After depression, diet ended NBA career, ex-lottery pick Sweetney playing for $1M

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  • Michael Sweetney
    American professional basketball player
Michael Sweetney takes a free throw during The Tournament. (Screencap via @Pa7290)
Michael Sweetney takes a free throw during The Tournament. (Screencap via @Pa7290)

The second edition of The Basketball Tournament — a five-on-five summer hoops extravaganza in which fan-vote-determined teams battle in a winner-take-all single-elimination tournament for a big cash prize — is set to conclude this weekend. Over the past three weeks, a whopping 97 teams featuring more than 500 players with pro experience — including a reported 125 players who've logged NBA or D-League time — have been whittled down to just four, who will battle it out in New York on Saturday in a pair of semifinal matchups for the right to face off in Sunday's final for the championship, the bragging rights and the grand prize of $1 million.

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All four semifinalists feature players whose names might ring bells with die-hard fans. Overseas Elite boasts NCAA notables like ex-Texas point man Myck Kabongo, former St. John's guard D.J. Kennedy and all-time Division I 3-point record-holder Travis Bader. Antz Alumni, which reunites the Fort Wayne Mad Antz squad that won the 2013-14 D-League championship, includes Stephen Graham, who starred with twin brother Joey at Oklahoma State and spent six seasons in the NBA, and former Wisconsin big man Brian Butch. Arizona-based Team 23 features D-League All-Stars Larry Owens and Zach Andrews.

The most experienced team in the final four, though, is Team City of Gods, coached by Joe Connelly, a former coach with the Washington Wizards and the brother of Denver Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly. The Baltimore-based squad is headlined by a pair of NBA lottery picks: DerMarr Johnson, the 6-foot-9 swingman whom the Atlanta Hawks took No. 6 overall in 2000, and Michael Sweetney, a two-time All-American at Georgetown selected by the New York Knicks with the No. 9 pick in the 2003 draft.

For Sweetney, you might imagine the trip back to New York for this weekend's games at Fordham University's Rose Hill campus in the Bronx might be bittersweet. After all, the gifted power forward/center never quite panned out for the Knicks, averaging seven points and 4.8 rebounds in 16.8 minutes per game over two seasons at MSG before Isiah Thomas shipped him to the Chicago Bulls in the staggeringly ill-fated deal that imported Eddy Curry, Antonio Davis and a draft pick that would later become Wilson Chandler in exchange for Sweetney, Tim Thomas, Jermaine Jackson (not that one) and future first-rounders that would later be used on LaMarcus Aldridge and Joakim Noah.

And yet, the 32-year-old Sweetney — who hasn't played in the NBA since 2007, thanks largely to an inability to keep his weight down and stay in shape — is focused less on his past than on pushing into the future after finally having gotten one particularly heavy load off his shoulders, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post:

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Sweetney told The Post his NBA career was derailed because of a long and undiagnosed bout with clinical depression, causing him to eat too much and not take care of his body.

The 32-year-old only recently got professional help when he received the diagnosis. His weight still is at 320 pounds and he will wear a size 5XL jersey when he mans the post Saturday for the Baltimore-based “City of Gods.’’

Sweetney had often talked about the funk he was in during his rookie year, with his father dying just one month after former Knicks general manager Scott Layden pulled the trigger on the rebounding, low-post scorer from Georgetown. Sweetney now realizes he never pulled out of his malaise.

“I don’t think I was honest back then, but I’m now open to be able to say everything that happened was my fault and I own up to it,’’ the 6-foot-8 Sweetney said. “I was in a bad depression, didn’t eat right or work out enough and I ate myself out of the league. I’ve just owned up recently to the problems of depression. I think I was in depression mode for years and I didn’t get proper help. I was in denial.’’

The Knicks drafted Michael Sweetney for his rebounding prowess and touch in the low post. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)
The Knicks drafted Michael Sweetney for his rebounding prowess and touch in the low post. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

Even as he battled his undiagnosed depression and dealt with the aftermath of his trade, Sweetney had a decent enough first season in Chicago as part of a frontcourt rotation featuring Tyson Chandler, Andres Nocioni, Darius Songaila and Othella Harrington for a Bulls team that finished .500 under coach Scott Skiles and made the playoffs. But his ever-present weight problems landed him on the outside of that rotation and, eventually, out of the league entirely.

Two subsequent invitation to Boston Celtics training camp ended with pre-season departures. With NBA interest gone, the former Naismith College Player of the Year finalist set about a nomadic basketball existence built on short-season stints in China, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Uruguay — a path he's taken, according to Berman, to avoid having to spend European leagues' longer seasons away from his three children.

Over the past few years, Sweetney has existed in the basketball consciousness mostly as a punchline or cautionary tale. He'll occasionally pop in from the periphery of our memories via photos of his massive girth, taken during his more recent professional stops, that offer bracing reminders of his squandered talent and what can happen to ballplayers who let themselves go.

Now that he's in treatment and back on the court, though, Sweetney's hoping to write a new chapter in his basketball story by helping Team City of Gods take home the million-dollar grand prize. More from Berman:

Sweetney probably never would have played had he not started seeing a psychiatrist six months ago and is hiring new trainers to get into better shape, still looking to play a couple of more years of pro ball.

“I’m not ready to shut it down, but I’m not doing it for that,’’ Sweetney said. “I’m doing it for my health. This is the most fun I’ve had playing basketball in a long time and it’s going to feel great to go back to New York.’’

Sweetney might not play a significant on-court role in the semifinal matchup against Overseas Elite, which will air at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday on ESPN, or in the championship game (3 p.m. Sunday on ESPN) should City of Gods get there. Given his size and the presence of talented frontcourt players with NBA experience like Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Hamady Ndiaye, Sweetney's worked off the bench, averaging four points and 4.8 rebounds in 8.6 minutes per contest through his team's first five games, shooting 54.5 percent from the field and averaging a shade under an assist and a block per outing, and he's not expected to start this weekend.

After years of disappointment, darkness and depression, though, just getting to be out there in a competitive setting and actually enjoy himself in the process seems like a pretty big deal all by themselves. (Having a shot at taking home $70,000 of that grand prize money probably doesn't hurt, either.)

Screencap via Andrew Park.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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