There was a time when Billy Preston was a surefire first-round NBA draft pick, perhaps even a lottery selection.
He was originally committed to the University of Kansas but never suited up for the Jayhawks. He opted to play professionally overseas with KK Igokea in Bosnia in 2017 while the NCAA dragged their feet regarding an investigation into the car he was driving while involved in an on-campus car accident.
Preston only suited up in three games for KK Igokea before leaving the team due to a shoulder injury. He would then declare for the 2018 NBA draft. A former McDonald’s All-American and highly touted prospect, Preston didn’t hear his name called that night.
Although he wasn’t drafted, he was immediately picked up by the Cleveland Cavaliers and tabbed to play on their summer league team. He had a good showing that summer, appearing in six games for the Cavaliers and putting up 10.5 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range.
His play would earn him a two-way contract with the Cavaliers for the 2018-19 season allowing him to shuffle back and forth between Cleveland and their G League affiliate the Canton Charge. Preston never actually appeared in any games for the Cavaliers and he was cut almost two months into the season.
Despite only spending about two months with the team, Preston considered it to be beneficial to his overall development as a player. He hasn’t been on an NBA roster since then, but it’s what he’s trying to get back to.
“It was good. I got to learn a lot about how to approach the game,” Preston told Basketball Insiders. “I got better as a pro mentally. I learned a lot from my time in Cleveland. I’m trying to work to get back.”
While he was with the Cavaliers, Preston played in 10 games for the Canton Charge averaging 6.1 points per game and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 42.9 percent from the three-point line. After he was cut by the Cavaliers, he found himself back with the Charge. But that didn’t last very long.
A couple of weeks later, Preston found himself being shipped to the then Erie Bayhawks who was at the time the sole G League affiliate of the Atlanta Hawks. He was acquired for the rights to Jordan Matthews. His stint with Erie only last seven games before he was traded again, this time to the Dallas Mavericks affiliate, the Texas Legends for Codi Miller-McIntyre.
Preston suited up in 10 games for the Legends and had his best showing in the G League. He put up 10.8 points per game and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 43 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three-point range.
The G League has grown in both size and competition over the past several years and Preston certainly noticed the level of talent while he was playing in the league. Although he admits the talent wasn’t as strong as it is now, he could see the direction the league was heading in.
“When I played it wasn’t how it is right now, but my experience in it around two years ago, it was definitely competitive,” Preston said. “I kind of struggled at the beginning of the year but as I got my flow, things kind of got easier. It’s like a game plan, you have to figure out the system and how everything works. You have to pace yourself and play and everything will be fine.”
In the early days of the G League when it was still the NBA’s Development League and eventually the D League, it was often seen as a punishment for players who were sent down by their NBA team. Players on the fringe of the NBA usually chose to pursue contracts overseas rather than play in the G League.
Preston was one of those players who opted for overseas opportunities. He started the 2019-20 G League season back with the Legends, but he left the team and chose to sign with the Illawarra Hawks of the National Basketball League in Australia. He only played three games with Illawarra before they cut him and he’s also spent some time in the Dominican Republic.
For someone like him who is perhaps on the borderline of making an NBA roster, Preston believes that the G League has certainly become a place where players have a legit shot at making it to the NBA.
“The G League is definitely a great place if you want to get better working on skills,” Preston said. “There are older guys playing in the G League now. The G League is definitely a better route than overseas now. It just seems like now in 2021 with everything going on, the G League is more of a development league. You can work on your game and get to the NBA.”
In the meantime, Preston is staying sharp by playing in the famed Drew League in Los Angeles. The league was on hiatus last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has started back up this year. Each summer, some of the top local professional, college and high school players suit up on the hardwood.
Preston is currently playing alongside a couple of local LA area college players like Reese Waters of USC, Romelle Mansel of Long Beach State, and Chance Hunter of Cal Baptist. His main focus is to keep his skills sharp against the top competition the league has to offer.
“There’s a lot of things I can learn here. There’s a lot of guys who play pro, a lot of young guys, I’m trying to get my wind up and stay in shape.” Preston said. “It’s competitive and I’ve got a competitive nature. I’m coming out here to get some runs in and get better while playing with these guys.”
And ultimately, the main goal for Preston is to step foot on an NBA court.
“I’ve been overseas, I’ve been in the Dominican Republic, Australia, and Europe,” Preston said. “I just want to get a tryout and get back to the NBA, that’s my main focus.”