Byron Mullens Stays Sharp During Lockout by Playing Basketball at Prison
Thanksgiving has passed and there is still no NBA season, which means professional basketball players are in search of ways to keep their skills sharp. Some have turned to less-productive methods like dunking on 25-foot hoops while others have officially begun weighing their options for playing overseas. Oklahoma City Thunder center Byron Mullens has one of the more unique practice routines you will hear about. Actually, it’s the setting — at Ross Correctional Institute in Ohio — that makes it unusual.
Mullens grew up in Ohio and was the product of a tough upbringing. He had his own apartment by the time he was in high school and had to work two jobs and go to school in order to get by. Rather than playing basketball at nearby public courts while he was in school, Mullens and his friend used to go to the local juvenile detention center and play pickup games with troubled teens. Now, he plays against prison inmates at Ross.
The 7-foot Mullens said the prisoners bring an “under-the-radar” level of competition and, despite their constant shouting at him to dunk the ball, he uses the games as an opportunity to work on his perimeter game. The prisoners have yet to defeat Mullens in a game, but 31-year-old inmate Ryan Janes seems to embrace the challenge.
“I was excited and nervous because I wanted to see where I was at as far as skill level,” Janes said. “I wanted to rough him up, but not hurt him.
“It gives you something to look forward to. A lot of these guys aren’t going home, so when they get the opportunity to play someone of that skill set, it makes their day.”
Mullens also said he realizes people may be critical of him playing against inmates because they have done something wrong to get to where they are, but it’s mostly just about basketball.
“I know people have their own opinion that if they’re in prison, they shouldn’t really get that freedom,” he said. “But they’re doing the time for what they did, so the way I see it, just coming in here and playing basketball with them … I could be anywhere else but I’ll be in here playing. Basketball is basketball.”
In this day and age, sometimes you have to search high and low for worthy competition.