill, now an assistant with the New Jersey Nets.

"The second thing was that it seemed like every year he was changing teams, so there was never that opportunity of continuity to play for the same coach for a couple of years so the coach could see what he could do. The great thing about Tony was that every day he competed at the highest level and gave you every ounce of energy he could, defensively, offensively and rebounding the ball."

High-water mark

The best opportunity Massenburg had was with the Grizzlies during the strike-shortened 1998-99 season. Playing behind and then ahead of the team's ex-No. 1 draft pick, Bryant Reeves, Massenburg averaged a career-high 11.2 points. It was only the second time he averaged double figures.

"The more he played that year, the more touches he got offensively, he displayed more of an offensive game," Hill recalled.

But he has not had that opportunity since. It has left Massenburg constantly trying to show that he is more than another big body off the bench, a player whose finesse around the basket belied his well-developed 6-foot-9, 250-pound physique.

"I'm still trying to prove to people that there are some things that I can do that they don't know I can do because I've been losing a lot of games my whole career," Massenburg said. "When you don't get to the playoffs, you don't get a lot of notoriety. It's really hard to do when you're bouncing around on bad teams.

"The one thing I don't think I've gotten credit for is my ability to score. I'm not a scorer per se, but the last time I checked, I was a guy who could play 4 and 5 [power forward and center], hit 20-foot jump shots and score down in the blocks. But they don't come after me because of my ability to score."

The Kings are no different. They were looking for a player to back up veteran center Vlade Divac and All-Star forward Brad Miller on a team that was without star forward Chris Webber until last week because of a knee injury suffered during last season's playoffs and a recent eight-game suspension from the league.

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