The NBA G League is home to some of the most underrated hoopers on the planet. Littered with unsung talent waiting for a chance to shine. Brimming with motivated athletes aiming for the big leagues. Professional basketball in its rawest, purest form.
The College Park Skyhawks embody what makes the G League so special. Affiliated with the Atlanta Hawks, the Skyhawks have begun their Showcase Cup preseason with an 8-5 record. A deadly defense fuels the Skyhawks, who currently allow the least points per game in the G League. This season, College Park has held opponents to a ridiculous 96.9 points per game and a league-low 41.2% shooting from the field.
Skyhawks head coach Ryan Schmidt, who also serves as an assistant coach for Atlanta, previously coached teams in Canada and the United Kingdom. Last season, Schmidt served as head coach for the London Lions of the British Basketball League (BBL). Schmidt was named the BBL Coach of the Year as the Lions went 32-4 and became the first-ever British team to reach the EuroCup playoffs.
During his first season with College Park, Schmidt has instilled a disciplined 3-and-D mindset into his players. The Skyhawks boast a lengthy roster full of athletic pieces that all contribute to a suffocating team defense.
Before College Park’s recent Dec. 13 victory over the Greensboro Swarm, Schmidt discussed his team’s defensive-minded approach and how it can help his players translate their games to the next level.
"I think the roster construction that we envisioned with this group fits how we wanted to defend. Just getting these guys to buy in and understand … it’s a different way to get noticed. In the G League, there’s a lot of attention that goes to the offense. The G League is kind of known for being high-octane, high-pace, a lot of points. Can you come in and change the game a little bit by having a defense-first identity? Through the first few games, it has shown."- Head coach Ryan Schmidt
In their home win against the Swarm, the Skyhawks allowed their least points in franchise history with a 114-73 victory. They held their opponents to 23-of-79 (29.1%) shooting from the field and 5-of-28 (17.9%) shooting from three. Only one Swarm player cracked double-digit scoring as Amari Bailey needed 18 shots to score 18 points.
The Skyhawks play textbook team basketball, and they put their balanced attack on full display against the Swarm. Seven different Skyhawks scored double-digit points as starting center Chris Silva led the way with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Silva has played for four different NBA teams since 2019 with stints in Miami, Sacramento, Minnesota, and Dallas.
While veterans like Silva have aspirations to get back into the league, the former USC Trojan prioritizes the success of the Skyhawks over anything else. His team-first mentality has clearly resonated with one of the most connected groups in the G League.
"I’m not really worried about that [getting another NBA deal]. My focus is all about the team, it’s about trying to work as much as we can."- Chris Silva
Atlanta rookie Seth Lundy missed his first game of the preseason as the Hawks called him up a few days before the Swarm win. Lundy has led College Park in scoring this season with 17.9 points per game on 39.8% shooting from beyond the arc. The 6-foot-4 youngster has also flashed serious defensive potential with G League averages of 1.2 blocks and 0.9 steals.
Without Lundy, experienced G League gems like Keaton Wallace and Tyson Etienne held down the fort on the perimeter with some electric shooting and playmaking. Etienne splashed two threes on six tries en route to a 17-point outing. Meanwhile, Wallace stole the show with an all-around masterclass.
Through just three quarters, Wallace recorded 12 points, 9 assists, and 6 rebounds. The 24-year-old floor general only needed 23 minutes to light up the stat sheet, receiving less playing time than any other starter. Wallace’s younger brother, Cason, is a rookie for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season.
In their latest game, the Skyhawks hit the road against the Maine Celtics and lost 97-89 in a close contest. Despite a cold shooting night, College Park still battled to keep the Celtics under 100 points.
As one of the top eight teams in the league, the Skyhawks would currently qualify for a playoff spot in the Showcase Cup tournament. The Skyhawks are motivated to make a statement ahead of the G League regular season tip-off on Dec. 27.
With so much of the G League spotlight focused on two-way hoopers trying to break into the big leagues and promising rookies developing their skills, the Skyhawks are simply dialed in on the season ahead of them. Thanks to an impressive team culture and a dedicated coaching staff, the current and future success of College Park’s roster is in great hands.