Undrafted to the NBA Finals: Langston Galloway's keys to overcoming the odds

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Galloway's path from undrafted to NBA Finals originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

When the 2021 NBA Finals begin with Game One on Tuesday night, Suns guard Langston Galloway will serve a reminder that there are many different ways to reach basketball's biggest stage.

Seven years ago, he went undrafted out of Saint Joseph's University, on a night he will never forget. He went out to dinner with his family and didn't watch the television broadcast, figuring he would get a phone call if it happened.

That call never came.

"It was like 'hey, I guess I didn't get drafted.' It left a mark, for sure. It left a mark," Galloway told NBC Sports Washington in an interview this week.

But Galloway was able to catch on with the New York Knicks, first for their Summer League team and then as a member of their G-League affiliate in Westchester. He made his NBA debut in January of that season on a 10-day contract and, now seven NBA seasons later, has made nearly $30 million in salary and is four wins away from getting a championship ring.

"It's truly an amazing journey that we've had thus far this season. As a kid, you grow up watching the Finals and you always want to be a part of something like that," Galloway said.

Galloway, 29, says the first NBA Finals he remembers was the last one Michael Jordan played in, the 1998 series when Jordan hit the go-ahead shot over Byron Russell. His favorite Finals memory as a kid was Allen Iverson stepping over Ty Lue in 2001. 

In order to reach the Finals himself, and carve out a long NBA career, Galloway says the biggest key has been his mindset. It has required hard work, humility and making the most of any chance he's been given.

"Oftentimes when I'm in the locker room, I'm the only undrafted guy in the locker room. I look at it like this, it's like if I can beat out the next guy to me, I can worry about myself going forward and the opportunity I've provided in front of me. I always think of how can I capitalize on today, but also knowing that I have a lot of people coming up behind me," Galloway said. 

"It's like that paranoid sense. You feel like somebody is trying to creep up on you and sneak you, come around the corner and get you. It's the mentality that you have to have. You have to always be paranoid. It's knowing that I can't rest on my laurels, I can't rest on my career. I have to always get better knowing that the next opportunity is my best opportunity."

Galloway is part of a golden era for undrafted players in the NBA. Thanks to the expansion of rosters before the 2011-12 season and the introduction of two-way contracts in the 2017-18 season, there are more jobs to go around, leading to a wave of undrafted players getting signed each year.

Last season tied an NBA record with 136 undrafted players appearing in at least one game. Last year's NBA Finals featured undrafted players like Alex Caruso of the Lakers and Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn of the Heat.

In addition to Galloway, the Suns have Torrey Craig, who went undrafted. The Bucks, their NBA Finals opponents, have undrafted players Bryn Forbes and Elijah Bryant in their rotation.

Galloway, though, had to rise the ranks before two-way contracts were an option. He debuted on a 10-day deal, only to play so well he was selected second-team All-Rookie. He was the first player in New York Knicks history to make All-Rookie after going undrafted.

Humility was a key ingredient to his early success. Galloway will never forget the day he was called up, on January 7, 2015 to debut against the Wizards. A group of veterans on the Westchester Knicks - Darnell Jackson, Ben Strong, Andre Barrett and Marcus Ginyard, to name a few - shared an important piece of advice.

They had previously told him he was good enough to make the NBA, that he had the talent and the intangibles. But before he took the next step, they wanted him to remember where he came from.

"When I got called up, I remember all the guys telling me all the things people behind me were saying. Like 'oh, he's going to come back or he won't last;' this, that and the third. Once I heard that, it was like okay, I can't look backwards. I've gotta look forward. I can't let anybody else hold me back. I'm gonna go and I'm gonna spread my wings," Galloway said.

Now Galloway is in the NBA Finals, at the same time young draft prospects are flying across the country to work out for teams, some with a high likelihood of going undrafted. For those who aren't going to be first or second-round picks, perhaps they can look at Galloway as a source of inspiration.

"Never let yourself your situation define your outcome and let them define who you are. Whatever situation you're in, make them know who you are within that situation," Galloway said of his advice for draft prospects. 

"It may not be the best hand that you were given, but you've gotta go out there every single day and continue to prove whoever wrong, even if it's in a tough situation... Be the best you you can be and everything else will work itself out."