After two consecutive two-way contracts with the Jazz over the last two seasons, Brantley doesn’t know if there will be any NBA offer on the table when free agency begins Aug. 2, much less one from the Jazz. Surprisingly, Brantley isn’t really worried.
“I’m at peace, in a lot of ways,” Brantley said in an exclusive interview with the Deseret News, which aired in full on Wednesday’s episode of “Unsalvageable: A Utah Jazz Podcast.” “I think that my faith in God, my faith in my work and trusting that when the opportunity comes, I trust that I’ll be fine.”
It’s the last week of July. The NBA draft is around the corner, free agency right after that, followed by the Salt Lake City Summer League and Las Vegas Summer League. The Jazz’s season came to an end on June 18, and despite a shortened offseason, Branley hasn’t slowed down at all.
He took a short vacation with his family — fiancé Alisha Sweatt, 7-month-old daughter Gabriella and their black lab Melo — after the Jazz’s second-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, but then it was right back to work. Brantley has split his time between Utah and South Carolina, where he grew up and later played collegiately at the College of Charleston.
There have been countless hours at the Jazz’s practice facility at Zions Bank Basketball Campus and more hours in South Carolina. Brantley has played in the Powder League, a pro-am league hosted in Draper, played in the South Carolina Pro-Am, and all the while has been working toward launching Hoopship, an elite basketball camp in South Carolina for high school and college players that Brantley founded and created.
“I kind of just want to stay healthy and fresh,” he said. “I feel like there’s no time for an offseason, while still being smart about what I do.”
Brantley will be playing on the Jazz’s summer league teams but after that, there’s no guarantee of anything. Brantley is a free agent, but not one with a lengthy resume. He could be headed to another team or even overseas by the time the 2021-22 season starts and that’s OK with him.
“Anytime you get to lace up, you get to step on the court, there’s no better feeling,” Brantley said. “This is what I do. ... I just want to play. So I’ll play wherever.”
Drafted 50th overall in 2019, Brantley keeps his expectations in check but at the same time believes that his work ethic will pay off in the end.
“I’ve put so much time in, I’ve worked so hard to get here,” Brantley said. “This is not me bragging on myself, it’s just that in a lot of ways I’ve shocked myself.”
Brantley was not a regular rotation player for the Jazz. He’s played a combined 37 regular-season games for the team during the last two seasons and most of those minutes have come in mop-up time at the end of blowouts. Because of his limited time in games, Brantley had to make the most of every nongame minute available to him in order to improve his game and he’s gone into this offseason with the same approach.
It’s a mentality that has benefited Brantley thus far, helping him to improve on both sides of the court, gain strength and see the results. In 33 games with the Salt Lake City Stars in the 2019-20 season, Brantley shot just 33.3% from 3-point range. Despite limited and often short opportunities last season with the Jazz, Brantley shot 42.9% from deep.
Though he’s seen growth in his game, Brantley isn’t expecting to be recognized for it right away. He’s seen what can come with patience and continued work. He’d just had a front-row seat to the Jazz finishing the 2020-21 season with the best record in the league and they did so with players who had to fight for their spots in the NBA.
“A lot of those guys, they were in my situation, they were in my shoes,” Brantley said. “Royce (O’Neale) went overseas, Joe (Ingles) was from overseas, he got cut from the Clippers, Bojan (Bogdanovic) didn’t get in the league till he was (25), Georges is still trying to find his way. There’s so many guys. Like, our whole roster I can learn from.”
And Brantley does everything he can to learn from all of them, to soak up every bit of information from the Jazz’s more veteran players. He’ll have long conversations in the locker room after games with Derrick Favors, he’ll pick the brains of O’Neale and Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell, he watches the top players on opposing teams during their pregame warmup routines to make sure that he’s doing enough and that his own pregame routine mirrors those of the greats. He asks questions, lots of questions.
“Closed mouths don’t get fed,” he said.
Brantley isn’t expecting incredible success overnight. He’s patient, and fueled by the fact that he knows what it’s like to wait for his moment.
“I’ve been here before,” Brantley said of being the guy on a team waiting for a shot, reminiscing about the years in rec leagues, on AAU teams and everything that came after.
“This is the third or fourth time over. That wasn’t a new process for me and I think that’ll stunt other players who’ve had it their whole life. But I’ve been the last man on the bench before.”
Part of his process is to stay ready even on nights when he knows he isn’t getting any playing time. He gets taped up, warms up, goes through his pregame routine that includes a phone call to his mother before every single game. The routine helps him get through some of the tougher days.
It’s not easy to turn heads or to catch the eye of a coach in small stints at the end of blowout games, so Brantley is hoping that the work he’s continued to put in this offseason will show when he takes the court during the summer leagues and that someone will see his potential.
“Just put the work in, and when the time comes,” he said with a deep breath, “I’m sure I’ll fly.”