By Holly MacKenzie
Spencer Dinwiddie can't even tell you how long he has been waiting for Thursday night's NBA draft.
"I honestly don't remember life without [basketball]," the 21-year-old former Colorado Buffaloes point guard said.
After watching their 18-month-old son crumple up napkins to toss into a wastebasket, his parents, Malcolm and Stephanie, bought him an over-the-door basketball hoop that made a ringing noise each time the ball sailed cleanly through the net. All of these years later, that ringing sound still echoes in their minds.
In addition to being the most important night of Dinwiddie's basketball career thus far, Thursday will also mark less than six months since one of his worst.
On Jan. 12, 2014, Stephanie and Malcolm Dinwiddie were watching along with their younger son, Taylor, as the 6-foot-6 Dinwiddie crumbled to the ground in a game against Washington.
They waited for him to get up. It didn't happen. More than 30 minutes later, the Dinwiddies still hadn't received an update. Stephanie tried calling his phone. On the other end, Dinwiddie's incoherent response after learning he had torn his ACL was all she needed to hear to know her presence was needed in Colorado when he returned with the team from Washington.
"By the time Spencer came in [the hotel room] on the crutches, it was a tough moment, but I needed to be positive," Stephanie said. "I needed at that point to be able to embody for him our faith. That it's going to be okay. We don't know how quite yet, but it's going to be okay.
"I remember he asked me, it was about 3 o'clock in the morning and he said, 'Mom, why did this happen?' That's a really tough question. Again, I attributed it to God. I said to him, 'Why not you? Why not you? These things happen to people that don't deserve it. You don't deserve it, but things happen. What matters now is how you respond. That's all that matters now, so this is done.'"
Dinwiddie credits his mother's strength in the immediate aftermath for his ability to continue chasing his draft dream despite his injury and the subsequent rehabilitation process.
"When I first got hurt she was probably the strongest out of all of us," Dinwiddie said. "It was just the next step with her and we continued to buy into that and we just worked like nothing had changed. If something had changed and I went back to school I would be fine, but we decided as a unit that we were going to continue to work and let the chips fall where they may. If I was ahead of schedule and the opportunity presented itself we'd take advantage of it."
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Dinwiddie's parents both felt his game was ready a year ago, but that he could use another year at Colorado to help him mature and be ready to make the jump to the pros.
"I wanted him to actually enjoy being a young man for a little longer because of course we know the NBA is a business and once you cross that line you can't go back," Malcolm said. "Once you're grown, you're grown. We wanted him to enjoy the process just a little more. Not that we didn't think he wasn't physically ready to handle it, because he was, but this year he was more than ready mentally, physically, emotionally. He was definitely ready. Even when he went down, we felt like he was still capable of handling whatever was put in front of him."
In the days and weeks after Dinwiddie's ACL surgery, his family was there. Taking weeklong shifts, his mother and father switched off spending time in Los Angeles with his younger brother and in Colorado with Dinwiddie. He remained in the same hotel room until the day he officially declared for the draft, the thought being to control as much as possible, establish normalcy and block out distractions.
"The [hotel staff] there were incredible," Stephanie said. "Thoughtful, kind, compassionate. Always had nice big smiles, hellos and goodbyes when we were making our trips out."
It was through Dinwiddie's commitment to the grueling rehab that Malcolm was able to observe how much his son had matured over his last year with head coach Tad Boyle at Colorado.
"I tell everybody that I've never been more proud of Spencer than now," Malcolm said. "Like my wife said, in a situation like that you can do a number of things. You can quit, or you can fight. My mother, when I was young, told me there is only one thing you can't do in life and that's quit. Once you quit, you automatically lose. Spencer didn't even think about it. His mother was there, he dusted himself off and the next day he said, 'I'm going to do everything I need to do to get back going as fast as I can,' and that's exactly what he did."
Malcolm shared stories of Dinwiddie eating raw ginger and sleeping with his leg raised in a cold compression wrap to try to get the swelling out of his knee to speed up his surgery date. His efforts resulted in the swelling going down in six days instead of the two weeks that was estimated.
The Buffs were 14-2 the night Dinwiddie went down with his injury. The loss of their point guard and leader was a huge blow to the team. Colorado went 9-10 to close the season in his absence.
"His injury, when it happened, was devastating," Boyle said. "Not only to him but his family, our team, his teammates, the coaches and the program. He showed great resiliency and it wasn't easy, it wasn't fun but he's a very determined kid. He's very confident. He believes in himself. He attacked his rehab with a great attitude and, as hard as it was for him in the beginning, he's done a great job with it."
What Boyle wants teams to know now is the talent they will be getting if they select Dinwiddie. In addition to the ability to see the floor extremely well, the lanky point guard thinks like a coach. Averaging 14.7 points and 3.8 assists prior to injuring his knee, Dinwiddie is also skilled at getting to the free throw line. In 17 games this season, he attempted 119 free throws to 131 field goal attempts.
"It's all anticipation," Dinwiddie said. "I think that's the thing about my game that sometimes it makes it look like I'm not athletic or slow because generally I see what's going to happen and I can see plays a couple of steps ahead. When you're anticipating in that manner and your mind thinks that fast I don't have to exert as much energy trying to get to a spot because I'm already on my way there before it opens up sometimes."
Boyle stressed Dinwiddie's versatility and pointed out that he was an underrated defender while at Colorado.
"His basketball IQ is off the charts," Boyle said. "His self awareness is one of his strengths. He recognizes what he needs to get better at and that's very rare for a guy his age. It is something that's pretty rare for a player coming out of college who is just a junior. His maturity level is very high as well. It gets back to his intelligence, his basketball IQ. He's just a terrific young man from a terrific family."
Electing to go to Colorado to play for Boyle instead of going to Harvard, his three years in a Buffaloes uniform -- injury aside -- were positive ones. Growing on the floor and flourishing off of it, Dinwiddie became known as "The Mayor" around campus.
"I think it fits me very well because I'm a guy that likes to smile, shake hands and kiss babies, but at the same time it's all business and I'm about getting the job done," Dinwiddie said.
Having to present himself largely through interviews with teams and front office personnel, he has taken to comparing his pre-draft journey to a mayoral campaign. In addition to showing teams who he is, he also showed up to each city prepared to explain how he would fit with their current roster.
"You want to have a good base of knowledge about the team," Dinwiddie said. "You want to be able to communicate their roster, style of play and who the coach is. It's like with anything, when you go in to a job interview you want to be well prepared. You don't want to go into a job interview with Popeyes and tell them how good you are at making burritos. That doesn't make sense."
During a recent workout for the Chicago Bulls, Dinwiddie was able to speak with Derrick Rose about the injury they've both had to work through.
"It was really cool to talk to him because we had the exact same injury," Dinwiddie said. "He just said you'll know when you're right. He said to continue to attack rehab and go after it every day. Don't rush it, be safe and you will know when you're right."
In the meantime, he has continually had to field questions about the strength of his knee.
"It's what I expected so I'm not tired of it," Dinwiddie said. "Answering the same questions isn't exactly fun, but I remember I'm an investment. If they're going to put their time and effort into me they're going to want to know that physically I'm able to withstand it. I totally understand all of the health questions and one of the reasons why I decided to come out is because I felt like I could handle all of those and surpass expectations. I'm good with that."
On an Instagram account littered with photos charting his progress, a video clip of him dunking four months after surgery shows how far he's come since that night in January.
While it's undeniable that the injury has affected his draft stock, Dinwiddie is confident he will prove the team that drafts him right for taking a chance on him. (Most current projections have Dinwiddie as a mid-second round pick; Chad Ford has him going as high as No. 39.)
"Whoever believes in him, he will give them every ounce of himself that he has," Malcolm said. "That's who he is. If you believe in him he will give you everything he has."
Days away from the night Dinwiddie has been waiting for, Stephanie can't believe the moment is almost upon them.
"It's been such a journey and it's been a long time when we look back and reflect starting at the days at the Y at four years old and five years old," Stephanie said. "Then the different rec leagues, and at school, middle school and high school. When you look back you realize this has been his dream and his focus, everything he has done has moved him in this direction and he has worked so hard to get here it is a little surreal that it is this close, but it's wonderful."
As Dinwiddie and his family wait to hear his name be called, Boyle and the Colorado coaching staff will be waiting as well.
"Whoever gets him is going to get a winner," Boyle said. "A guy who is wiling to do whatever it takes to help his team or organization to get that done. He can do it in a lot of different ways. With his size and the position he's going to play in the NBA, he's got a bright future. Somebody's going to get a steal on Thursday night."
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Holly MacKenzie is an NBA writer for various print and online outlets. Rookies and pass-first point guards are her kryptonite and the draft class of '96 holds a special place in her heart. She tweets under the Twitter handle @stackmack (yes, it was inspired by Stephen Jackson).