[When Dennis DuVal finished his All-American career at Syracuse University as the school’s second all-time career scorer behind Dave Bing, his coach Roy Danforth told pro scouts, “Dennis may be even better suited to the pro game than college, because he can pull up and shoot the jumper . . . He’s smart, knowledgeable enough to make the adjustment quickly.” Can’t miss prospect, right?
Wrong. DuVal, a 6-feet-2 combo guard, lasted until the second round of the 1974 NBA draft, going to the Washington Bullets. Bob Ferry, the team’s super scout, liked DuVal, nicknamed Sweet D for his smooth ballhandling, knock-down jumper, and razzle-dazzle in the open court.
But Sweet D’s soon-to-be problem was the Bullets were already super-sweet in the backcourt with veterans Phil Chenier, Mike Riordan, Kevin Porter, Jimmy Jones, and Clem Haskins. DuVal barely made the team and got off the Bullets’ bench for just 37 regular-season appearances, mostly when the Bullets were way ahead. When he got in there, DuVal patiently ran the Bullets’ offense, hiding any trace of the old Sweet D. He finished his rookie season with on one of the more anemic stat lines in the NBA: 3.7 minutes, 1.6 points, and 0.4 assists per game.
Time for a long rookie pout, right? Another wrong. “I made the decision [to sign with Washington], and have no regrets,” DuVal told an inquiring reporter. “I’m with a winning team, and I’m learning a lot. I’m happy.”
DuVal was the rare NBA player who ALWAYS took the high road. The Bullets waived him before the next season. No problem. DuVal thanked everyone for giving him a chance. The Hawks signed DuVal later in the 1975-76 season to fill-in for the injured guard Dean Meminger. When Meminger returned, DuVal was out of luck, but he thanked the Hawks, too.
In this brief article, published in Buffalo News on July 28, 1976, DuVal is in training camp with the 1976-77 Buffalo Braves and hoping to secure a roster spot to jump-start his stalled NBA career. Steve Weller, the Buffalo News’ outstanding NBA reporter, catches up with DuVal to ask him about his chances. DuVal has such a positive attitude, nearly 50 years lated, I just had to pass it on.]
The key to making a National Basketball Association team, says Dennis DuVal, is the ability to “fill a need.”
Tuesday morning, as the sound of skidding bodies filled Memorial Auditorium, one of the Buffalo Braves’ most-pressing needs seems to be the services of a good plastic surgeon. Players who had survived the first two days of the Braves’ tryout camp were trying to assure themselves of a longer look by playing contact defense and hounding loose basketballs all over “the Aud” floor.
DuVal, a second-round draft choice of the Washington Bullets after completing his college career at Syracuse in 1974, has been on the thin edge of NBA employment often enough to have a collection of complaints about the system that has kept him scrambling.
But he can’t think of any complaints at all.
“This is a business,” he says. “Nobody forces you to come out and try to make it. If you get cut, you have to take it like a man, just admit to yourself that you didn’t fill a need. Anything else is taking the easy way out.”
The needs that Buffalo coach Tates Locke is trying to fill on the Braves’ guard roster are no secret. “I have to play strong defense, show good court sense, and get the ball into the people who can shoot,” says DuVal.
At Syracuse, he was the shooter that people were supposed to get the ball to, but DuVal sees no problem in adapting. “The situation is different here, and you have to move yourself to it. Defense is all in the mind. You have to want to be a good defensive player. If there are any knocks on my defense, then I just have to work harder.”
After a rookie year in which he played sparingly at Washington, DuVal was placed on waivers. He does not question the judgment of Bullet management. “They had a lot of veteran guards, and I didn’t fit into their system. I went home and broke my foot in a workout with Long Island Sound in the Eastern League.
“After six weeks in a cast, I came back, played three games for Long Island, then got a call from the Atlanta Hawks. Dean Meminger had been hurt, and they were short. They told me it would be temporary. When Dean came back, I was gone again. But the Hawks treated me right.”
No candidate in any NBA tryout camp has to worry about ways to kill spare time. There’s isn’t any. When there is, DuVal likes to train dogs. “A friend in Washington who was with the K-9 Corps taught me,” he says. “It’s relaxing, and sometime in the future, it might be a business to put some money into.”
Right now, DuVal is just a medium-small member of a mob scene trying to acquire some of his money from the NBA. “I list myself at 6-feet-3, but I’m really 6-feet-2,” he says.
If he can fill a need for the Braves nobody will mind if he lists himself at 4-feet-10.
[In the end, the Braves didn’t need DuVal. Tates Locke cut him in preseason. DuVal headed back to the Eastern League for a few seasons, but he never earned another NBA roster spot. Don’t pout for DuVal, though. As you’ve read, that’s not his style. Plus, he would return to Syracuse and embark on a long and celebrated career in law enforcement. Basketball was a means to a greater end. Pass it on.]