“I’m strictly Young Boy. That’s it.”

Strictly? That’s it? No deviation? I thought for sure I’d get a top 5. Nope. Young Boy. That’s it. John Petty Jr. does not play around with the pregame music routine. He also ain’t playing around with this NBA opportunity he’s getting with the Birmingham Squadron.

“I feel like people overlook the opportunity part of the G-League. They look at G-League and say ‘oh they don’t have any nice arenas. They don’t have that many fans or, you know, they don’t fly private, they fly commercial. They don’t get paid as much.’ But people just fail to realize like, it’s the opportunity. It’s every day, every game, every practice, you’ll be evaluated by coaches that talk to GMs at the highest level every day. Coaches and GMs are coming into the gym every day. You’re around NBA people, so I feel like some players overlook the experience and opportunity this gives.”

“Most of the guys in the NBA today, the ones that have been helping teams to the Finals you know, becoming breakout players, those guys are from the G League. So you know, I’m honored and blessed to be in this league. I just feel like I’m getting a real look at an NBA-style play and sometimes against NBA guys and without the G league you know, I honestly don’t think you’ll be able to get that experience. You know overseas is decent but you know there’s not as many good guys as in the G-League or NBA so I’m thankful because this is giving me a real look and getting me prepared.”

What does he watch on those taxing commercial flights?
Rush Hour, 1, 2, and even 3.”

What? No…That’s like watching Godfather 3!
“Nah, I ain’t watching that Godfather.”

JP avoided a Santino-like hit to my heart. No one likes the third Godfather. That was close. About as close as the entertaining 100-97 Birmingham Squadron home win over the Oklahoma City Blue in the newly opened Legacy Arena at the BJCC, which Petty Jr. called “the best in the league.” It was more back-alley grindhouse than glamourous boxing PPV but a win’s a win in Petty Jr.’s book.

In describing the game afterward he told me, “I mean, that’s just the G-League. You know, it’s a bunch of guys I feel like that’s hungry, that’s competitive and want to win. We just got to do a little better down the stretch, execute, take care of the ball. Overall, I mean, Oklahoma did what we knew they would do, they were going to try to fight back, but we sustained and were able to hold it down.”

Petty Jr. has been holding it down in the Gulf South since starring at J.O Johnson High in Hunstville, AL. On getting to continue his career in Birmingham, he said, “Ah man it is a blessing. You know coming out of college or even when going into college, I would never have thought that, for one, Birmingham will have a pro team. So in just all honesty, I didn’t think I would be able to play in my home state professionally. It was crazy at first,  I couldn’t really honestly believe it but you know, as I got here and got to work, everything’s been fun. All the guys are great. Really, it’s just fun.”

On playing close to home, being a role model for the next aspiring pro from his hometown, Petty Jr. replied, “One thing this team talks about a lot is character and the definition of character is what you do when nobody’s watching. So you know, I just try to abide by that because you know, I’ve been kind of like a guy that the kids look up to most of my life.  Being a high character guy just doing the right things when they ain’t around so when they are around I just continue to do what I do. And you know, it’s a blessing but also a challenge.”

“When I speak to the next generation, I tell them you might have dreams of going to the NBA. You might have dreams of being a lottery pick. But you know, everything didn’t work out as planned. Just don’t ever give up on those dreams. And just stay going forward. No matter if you have to take the G-League route, the European route, overseas, anything. Just stick to it because you know, it takes like you just said it takes one thing to go right and you could be living the dream. So I just take that and apply it. Everybody’s journey gonna be different. It’s what God has planned for you. So that’s probably the message I get to the young group.”

He is enjoying getting to play with other local college products like Jose Alvarado (Georgia Tech) and Jared Harper (Auburn), both of whom have gotten called up to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Of his rivalry with Harper: “Me and J going at it every day. Even though Auburn made the #1 seed I still tell him they suck. He wore an Auburn jacket today and I told him it was too ugly. He had to take it off. We go at it a lot. They, they got the best of us, and we kind of trash talk, but overall we boys. College days is fun but you know, we are partners now.”

Petty Jr. relishes the comradery as much as the competition. Seeing his teammates get called up but also getting to play with Pelicans players coming to Birmingham sends a simple message to Petty Jr.’s NBA dreams.

“It means just keep working. That’s something I think about every day. When I wake up, when I’m getting into practice, headed to workouts, and when I’m headed to the gym for the game. Just keep working. Stay the course and no matter whether things go your way or not: Just keep your head down and keep working. The G-League is a bunch of tests. It tests your mind just as much as it does your body physically with, like, you know, the commercial flights and everything. You just got to stay focused and do what you possibly can because the next step is so close.”

His closest, most direct example: Jose Alvarado.

“Just seeing him, knowing Jose for a while now—being in training camp with the Pelicans, doing preseason with the Pelicans, I mean, Jose just does what he does. That’s what he always did. He is just a high-energy guy that goes out and plays hard every possession. And like, I knew, I knew there was eventually going to come a time that he was going to get a chance. I knew he was going to do what he do, it was coming just a matter of time. You know, he’s that high character guy that worked hard all the time and hard work pays off.”

How is Petty Jr. applying that during the season?

“I just try to perfect what I do best. Trying to get my shot back to the high level it was at and just keep doing the small things in the game because, like you said, the role when you get called up is not going to be to score 20 points or to take 15-20 shots a night. It is going to be to make the open shot when somebody passes it or guard somebody then box out for rebounds. Those are things that I have just been locking in and focusing on trying to be the best version of myself rather than trying to work on other things that might not translate for my role in NBA.”

It’s that approach to craft that has John Petty Jr. primed to be the next player using the Birmingham Squadron as a catapult to an NBA career. The hard work will pay off—there is no doubt. Same as how there’s no doubt what he’ll be listening to before his first NBA game.