In professional lacrosse, Patrick Spencer is an immediate impact player and potential superstar.
In professional basketball, the Davidsonville native is a marginal prospect facing the challenge of starting at the bottom.
However, while it would appear to be easier to pursue the stick sport at the pro level, Spencer has decided to take the more difficult road.
It was announced Wednesday that Spencer has signed with an agency and will attempt to play professional basketball even though the path to doing so is not clear cut.
“I have a burning desire and passion for basketball. It has been my first love my whole life,” Spencer said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “I want to put my full focus on basketball and see what I can accomplish, how far I can go.”
Tandem Sports & Entertainment announced via Twitter that it had signed Spencer as a client.
Meredith Geisler, senior vice president of communications for Tandem, will handle media and public relations for Spencer. Matt Laczkowski will serve as the Anne Arundel County resident’s agent. Leslie Groves, a Tandem vice president, will spearhead marketing and endorsements.
Tandem Sports & Entertainment has a deep roster of current NBA players led by 2020 Rookie of the Year candidate Ja Morant. The Arlington, Virginia-based agency represented former NBA stars such as Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Ray Allen.
Laczkowski, a Westminster native who was a walk-on basketball player at North Carolina, has been in contact with NBA general managers and scouts about Spencer’s prospects. Most agree he would need to start in the NBA G League, which consists of 28 teams that are either affiliated with or owned by NBA franchises.
The G League has developed into a true minor league system with almost 40 percent of NBA players having spent some time at that level.
“Pat is fully committed to chasing the basketball dream and certainly has the talent and ability to succeed,” Laczkowski said. “Pat knows he has work to do, knows it’s important to find a situation where he can focus on being a basketball player and make up for lost time.”
Spencer spent four years playing college lacrosse at Loyola Maryland, enjoying a highly decorated career that culminated with him receiving the Tewaaraton Award as the country’s most outstanding player in 2019.
Spencer was a four-time United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association All-American, earning first team honors three times after being named second team as a freshman. He was presented with the Lt. Raymond J. Enners Most Outstanding Player award in 2019 after receiving the Lt. Col. J.I. “Jack” Turnbull Outstanding Attackman of the Year honor in 2018.
The Boys’ Latin graduate is the first player in Patriot League history to earn the Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year award all four years. He was a four-time All-Patriot League first team selection and was named Rookie of the Year as a freshman in 2016.
As a senior, Spencer established career-highs across the board with 49 goals, 65 assists and 114 points. Those assist and point totals set school and Patriot League records. He is also the NCAA Division I Lacrosse all-time leader with 231 career assists and ranks second with 380 points.
Those awards and accolades are why Spencer was the No. 1 overall selection in the inaugural Premier Lacrosse League Draft in 2019. He was also selected by the Chesapeake Bayhawks in the Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Draft.
Spencer did not sign with either professional lacrosse league last summer after being recruited to play college basketball at Northwestern. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder proved he could play at the highest level of Division I from the outset and was installed as the team’s starting point guard by head coach Chris Collins.
Spencer averaged almost 30 minutes in 31 games and led the Wildcats with 122 assists, ranking eighth in the Big Ten Conference in that category. He was second on the squad in scoring with 10.4 points per game and also averaged 4.1 rebounds.
“I was happy with the way I led the team, how I ran the offense and the fact I was usually strong with the ball,” Spencer said. “I felt going into the season that I could hold my own and compete in the Big Ten. That belief was validated and definitely backed up my thought process of pursuing professional basketball.”
Spencer scored a season-high 23 points against Bradley and added 22 versus Minnesota. He dished off eight assists in two different games and grabbed a season-best nine rebounds against Maryland.
A Northwestern assistant pointed out to Laczkowski that Spencer was the only one of 14 players that transferred from a mid-major to a Power Five conference school and averaged double figures. However, Spencer did not come from a mid-major basketball program, but rather a perennial Top 25 lacrosse program.
Collins praised Spencer for making a smooth transition from lacrosse to basketball after he totaled seven points, five rebounds and two assists in a 76-67 loss to Maryland at the Xfinity Center in College Park.
“You come out to the Big Ten after not playing competitive basketball since high school and you’ve got to play in these environments against these teams, it’s a remarkable feat,” Collins said. “It shows what kind of athlete and what kind of competitor he is. Even though he’s only been here with us for this one season, he’s left a mark on our program with his competitiveness, with his edge, with his swagger.
“I didn’t know how good of a player he was going to be because nobody knew unless you played in (recreation) leagues in Baltimore. But I knew that he had stuff that I wanted in my program, and he’s done an amazing job. The young players that we have, they’ve gotten better, and they’ve learned from him,” Collins added.
Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon was also impressed by what he saw out of Spencer this past season.
“He’s a great passer with the ball over his head like he’s got the (lacrosse) stick working,” Turgeon said. “What an athlete. I was blown away at their place. I wasn’t prepared for what kind of athlete he was going to be. We have some really good athleticism, and he really stuck out there. I see why he dominated the way he did (in lacrosse). He’s a very good player.”
However, Spencer readily admits some weaknesses in his game showed through while playing in one of the most competitive conferences in the country. He shot just 23 percent (12-for-51) from 3-point range and also committed a team-high 70 turnovers, an average of 2.25 per game.
There were times when Spencer struggled defensively, not surprising considering he didn’t have to play any as an attackman in lacrosse.
“One thing that was glaringly obvious this season is I did not shoot three at a high rate. I’ve got to improve in that area because it’s such a big part of the game these days,” he said. “I also need to prove I can defend at a high level and be a consistent ball-handler at the point guard position. I learned a lot on the court this season, saw exactly what I need to work on to get to the next level.”
Best Basketball Ahead
In discussing Spencer with NBA decision-makers, Laczkowski discovered there is “definitely some intrigue and interest.” With the season on hold due to the coronavirus, NBA organizations have begun the pre-draft process, and several have set up interviews with Spencer, the agent said.
“Obviously, Pat’s best basketball is ahead, so the question becomes how much of an upside is there? Is there enough that he’ll eventually become an NBA contributor? Who is a comparable player in the league right now?” Laczkowski said.
“Scouts that have seen Pat play multiple times say there are a lot of things to like. Toughness is a word that keeps being repeated. He doesn’t back down from anybody,” the Tandem agent added. “Pat is an intelligent player, a quick study. He is self-aware and makes up for any weaknesses with relentlessness.”
Laczkowski believes Spencer’s most likely route is through the G League, which has previously conducted a draft consisting of four rounds in late October. G League teams also hold open tryouts and invite a select group of players to training camp.
“Pat needs to find an organization that is dedicated to development. He could really benefit from a full year of 24/7 basketball,” Laczkowski said. “We did our homework and what has the Tandem team excited about working with Pat is that everyone I talked to said: this is a no-nonsense kid who really cares and works his tail off.”
Bruce and Donna Spencer are fully supporting their eldest son’s dreams of playing pro basketball. Patrick Spencer graduated from Loyola with a bachelor’s degree in finance and now owns a master’s degree in sports administration from Northwestern. Mom and dad aren’t hassling him about getting a real job.
“We want Patrick to follow his dream. Donna and I both have his back. We think he is capable of pulling this off,” said Bruce Spencer, an Annapolis High graduate.
Spencer, who will turn 24 years old in July, is back home in Davidsonville and working out six days a week. He focuses on strength and conditioning on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the home of personal trainer Tory Tolson of Peak Performance. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are devoted to speed, quickness and agility drills.
Spencer has access to a local gymnasium and spends some time every day shooting baskets and working on ball-handling skills along with his two younger brothers — Cam and William, who play basketball at Loyola-Maryland and Boys’ Latin, respectively. Saturday mornings are spent playing pickup basketball, usually three-on-three with immediate family members.
“I know going in that this will be a long journey, one that is a lot different than most players,” Spencer said. “That said, the G League is a path that tons of guys have taken. It’s not an unthinkable task.”
Spencer also knows that lacrosse will always be there if pro basketball does not work out. Both the PLL and MLL would be thrilled to sign a player of his caliber and reputation whenever that day comes.