Commentary

Ayuso's NBA dream alive on Christmas night

Journeyman shooter Larry Ayuso went to NBA camps twice but never made it. Dreaming of the NBA, he will be spending Christmas playing D-League ball in Iowa, Chris Sheridan writes.

Updated: August 6, 2009, 4:14 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

No matter how much the temperature drops Christmas night in Des Moines, Iowa, there's little chance it'll feel anything like the extreme cold Elias "Larry" Ayuso felt in Russia, Lithuania and Croatia during Christmases past.

Ayuso's professional career traditionally has kept him half a world away from his native Puerto Rico during the holiday season, the only constant being that he has been one giant step from his dream of playing in the NBA. But things will be a little different this Dec. 25, when Ayuso starts at shooting guard for the Iowa Energy of the D-League.

Yes, the D-League is tossing up the ball on Christmas, just like the NBA, which has loaded up a quintupleheader headlined by an NBA Finals rematch between the Celtics and the Lakers at 5 p.m. ET.

[+] EnlargeLarry Ayuso
Dave Eggen/Getty ImagesAll Ayuso wants for Christmas is a shot at the NBA.

The D-League will have two games that night, and it's doubtful that many -- if any -- NBA scouts will be spending their Christmas night inside the 16,000-seat Wells Fargo Arena, watching to see whether the best shooter to ever come out of Puerto Rico -- yes, better than J.J. Barea and Carlos Arroyo -- still has enough left in the tank at age 31 to help someone.

The line between a pure shooter and a streak shooter is fine, and Ayuso has always straddled it. When he's on, he can be as effective as Eddie House. When he's off, well, there's just no room for being off when you're undersized (Ayuso is listed at 6-foot-3), defensively challenged and relatively unknown.

"I just turned 31, and I don't want to retire and look back and regret that I didn't give it another shot. I still want to achieve that dream of mine," Ayuso told ESPN.com.

Ayuso's greatest career achievement was helping Puerto Rico stun the United States by 19 points in the opener of the 2004 Athens Olympics, and his most notable moment in the spotlight -- at least on his home island -- came on the day during the 2003 Tournament of the Americas in San Juan when he signed with the San Antonio Spurs.

But Ayuso played poorly in camp and quickly was cut, and an injury hampered him three years later when he tried out for the Denver Nuggets following a strong performance for Puerto Rico at the World Championship in Japan.

So Ayuso plied his trade once again in Europe, where he has bounced among teams in Greece, Turkey, Russia, Lithuania and Croatia, where he spent the past two seasons.

[+] EnlargeLarry Ayuso
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesAyuso helped hand Team USA one of its worst defeats.

A year ago, Ayuso experienced the rare treat of flying home for the holidays with his American teammates -- it takes four connections to get from Zagreb to San Juan, Ayuso said -- but that wasn't the case in 2005, when he was playing for Zalgaris Kaunas in Lithuania.

"That had to be the best Christmas overseas, because Ed Cota's wife cooked for all of the American players at their apartment, a big old feast," Ayuso said, recalling a menu that included turkey, rice, ham, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Although Iowa coach Nick Nurse is planning a team dinner for Christmas Eve, Ayuso's true Christmas meal will be whatever is being served in the locker room after the Energy's game against the Reno Bighorns. (It's entirely possible Ayuso will be defended in that game by Patrick Ewing Jr., who recently signed with Reno).

Ayuso is shooting 36 percent from 3-point range, his numbers plunging after he followed a 7-for-11 two-game spurt by going 3-for-13 in Iowa's past two games.

"In basketball, people like to put guys in a box, and that's been the case with Larry because of the way he shoots," Nurse said. "But that's not the case with him, and he's having to fight his way out of that box. He works hard at the defensive end, he gets to the rim off drives, he's a hard worker, smart -- all those things.

"Height at the classic 2-guard spot is an issue, but I don't know about him being slow. Defensively, he doesn't get beat too much," Nurse said. "What he really needs is to get untracked, have one of those nights where he makes four or five in a row."

Something to catch the eye of an NBA scout, whether that scout is actually in attendance Christmas night in Des Moines (not likely), or whether that scout is checking the box scores the morning after Christmas, already knowing who came out on top in the Celtics-Lakers tilt.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.