Former Cal Poly men’s basketball star David Nwaba spent the past 20 days doing everything he could to prove he belongs on an NBA court.
When the Los Angeles Lakers called up the explosive 6-foot-5 guard from their Development League affiliate in February, Nwaba became one of many young prospects to sign a 10-day contract.
The defensive specialist played his way into a second 10-day contract with gritty effort, high-flying dunks and his humble demeanor. Nwaba won over his young teammates and consistently impressed rookie head coach Luke Walton.
The two sides agreed to a deal covering the remainder of this year, with a team option for 2017-18.
Per team policy, terms of the agreement were not released. ESPN.com has Nwaba’s annual salary listed at $63,938.
“We have been impressed by David’s focus and determination, especially on defense,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said in a news release. “He has a mentality about him that is infectious, and he works hard every day to improve himself.
“He has brought energy to both our Lakers and D-Fenders games, and has certainly earned his spot on the roster.”
NBA rules prevent teams from signing a player to more than two consecutive 10-day contracts, leaving Nwaba to wonder for several hours Tuesday whether he would sign with Los Angeles or be released.
But the Lakers saw enough from Nwaba over the course of 10 games to keep him on the roster.
Nwaba averaged 3.6 points on 48.1 percent shooting and 2.0 rebounds in 14.4 minutes per game. He made two starts for the Lakers (20-50), who own the worst record in the Western Conference and the second-worst mark in the NBA overall.
It’s been a surreal ascension for the ex-Mustang who grew up in Los Angeles and attended University High School and Santa Monica College.
Around this time a year ago, Nwaba was completing an all-Big West Conference senior season in San Luis Obispo. He went undrafted after leading a 10-win Cal Poly team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and minutes.
Nwaba earned a spot with the Reno Bighorns through an open tryout during the summer and was acquired by the Lakers’ D-League affiliate, the D-Fenders, in a draft-day trade by Los Angeles. Nwaba signed a two-year contract believed to be worth $19,500 per season.
Since joining the Lakers, Nwaba has flashed his NBA athleticism nearly every night.
He was at his best Sunday night when the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers visited Staples Center. Nwaba scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench.
A one-handed alley-oop dunk over longtime NBA veteran Richard Jefferson made waves online, and Nwaba delivered an emphatic block on All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving.
When it looked like Sunday could be Nwaba’s final day in a Lakers uniform, he showed mature perspective when speaking to reporters.
“I definitely hope to stick around and just get the NBA experience, but if not, get back to the D-League, keep working hard, keep working on my game and see where that goes,” Nwaba told NBC Los Angeles.
“It’s been a great experience, just helping me build confidence and knowing I can play at this level.”
With 12 games remaining in the regular season, including eight at home, Nwaba will have some peace of mind knowing his place on the 15-man roster is officially secure.