Usually, players who are eligible for the NBA Draft spend their entire Thursday preparing and watching on TV that night with the hope of hearing their name called.
For Lindy Waters III and his dad, Lindy Waters Jr., that wasn’t the case. The father-son duo elected to pass on watching the 2020 draft, as there wasn’t much optimism that Waters III — he’s known better by his nickname “Trey” — would find an NBA home.
It was nearly impossible to find Trey’s name anywhere on national draft boards. His four-year college stats weren’t overly impressive, as the Norman North alum averaged just 9.5 points on 42.7 percent shooting in 121 career games at Oklahoma State. A combination of age and a perception of being a one-trick pony likely influenced teams to not seriously consider drafting Trey.
However, Trey eventually found his place with the Oklahoma City Thunder. For the Norman native, it was the culmination of a lot of hard work and the reward for remaining confident in himself.
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Being counted out wasn’t new territory for Trey and those close to him, and not being drafted in 2020 was just another hurdle Trey had to clear.
It reminded Waters Jr. of his son’s struggle to receive scholarship offers during high school.
“They always [looked] at [Trey] and said, ‘Well, he’s not really athletic enough, strong enough or fast enough,’” Waters Jr said.
Then Trey caught a break at an Adidas tournament in Indianapolis following his junior season. The tournament was crowded with various elite Division I schools that were there primarily to watch Dennis Smith Jr., a five-star recruit. Many of the best basketball schools in the nation wanted to catch a glimpse of the top-10 ranked player.
However, as the tournament progressed, the eyes of those who showed up for Smith Jr. began to slowly drift toward Trey, the relatively unknown high school junior who gave the five-star athlete trouble on both ends of the floor.
“After the game, the guy that runs Rivals.com came up to me and said, ‘Are you the dad of that guy?’” Waters Jr. recalled. “... I told him and he goes, ‘Well, congratulations. Your life has changed.’”
In the span of one weekend, Waters III went from getting Division II and low-level Division I scholarship offers to receiving phone calls from prestigious schools like North Carolina, Harvard, Yale and Stanford.
He eventually committed to playing for Oklahoma State and returned for a solid senior season at Norman North High School, recording per-game averages of 14.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 steals.
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His stats weren’t off the charts during his four-year stint with Oklahoma State.
He did become known for his 3-point shooting, finishing his collegiate career shooting 39 percent from downtown on 3.75 attempts per game. However, it wasn’t enough to get him drafted right away into the NBA.
Eventually, the next step included signing with the Enid Outlaws, a member of The Basketball League (TBL).
Outlaws head coach Ed Corporal decided to reach out to Trey to see if he would have any interest in joining his team.
“I knew he could play,” Corporal said. “So when they said he might be able to come over and play with the Outlaws, that’s when I had a really long talk with him. When he came over and saw what I was trying to create, he told me, ‘I want to play in the NBA.’ I was like, ‘I can help you get there because I’ve grown up and been around the NBA almost my entire life. I know the intangibles [and] what it takes to get there.’”
Trey agreed to play for the Outlaws in the 2021 season and found success, averaging 12.6 points, 4.9 assists and 5.4 rebounds in 17 appearances. While known primarily as a shooter, Trey served a playmaking role for his team as the starting point guard and the Outlaws eventually won their first TBL championship that same season.
“What I really saw in him was just basketball IQ. He has a really high basketball IQ. He has very good leadership skills. He wasn’t intimidated,” said Corporal. “He just came in and knew he could play.”
His Outlaws’ stint created interest from European teams, and Trey was on the verge of signing with the Palmer Alma Mediterránea of the LEB Oro league in Spain. But the goal still remained playing in the NBA for Trey and his father, and going overseas wasn’t a step in the right direction.
Frustrated with the lack of NBA opportunities nearly a year after the draft, Trey contemplated switching agents. But his agent asked for one last chance of getting Trey a foot in the door. Trey agreed to stay if the agent could snag him an NBA tryout within two weeks.
Just a few days later, Waters III received a one-day tryout with his home state team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“I already knew he had it in him. He just needed a chance,” said Corporal. “[I told him] once you get there, don’t look back and make them want to keep you.”
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Trey impressed the Thunder scouts enough that he stuck around for three weeks, making it likely that he’d land on the Thunder’s roster for the 2021 Summer League.
However, Trey fell just short of making the cut. But a few months later, he received another opportunity — this time with the Thunder’s G-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue.
He impressed in his 16 appearances with the Blue, averaging 11.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.8 steals on 50 percent shooting overall, including 50 percent from the 3-point line.
That proved to be enough to help him get his NBA opportunity, as the 24-year-old was signed to a two-way contract with the Thunder in February 2022.
“Besides his dad and mom, I was probably the happiest [for him],” Corporal said. “I was very overjoyed. I watched the first game. I was just really like, ‘Wow,’ words cannot express how I felt for him… [The Outlaws] were a pretty close-knit group and the guys were like brothers and to see one of them make it was really nice and a really great feeling.”
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Trey didn’t see much playing time initially. His first NBA basket came in his third appearance — a 3-pointer against the Spurs at home on Feb. 16.
However, as his minutes increased down the stretch, so did his production. He finished the season with nine double-digit scoring performances, including a 25-point outing against Atlanta and his former Norman North teammate, Trae Young. That game saw Trey make 7-of-13 3-pointers while shooting 60 percent from the floor overall.
That 3-point shooting carried over to the NBA, as he finished the season shooting 36 percent from beyond the arc on 5.8 attempts per game. He added 8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game in 25 appearances.
Trey is under contract next season on a two-way deal, but with the 50-game limit those contracts carry, he might have to wait a bit before being fully signed to a four-year deal — which would double his salary from $502,080 to over $1 million next season.
After the season, Trey said in his exit interview that he isn’t stressing over getting signed to an NBA contract and will spend the offseason focusing on improving his game. But he’s hoping to play well enough that he’s eventually given a fully-guaranteed contract.
“When that day comes, it’ll be a big day for me and my family,” Trey said.
For Waters Jr., Trey’s journey to the Thunder wasn’t surprising. and he’s fully confident Trey will have a successful career.
“He has all the skills to play at the highest level,” Waters Jr. said. “And I’m just happy [Thunder general manager Sam] Presti has given him that chance. LeBron [James] said it best — he finds talent.”