GREENBURGH, N.Y. - On the day last week that Langston Galloway signed his 10-day contract with the New York Knicks, he called his college coach to share the good news, and from the St. Joseph's team bus, trundling through downtown Pittsburgh to a game against Duquesne, Phil Martelli gave Galloway a sound piece of advice: Don't let the culture around the NBA's worst team corrupt you.
The Knicks' season has been a car crash that everyone should have seen coming - a 5-35 record, 15 consecutive losses ahead of their game against the Milwaukee Bucks in London on Thursday, a team president in Phil Jackson who has never been an executive before, a coach in Derek Fisher who has never coached before, just four players on the roster who are signed beyond this season. Throw in the lack of a long-term plan and the ridicule from New York's tabloids and talk shows, and Martelli wanted to make sure Galloway understood how easily bad habits can develop amid such a dismal environment.
"What I told him on the phone was none of that mattered," Martelli said in a phone interview. "If his routine was to get there early, then get there early. If his routine was to be active on the bench, then be active on the bench. . . . When you're a young guy, you end up emulating those who are ahead of you. It's not his nature to 'be selfish,' but in a lot of ways, he had to be who he was and not fall into what the media would say about the Knicks or anything like that. Their request to him was not to save them. Their request to him was to be a professional."
Over his three games with the Knicks, Galloway has done little to suggest he can't accommodate them at least for this season, and maybe longer. Too small at 6-foot-2 to be strictly a shooting guard in the NBA, he's transitioning to point guard and averaging 11.3 points a game, including 19 in his Madison Square Garden debut last Thursday against the Rockets - a performance punctuated by a one-handed, rebound dunk that was probably the Knicks' best moment of the last month.
The dunk was so stunning and spectacular that it immediately went viral, its replay spreading across social media and ending up on countless TV highlight sequences. Martelli's daughter, Elizabeth, texted him a video of it, he said. "My initial reaction was, 'How in the heck could I have lost 10 games last year with a kid who can jump to the moon and who can make that play at the highest level?' "
Galloway said he received more than 200 text messages from friends and family who'd seen it. It's unknown how many of them noticed that the Knicks lost the game by 24 points.
"I can't really say I would like to step into this situation," Galloway said at the MSG Training Center on Monday, after the Knicks had practiced. "But at the same time, it's my dream. I'm getting a chance to play in the NBA."
That opportunity looked like a long shot at best after Galloway, who scored 1,991 points during his four-year career at St. Joe's, went undrafted in June. Instead of pursuing a more lucrative pro career in Europe, Galloway opted to sign a free-agent deal with the Knicks. After failing to earn a roster spot out of training camp, he played for the Westchester Knicks, the franchise's team in the NBA Development League. There, a player's annual salary tops out at a reported $25,000. Galloway didn't care. His dream wasn't on another continent.
"If the time came where they would bring me up, I was ready for it," he said. "If not, I'd continue to work on my game there."
In his 19 games at Westchester, Galloway led the team in minutes per game (36.8), points per game (16.5), steals per game (2.68), and three-point percentage (35.8), all but forcing the Knicks to give him a look once their season started to fall apart. There is little doubt, even after just three NBA games, that he can shoot well enough to stay in the league. He made 43 percent of his three-point attempts in college, and he's made 4 of his first 8 for the Knicks.
Against Houston, he sank 3 of 4, each one deeper than the last, and at the end of practice Monday, he flicked in a 40-footer as casually as if it were a free throw.
"I've done it my whole life," he said. "I really don't worry about who's in front of me or how far I need to be to get my shot up. I know I can get it off because I have a quick touch, so it's pretty easy."
He tries, he said, not to let the losing and the atmosphere it creates get to him. He cannot afford to. His contract expires Saturday, and he has no idea whether the Knicks will re-sign him and, if so, for how long. "I haven't heard anything," he said, "and I don't want them to tell me anything." He just boarded that plane to London with his teammates Monday night and prepared to play the Bucks. Better to keep a clear mind and enjoy the dream, even if most of what's happening around him is a nightmare.