Photo: Andrew McMurtrie. Jon Mandeldove is playing his first season with the Gwinnett Majic. The 7-foot tall center is a Shiloh grad and played on the University of Connecticut men's basketball team. The Gwinnett Majic is a franchise of the World Basketball Association based in Gwinnett County.
David Akin wasn't sure what to expect when he heard Jon Mandeldove was joining the Gwinnett Majic.
Mandeldove was highly recruited out of Shiloh High School and was a member of the University of Conneticut's 2009 Final Four basketball team.
How would Mandeldove react to playing for a minor league basketball team? Would he think he was above everyone else? Could he fit in with the rest of the team?
"I didn't know what to expect. You have a guy that comes from the University of Connecticut and you're just thinking is this guy going to come in here with a chip on his shoulder?" Akin said. "I didn't know what to expect, but within the first week he's nowhere like that. He's been 'yes sir, no sir,' it's constant positive feedback."
A year removed from playing at UConn, Mandeldove, 24, is in pursuit of a pro basketball career. He would love to one day play in the NBA and is using the Majic as a way to get there.
"I'm just using this as a stepping ladder to get to the next level, which is playing overseas and then hopefully coming back and getting an opportunity to play in the NBA," Mandeldove said.
Mandeldove has been a dominant force at center for the Majic this season. The 7-footer averages 10 points per game, seven rebounds and three blocks.
"You play against some talented guys night in and night out," Mandeldove said. "I just like the exposure of the league. The coaches take this serious. This is priority No. 1 to them. It's coached like an NBA or overseas-type league."
Mandeldove's final season with UConn was in 2009-10. He spent last season going to school and coaching for a local AAU basketball team. It had been nearly a year since he played organized basketball when he joined the Majic, but it didn't take long to get back in the groove.
"You take off a year from basketball, you don't know what you're going to get," Akin said. "I think early on he struggled to get in the flow of things. Physically he was a little rusty, but mentally he jumped in from day one. He wants to play and practice as much as he can."
Akin knew he had something special the first day of practice. Without a true big man, the Majic rarely ran high-low plays. That changed when Dacula grad B.J. Puckett found Mandeldove on an alley-oop.
"I thought, 'B.J. you just threw the ball up at the backboard,'" Akin recalled. "But Jon's left hand kept going up and up and threw it down. I thought, 'OK, we've got something here.'"
Mandeldove's presence has helped the Majic, which has won the last two World Basketball Association titles, to a 5-2 record. The Majic will go for a third-straight championship in two weeks in the WBL Final Four on July 15-16.
"In order to play professional ball, you have to take baby steps," Mandeldove said. "This league right here is a baby step. It can also be a huge step if I do well in this league. I know some guys that have played in this league and have done well overseas."
His senior year at Shiloh in 2005, Mandeldove was an all-county selection after averaging a double-double. He had a promising first two seasons at UConn despite playing behind future NBA player Hasheem Thabeet.
Mandeldove battled injuries as a junior, but still helped the team reach the Final Four in 2009. He needs 12 more credits to graduate with a degree in political science.
"The only thing I wish I had done more was probably get a little more playing time," Mandeldove said. "But other than that, the college experience, playing with guys that are professionals now is great and I'm glad to be part of that."
It was after his sophomore year that Mandeldove realized the road to the NBA was not going to be very easy. He'll find out in August whether he was picked up by a team overseas. A year playing pro ball overseas will hopefully land a tryout with an NBA team -- one day.
"I just told myself I need to get better one day at a time," Mandeldove said. "My coach has always said I have a great feel for the game and that one day it could turn into an NBA or overseas player. I just took that and ran with it, getting better one day at a time."