“I really want Memphis to know me and I want to get to know Memphis.”
Heading into the 2020 NBA Draft, Desmond Bane stuck out like a sore thumb.
In an era where highly-touted high school recruits are unlikely to spend more than a year in college, if they even opt to go the collegiate route, Bane was an unranked recruit out of Seton Catholic High School in Richmond, VA. What’s more, while he would help turn the basketball program into a formidable Big 12 power, Bane played four seasons at Texas Christian University (TCU).
Projected to be a 22-year-old rookie, Bane would have no choice but to fight against the typical refrains.
Questions about his potential and his value when he would be three or four years older than many prospects.
However, seen as one of the most NBA-ready prospects entering the draft due to his intangibles and ability to shoot from distance, Bane fit a valuable 3-and-D wing archetype and was ultimately selected in the first round.
As he was surrounded by family and friends, the Memphis Grizzlies unearthed the hidden gem with the 30th overall pick, and Bane’s journey would take an unforgettable turn.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been condensed for clarity]
Q: What was your experience like jumping from college to the pros? What did you think heading into the draft and how was that situation for you? Especially with it being draft season, what do you think the prospects are doing with their families and trainers?
Bane: It was a stressful time. The draft kept getting pushed back and back. They kept saying we might have a Combine, we may not have a Combine. So it really was just, you know, no certainty throughout the whole process—us as prospects were kind of left in the dark on what was going on.
So I’m just trying to lock in. Stay focused. Keep controlling the stuff that I can control and working on the things that I can do to put myself in the best position whenever that time comes.
But it was crazy. It was crazy.
I lost a loved one through that time as well, so it was a really tough time for me going through that draft process. But, you know, for the guys this year, I’m happy that they’re able to get a true process. They get trainers, they get to do all those things at the Combine, get in front of teams at workouts and things like that. I’m glad they get a true draft process.
Q: When you were leaving TCU that you thought or that your coaches pointed out to you specifically—whether it was intangibles or on-the-court stuff—that would would be best as far as translating to the NBA, besides the shooting?
Bane: I mean, shooting was the main thing and my build, you know, my size. They thought that I was an NBA-ready guard given my size and my strength. But my shooting, yeah, they definitely thought that was something that would carry over to the next level.
Q: So did you expect to have so much success early? There was a time when rookies weren’t getting to much playing time—and you got drafted into a good situation where you’re on a young team—but did you expect to become such a fixture in the rotation and for it to come together so quickly?
Bane: I mean, I didn’t know!
I didn’t know what the draft was going to look like—it was about two weeks before training camp, so I knew I wasn’t going to get a real training camp and opportunity to really showcase what we could do, necessarily. So I didn’t know what to expect.
We had a few injuries early on so I ended up getting an opportunity pretty quickly, right out the gate and I just sort of ran with it.
Q: Did you have a welcome to the NBA moment? Like your first moment when you were like, “OK, this is a little bit different than college.”
Bane: Right! Bron! For sure! Bron!
I mean the first time that we played the Lakers. We played the Lakers about, I would say, five games, six games into the season, so it was still early on, I’m getting a feel for things. And we had played I think maybe one playoff team—one or two playoff teams—and, you know, they were coming off a championship and being hungry for another one.
I think that that was my real “Welcome to the NBA” moment.
There was stretches when I guarding LeBron and I was like man, “this dude is so damn big. Shit crazy.”
But yeah, you know, it was cool. It was cool.
Q: Speaking of LeBron, plenty of guys in your generation look up to Bron but who were the guys you were looking up to when you were growing up watching—whether they’re growing up or retired? Who were your idols as far as basketball—or even other sports?
Bane: Nah, I was a big D-Wade fan. I was an Indiana kid so Reggie Miller. Kobe [Bryant], of course. Like I said, Bron. But those were all the guys.
You know, Reggie was when I just a real little kid, real little kid. I remember all the good Pacers teams with him, Jamaal Tinsley, all and them dudes. Those are probably the dudes I looked up to the most.
Q: Is you being a shooter something about being Reggie Miller fan?
Bane: You know what I’m saying? It makes sense [laughs].
That was my young idol, you know what I’m saying? I’ll go out in the driveway and I’m either saying “Kobe!” or “Reggie!”
One of the two, you know what I’m saying? So it probably did have a little correlation.
Q: What’s it like playing in Memphis, as far as the city? I’ve been up to Tennessee a few times—Memphis a few times but what do you like about the area?
Bane: Bro! So the season was so crazy, I mean I haven’t even really got a chance to get out and about too much. You know, with us playing in the second half of the season, the longest break that we had in between games was one day.
So we’re either playing every other day or it’s a back-to-back. So you know when I was home, I was really at home. You know, just chillin’ and relaxin’ and trying to recover my body.
So now that the summer’s come along and it’s the offseason, I’m excited to get out there and out and about.
Memphis got some good food spots, now I can tell you that. They got some good food spots, they’re big into music out here and stuff like that but I’m a fan. I’m a fan.
You know, I come from a small town—not saying Memphis is a small town but where I live it’s kind of got that slow feel to it. So I’m kind of—I’m chillin’ in my backyard for real.
Just sitting in the backyard relaxing, enjoying the nice weather, watching my dogs run around. That’s my vibe.
Q: Have you been able to have that bonding experience with your teammates with you having so little time between games?
Bane: Of course, and I almost think that it helped, you know? The fact that we was together so much made us even closer ’cause that’s pretty much all we had from December ’til the beginning of June. So I think that made us really close and, I mean, they were already a close group before the rooks had got there but I think we gelled in real nicely.
Q: What’s the dynamic in the locker room like? Who was your vet in your rookie season?
Bane: Man, we had a few!
It was kind of weird because we don’t really have no just old, old dude that’s been around for a long time, you know what I’m saying? So it’s been a little bit of everybody I would say.
You know, Dillon Brooks is a guy that I look up to and talk to the most probably, but there was a few guys.
Ja, of course. Tim Frazier came along at the end, You know, a few guys.
Q: What is it about Dillon Brooks that made you click with him so much?
Bane: I mean, he’s a hard worker. He work hard. That’s what he do.
He was a second round pick and he made a name for himself and I think that means a lot to me coming from a place there was only 20 kids in my high school class and being underrecruited.
I think that’s where it comes from. That bond. Just being overlooked and proving the doubters wrong.
Q: What’s your relationship like with Ja then, ’cause I know he’s another guy with an underdog mentality coming from a mid-major?
Bane: That’s my dawg. That’s my dawg.
Me and him are real close being backcourt partners and it’s obviously extremely important for our camaraderie but having a guy like that, being able to grow with, who’s around the same age as me is huge for us on and off the court.
Fast-forward seven months from the 2020 NBA Draft and Bane has been named to the All-Rookie Second team, ranking first in 3-point percentage (among rookies to average at least 10.0 minutes per game); fifth in made threes (117); eighth in minutes played (1,519); ninth in draft class in total points (625), and in the top-15 of total rebounds (210) and assists (118), and steals (41).
For a small town kids with big dreams—for the underdog who feels overlooked—Bane’s story is an inspiration.
And there’s no person better suited to be a role model than a young man as dauntless as he is compassionate. As humble as he is driven,
“I want people to just understand who I am. Understand who I am not only as a player but, you know, as a person. I really want to be able to do events and things to give to people in the community. I also want to do things for people that are less fortunate.
As far as Nike deals and all that stuff, that stuff comes. It’s what you do on the basketball court. But the stuff that’s important to me is the stuff that I can reach out and do personally—and do hands-on—throughout the community and throughout different places around the country.”
While a deal with Playmaker, sports media and management company, helps Bane to amplify his voice but it’s his message that’s what’s most important.
“I was raised by my great-grandparents (Fabbie and Bob),” says Bane.
“So I want to say that I’m, you know, an old soul in that regard. And all the time, that’s all they really talked about—they preached to me early as a kid that it doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO or you’re the janitor, treat everybody with the same respect. And I think that’s huge to me.
Sometimes people are looked down upon because they don’t have such things in this messed up society, so, I want them to know that I notice them and they’re just as good as everybody else walking this earth.”
[Bane’s great-grandfather, Bob, passed away last July after contracting COVID-19.]
As his aunt, Nsisong Bimpeh, controls his marketing opportunities, setting up community efforts and organizing his day-to-day schedule, Bane has continued finding balance between being a family-oriented man of faith, a pillar of his communities and a professional athlete.
Preparing to suit up for the Nigerian national team this summer as they prepare for Olympic and FIBA play, Bane is busy. Nonetheless, that hasn’t deterred him from hosting basketball camps and community days this summer for underprivileged youth in Memphis and Richmond.
“It was a big emphasis of mine to be able to get in touch with the community this summer just because of COVID and everything throughout the year really hindered us from doing those things. Now that people are getting vaccinated and are able to get out and do some things now, I really want Memphis to know me and I want to get to know Memphis.”