Coached by Tom Crean at Indiana University, Yogi Ferrell enjoyed a stellar collegiate career. A two-time Big 10 First Team All-Big 10 member (2015 and 2016) and named to the Big 10 All-Defensive Team in 2016, Ferrell did plenty of things right and the momentum appeared to be in his favor. But the guard faced the new harsh reality of the basketball business when he went undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Despite all his accolades, it was up to Ferrell to grind it out if he wanted a spot in the NBA.
The youngster garnered interest from the Brooklyn Nets, averaging 8.8 points in NBA Summer League and subsequently staying in the fold through training camp. The organization liked what they saw but there wasn’t an immediate spot to be had. Ferrell joined the Long Island Nets as an affiliate player, and it was in the NBA G League where he found an opportunity to play major minutes while still developing under the Nets’ umbrella. Brooklyn kept close tabs on him throughout, quickly calling him back up when they had a spot available. His NBA dream was realized, but the spotlight wasn’t exactly on him just yet. Ferrell scored 5 points in his debut on November 5 but played sparingly after that, in fact playing most of his time on assignment with Long Island. Imagine going back and forth, never quite comfortable enough in one spot or another to find a rhythm. On December 8, he was waived and jettisoned back to Long Island full-time.
It was quite a chaotic first month-plus as a professional, and it’s safe to say the abrupt end to his time in Brooklyn left Ferrell craving more than just a simple taste of life at the next level.
Ferrell had spent the past few months learning and soaking things in, understanding team culture and how to be a Brooklyn Net. After being waived in December, he faced another harsh reality: there was no guarantee he’d go back. His return to Long Island sparked a new fire and it was up to him to truly audition and use his time in the minor league to dance and prance his way into the hearts and minds of other NBA team executives.
The guard put his foot on the gas and showed out, getting it done on both ends. He averaged 18.7 points on a 42/40/90 slash-line to go with 5.8 assists and 1.6 steals. At the same time Ferrell was raising eyebrows in a positive fashion, the Mavericks’ back-court was decimated by injuries. They soon came calling Ferrell’s way looking for a boost and signed him to a 10-day contract on January 27.
It didn’t take long for Ferrell to fit right in with Dallas. He tallied nine points and seven assists in his first game with the club and followed that up with a 19 point, four steal contest after that. Another 11 points and five assists followed. After riding the bench in Brooklyn and continuing to switch and swap uniforms, he had already proven after three games with the Mavericks that he could fill a key role.
Of course, it wasn’t until game four that he proved he could take over.
Forget about playing spot minutes. Ferrell had been thrust into a starting role that he was grabbing by the horns. But on a team led by NBA champions Dirk Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes, it wasn’t until a faithful night in Portland that Ferrell learned he too could take center stage. Perhaps the Blazers’ attention was elsewhere or they were too laid back on a relatively unknown commodity at the NBA level. Either way, Ferrell put the basketball world on full notice on February 4. It started off casually, with Ferrell hitting a few shots early on. But the pressure kept mounting and Dallas kept finding its newly discovered spark plug in open spots. Ferrell put on a clinic, showing little hesitation en route to erupting for 32 points, including a three-point field goal in the closing seconds that secured the win for the Mavericks. Interestingly enough, Ferrell was calm with each passing bucket. He wasn’t one-dimensional, either. He could still be found fighting for loose balls and finding teammates cutting to the hoop. A smile finally washed over his face upon being bear-hugged by Nowitzki as he hit that clutch shot.
Ferrell became the third undrafted rookie in NBA history with a 30-point game in his first 15 games. His 9 three-point field goals tied a team record. He scored 71 points in his first four games, all wins for the Mavericks. It just so happened that his scoring explosion was on national television. Translation: if Dallas didn’t do what they could to keep him in town, another team would scoop him right up. The team didn’t need another 10 days to decide: Ferrell was signed to a multi-year deal and ultimately became a consistent double-digit scoring threat for his club in the two seasons that followed.
Now enjoying a new contract with the Sacramento Kings, Ferrell’s NBA career continues. He’s a four-year NBA veteran who clearly paid his dues as an NBA G League all-star and wasted little time proving this is where he was meant to be when given the chance.