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From sticks to Steph Curry: How Pat Spencer swapped lacrosse for the NBA

<i>Christian Bonin/NBAE/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Spencer's first G-League venture saw him play for the Capital City Go-Go.
Christian Bonin/NBAE/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
Spencer's first G-League venture saw him play for the Capital City Go-Go.

By Thomas Schlachter, CNN

(CNN) — Every young athlete dreams of draft day, picturing themselves being selected and then imagining a long and prosperous professional career.

This fantasy became a reality for Pat Spencer.

The Loyola Greyhound was drafted first in the 2019 Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) draft, but the college record-breaker then decided to take his career in a completely different direction.

Spencer returned to college to play an extra year of basketball, hoping to carve out a career in the NBA instead. It seems the gamble paid off when Spencer made his first NBA appearance with the Golden State Warriors in 2024.

Running and gunning

For as long as he can remember, Spencer had always been a multi-sport athlete.

“I think the peak was probably childhood, where I got to play everything,” the NBA guard tells CNN Sport of his early sporting endeavors. “I had great parents that basically took me to any practice that was in the state.

“I played on upwards of four or five teams at one time. So, between baseball, basketball, football and lacrosse, I was always running and gunning.”

Spencer eventually needed to narrow down his sporting options.

“I was really small as a freshman in high school, I was five-four, 120 pounds,” Spencer, who is now listed at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, recalls.

“But that same five-four kid still had that edge and competitive desire to play at the highest level at whatever it would be.”

Spencer opted to pursue the sport he thought he had the best chance of being a success in and knew his height would be less of an issue moving up the ranks in lacrosse.

Loyola University and the Wildcats lacrosse team gave Spencer an opportunity to showcase his talents on the collegiate level.

Four years of smashing records and incredible success followed for Spencer at Loyola.

The Wildcat left college as the NCAA Division I all-time leader in assists and second in points but, despite the accolades, basketball continued to linger in the back of his mind.

“The whole time I felt like I owed it to Loyola to kind of see it through and play those four years out. But I knew in the back of my mind that I was going to be playing ball and that this is what I was going to be doing long term,” Spencer admits.

“I wanted to see it through with all my friends and all my teammates and the coaching staff and then … I knew I’d be playing basketball.”

Growing pains

Spencer used his year of graduate eligibility and opted to play basketball at Northwestern University in Illinois.

“I knew that whole year was going to be a growth year for me,” Spencer says of his first year back on the court, detailing the various growing pains he experienced. “I had a lot of bad habits and a lot of things that I needed to work on.”

The Northwestern Wildcats finished with a dismal 8-23 record, but Spencer says he is eternally grateful for the platform they provided him and the lessons he learned throughout that tough campaign.

Equally, Spencer’s belief in his ability and decision to play basketball never wavered.

“I don’t have a plan B ever,” he explains. “I knew where I was capable of getting to. I was at the growing pains kind of year and had to get through it and figure out how to improve.”

After college, if basketball players want to fulfil their ambition, they would be usually picked in the NBA Draft or head to the G-League, the NBA’s minor league.

Spencer took a different path altogether.

“I had an opportunity over here fall through, and I felt like just one year of college ball and then having a blank year on the resume would be a no go,” he explained.

So Spencer opted to travel to Europe and played a handful of games for the Hamburg Towers of Germany’s Basketball Bundesliga before returning to the US.


After playing with the Capital City Go-Go, the Washington Wizards G-League affiliate, Spencer ended up signing with the Golden State Warriors and their G-League team the Santa Cruz Warriors. He played the 2023-24 season on a two-way contract which allowed him to switch between both teams as and when needed.

From playing lacrosse, Spencer found himself in the locker room with the likes of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

“I don’t get starstruck or anything like that,” said Spencer. “It’s an opportunity, a challenge. Just watching those guys work, it sets the standard for myself and what I need to uphold in the offseason.”

While he hasn’t had a ‘welcome to the NBA moment’ on the court, Spencer says that watching the work ethic of the stars on his team is a lesson in itself.

The guard says observing Curry, the NBA’s all-time leading three-point scorer, sprint around the court practicing three-pointers is a constant reminder of how impressive the level is.

Not only is Spencer learning from future Hall of Famers on a team with championship-winning pedigree, he is also learning under veteran coach Steve Kerr and his son Nick.

“Nick has been our coach and I feel like he’s an extension of his dad,” Spencer explains. “Both of them are, obviously, highly smart individuals in terms of basketball, but also super understanding and want to see the best for each individual.”

A two-way player has to be ready at any given moment and Spencer’s first points in the NBA came in March against the Memphis Grizzlies when he showed off his athleticism with a dunk.

The 27-year-old is hoping that those points will be the first of many.

“I’ve enjoyed the whole journey, but, not even close to the finish yet,” Spencer said ahead of what he describes as an important summer to get back to peak athleticism.

“It’s always been the same goal to get on an NBA roster, a full contract and have an opportunity to compete, and contribute in a high, high fashion and try to win a championship.”

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