NBA: Golden States’ Pat Spencer wants to play guard role for the Warriors

Pat Spencer is one of the greatest college lacrosse players of all time. Now he’s trying to make it to the Golden State Warriors.

Pro basketball talent now comes from everywhere. International Players – Giannis! Luke! Nicholas! – are some of the biggest names in the NBA. There are late bloomers who play four seasons in college, sensations who go into the draft lottery after a year, and some who skip it altogether and go to overseas clubs or into a development program like the NBA’s G League.

Pat Spencer tries to make the NBA from a more unusual place:


Not long ago, Spencer was one of the top lacrosse players in the country. The Maryland native was a big deal at Loyola University in Baltimore — a locally raised attacker who helped lead the Greyhounds to a Final Four and other accomplishments. Spencer remains the NCAA’s all-time lacrosse assists leader, and won the 2019 Tewaaraton Award — essentially the lacrosse Heisman as the nation’s leading Division I player.

With a senior year of eligibility, Spencer took the bold step of transferring to Northwestern to play a season of college basketball, a sport he hadn’t played since high school. He started 29 of 31 games for the Wildcats, scoring 10.4 points and averaging nearly four assists per game.

“Of course we took a flyer with us,” says Northwestern coach Chris Collins. “That he was four years away from basketball, coming in and doing it at the Big Ten level — it was remarkable.”

Spencer is far more humble about his move to hard.

“To be honest, I played crappy,” the 26-year-old tells me. “I got away with it because I was athletic enough and had a high enough IQ to hide it, but I couldn’t shoot. My body wasn’t there yet. I had a lot to do.”

Since then, Spencer has worked hard trying to make it to the highest level in the game. He briefly played professionally in Hamburg, Germany. From there he went to Capital City Go-Go, the Washington Wizards’ G-League team. He began refining his shot into a far more reliable weapon.

“I feel great where I am now,” he says. “But it took a lot of time.”

Now Spencer is on the West Coast playing for the Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State’s G-League franchise. He made a good impression during a preseason run with the parent club when he put down a wild dunk against the Portland Trail Blazers that drew an enthusiastic reaction from Warriors franchise superstar Steph Curry.

“We loved what we saw from Pat in the preseason,” said Bob Myers, Golden State general manager. “He brings out the best in his teammates with the standard he sets when it comes to playing hard and playing right.”

For Spencer, the transition from lacrosse to basketball is less complicated than it might seem. When he played both sports in high school at Boys Latin in Baltimore, he found them easily compatible. “They are very similar,” he says. “The distance, the picks, the goals — I think they both helped me, one at a time.” (Spencer isn’t the only talented Hooper in his family — his younger brother Cam is at Rutgers averaging 13.1 points per game.)

Spencer’s Loyola lacrosse coach, Charley Toomey, agrees with the parallels between lacrosse and basketball and says both sports benefited from Spencer’s package of skills and vision.

“Pat was just as good for right-handers as it was for left-handers,” says Toomey. “He loved drawing doubles teams and his ability was to see through a defense.” Toomey says Spencer was so selfless that the coaches had to insist he keep the ball to himself and score more goals.

Of course, Spencer wouldn’t be the first lacrosse star to switch to another professional sport. NFL Hall of Famer and Syracuse Lax legend Jim Brown is still considered one of the greatest lacrosse players of all time. Wayne Gretzky played lacrosse. Lax Maryland Terrapins star Jared Bernhardt is a wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. A former Wesleyan lacrosse captain named William Belichick has made a career as an NFL coach.

Spencer was also a bit of a late bloomer in lacrosse. Undersized by the start of high school, he didn’t play until his junior year at Boys Latin, a habitually easy-going hotbed full of gifted players. A growth spurt would continue into college — the G League now lists Spencer at 6ft 3,205 pounds, which is actually shorter than what he finished in collegiate lacrosse.

“I’ve definitely lost weight,” he says. “I was used to playing lacrosse a little harder because I used that physicality quite a bit. but [in basketball] I have to be able to defend at a high, high level – and these guys are faster, faster, smaller.”

Toomey, Loyola’s trainer, wonders about Spencer’s transformation. “Pat’s a whole different beast now,” he says.

An NBA career isn’t guaranteed for Spencer — he’s old for a prospect, and the Warriors roster is already filled with young talent backing veterans like Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

On the other hand, the defending champions pride themselves on producing players from unconventional backgrounds. Their Santa Cruz team has been a launching pad for players like Jordan Poole (who recently signed a Warriors deal worth more than $120 million) as well as a training ground for younger draft picks like James Wiseman. (“Love James,” says Spencer. “Quiet, hard worker, wants to be great.”) After missing a number of preseason games with a hip injury, Spencer was back playing in the G, scoring 13 points with four assists versus Mexico – City on Sunday.

Spencer’s biggest asset? That lacrosse altruism. He specializes in the type of ball movement, look-for-the-open-man style that is Golden State’s trademark.

“I love that he’s a lacrosse guy,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said during Spencer’s pre-season run. “I think sports like soccer, hockey and lacrosse create a vision that you need in basketball.”

“We like players who’ve played multiple sports,” Myers says. “Usually these people have a creativity or persistence about them.”

Collins, Spencer’s Northwestern coach, believes he’s in the perfect place. “I know the Warriors guys really well,” he says. “Knowing what Pat brings – his daily work ethic, fire and drive – aligns with whatever they are looking for.”

As for lacrosse, Spencer continues to follow the game, especially Loyola. He was impressed by the rise of the Premier Lacrosse League, the professional league founded by Rabil, the ex-Johns Hopkins legend and Spencer’s friend. “It was cool to watch,” says Spencer.

Toomey, an assistant with the US national team, says Spencer’s name would still be on “everyone’s coaching list” when putting together a lacrosse roster.

But Spencer is playing a sport now.

“The goal,” says Pat Spencer, “is the NBA.”

-The Wall Street Journal NBA: Golden States’ Pat Spencer wants to play guard role for the Warriors

Ryan Sederquist

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