It wasn’t a Twitter notification or a phone call that broke the news to Tyrell Terry. Nor was it his agent who knew before the pick was made. The person that broke the news to Terry that he would be a Dallas Maverick with the 31st pick in the 2020 NBA Draft was the Deputy Commissioner of the NBA, Mark Tatum, on live television.
Because that’s what Terry wanted.
Terry believed he was a first-round pick, somewhere between 17-30 in the draft. Once the lottery wrapped up and picks started coming off the board in the second half of the first round, Terry told his agent that he didn’t want to find out beforehand where he was going. He wanted to watch on TV and get the experience of hearing his name being called without knowing it was coming.
As the first round wound down and Tatum took over for commissioner Adam Silver announcing the picks, Terry didn’t have to wait long. He was the first name off the board in the second round. Roughly 10 minutes after hearing his name come across the television, he received a call from Mark Cuban welcoming him to the team. He also talked to Rick Carlisle and Donnie Nelson as they all expressed excitement on adding Terry to the Mavericks. Shortly after that, Terry received a private message from one of his new teammates.
“Luka [Dončić] messaged me telling me congratulations and if I need anything to hit him up and to just enjoy the moment,” Terry described to me. “It meant a lot to me to have him reach out to me that early.”
It was a surreal moment and night for the “too small” kid from Minneapolis.
Terry grew up in Minneapolis since the age of four. He was a natural athlete. The kind that people like me are jealous of growing up in school. He played baseball, football, basketball and even got into snowboarding. But as athletic as Terry was, none of that could happen unless he achieved a certain level of academic success in school.
“I was also very smart growing up,” Terry said. “My parents were hard on me academically, telling me if I didn’t get a certain grade, I couldn’t play basketball. I actually fell in love with the idea of academics. That is kind of the reason I went to Stanford, to find a place where academics were held to the same standard as athletics.”
Those academics obviously paid off as Terry broke an NBA IQ record in the pre-draft process. “I was sent an IQ test administered by front offices in the NBA and I did break the record for that test,” Terry said. “I didn’t really find it that particularly difficult. I just locked into the test and did what it asked. And apparently the results broke the record for it.”
After winning three state titles in high school, Terry was getting recruited by a plethora of schools, but Stanford is where he wanted to go from the beginning. He went through the process of being academically accepted—Terry was Stanford-bound.
Terry acknowledged he went into Stanford “as a kid”, but grew up fast in an environment focused on academics and athletics. As far as basketball goes, the coaching staff knew he was a player they could trust with the ball in his hands, but it wasn’t until he showed the consistency that they knew he could be a one-and-done player.
“One and done became a possibility with his high level of consistency mid-way through the season,” Jeff Wulbrun, Associate Head Coach at Stanford University Basketball said. “People saw the passing, scoring and shooting, but his temperament and decision making were so impressive. He never forced things, always read the defense and took advantage of what they gave him.”
For Terry, a turning point was the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City back in November 2019. It was his first big game on the national stage in college and he went up against Oklahoma on ESPN2. They would beat the Sooners 73-54 behind a game-high 20 points from Terry. Stanford would lose at the buzzer in game two, but Terry finished with 21 points on 5-of-9 shooting from three—including a buzzer-beater to end the first half. Stanford was put out, but it was this national stage moment for Terry that made him realize that he could be an NBA player one day.
“I would say midway through the year, his consistency, accuracy and decision making were so impressive,” Wulbrun said. “Maybe when he hit seven threes in a conference game…you just knew it was going to happen.”
Terry finished with 27 points in the win over Utah in that game and shot 7-of-9 from behind the arc. It was one of his best performances of his collegiate career and only further proved that he was one of the best shooters in college basketball. According to Synergy Sports, Terry ranked in the 99th percentile in all catch-and-shoot shots last year in college. He also ranked in the 90th percentile in three-point attempts on better than a 40 percent clip. As Mavs GM, Donnie Nelson, describes it- “he can really shoot the piss out of it.”
He had the shot and handles. He could run a team at point guard. The only thing he didn’t have, or better yet, thought he didn’t have, was the size and frame. Terry said that from a young age he always had that natural athletic ability, but he was always “small and skinny.”
“I think I knew I had the skillset to be an NBA player since high school, but I fell into the narrative that people said I was too small,” Terry said. “I kind of let that bother me a little bit. I wasn’t quite sure I was 100 percent going to be an NBA player, but I knew I had the skillset…it was [at the Hall of Fame Classic] that I realized I had the skillset to be an NBA player regardless of my size.”
It was a hard thing to get past mentally for Terry, even after he declared for the NBA as he took notice to all of the negative internet feedback and even feedback from NBA teams suggesting he go back to school. “All the comments on the internet was ‘why is he even declaring’ or ‘he should go back to school.’” Terry explained. “I’m hearing from teams that I should go back to school in my interviews. Just so much negativity around why I even declared for the draft.”
Terry used it as fuel. He knew deep down that he belonged in the NBA, that his shot and offensive package would translate at the next level. And he believed he could improve his body enough. He saw the narrative about his size and took control of it himself.
“For me, I used it as motivation and really bought in this summer,” Terry explained. “I improved my body quite a bit. I have a long way to go but I made some big changes in regards to strength and athleticism where that narrative is changing a bit. People are seeing that I am able to put on weight. I think the narrative is flipping.”
The Mavericks interviewed him twice in the pre-draft process. The first one was early on in the process over Zoom and the next one came after his 13 combine interviews…which Dallas wasn’t part of. The Mavs called his agent directly to set up another interview and had Terry take a personality test before the draft. At that point, Terry knew Dallas was one of the teams he could end up with, but didn’t think they were one of the 3-4 teams who would take him before the Mavs’ second round pick.
“He was definitely one of the top names down there,” Nelson said. “We thought that there was a decent chance he could go in the twenties. But luck had it that he slipped to us.” Mark Cuban described it as “shocking” that Terry was still available at 31. When Cuban talked on the phone with Terry on draft night, he told Terry how high they had him on their draft board.
“I believed I was going to be picked in the first round,” Terry said. “But at the end of the day, I believe I am in a better position as if I was selected by another team in the first round…There were a couple of teams that were possibly going to select me in the first round. It is a blessing to be drafted in the first place, but I knew if they drafted me it probably wasn’t going to be the best fit for me.”
Terry continued, “For me to come into Dallas and play with someone like Luka who is going to find me—I thrive off catch-and-shoot situations—if he finds me, I’m going to knock that shot down. With my shooting ability to space the floor for Kristaps and open lanes, I think for me, I don’t know if there could be a better fit for me in the league,” Terry said.
And fit mattered the most to him. Now, Terry gets to play alongside Luka Dončić in a system built for shooters like Terry. A system that Seth Curry thrived in and shot over 40 percent from three in last year. That role that Curry played in Dallas last year is a similar role that Terry can see himself in. “I think I could see myself in a similar role as that,” Terry said about Curry. “The ways he’s able to get his shot off and the way he’s able to maneuver on the offensive end is something I’ve been studying.”
Studying is just a portion of what Tyrell Terry’s last six months have looked like leading up to the draft. For shooting, Terry has been working on extending his range by a few feet behind the three-point line without altering his mechanics. He is also working on his shots coming off screens, despite shooting 57 percent off screens in college (94th percentile per Synergy Sports). He has also been working on improving his body. Terry told The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor before the draft that he has been on a 4,000-calorie-a-day diet and looking to go from 155 pounds to 175 pounds before the season.
When he wasn’t in the gym working on his game and body, Terry is more of a chill guy off the court focusing on meditation and reading. He’s a big follower of the English Premier League as an avid Manchester City fan and has been binge-watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix like the rest of us.
But when training camp comes around, he looks forward to putting on that Dallas Mavericks jersey with number 1 on the back. He looks forward to connecting with fellow Stanford alum, Dwight Powell. He looks forward to playing alongside Luka and KP.
He looks forward to writing his own narrative.
He looks forward to being Tyrell Terry.