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Has Anyone in the TBL Improved More Than Daequon Antoine?

As the end of the season continues to approach at a rapid rate, it's a time of perseverance or reflection for many teams. Some teams will push to make an incredible playoff run, while other teams that have had less successful seasons will head into an offseason to reflect, and determine what needs to be improved upon. For the Raleigh Firebirds and Daequon Antoine, a 6'3" guard, this is a time for both.

Antoine has been one of the key players for the Firebirds for the majority of the 2022 season, averaging a little above or below 20 points per game at different points. He is also averaging 2,7 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game, which are relatively modest numbers. However, what this doesn't account for is Antoine's numbers in the prior season, and how much he's improved since then. His journey from a role player averaging around six minutes per game last year to a key starter, shooter, and ball handler is simply amazing. But first, let's look at how Antoine got here.

As stated in this previous article, Antoine was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, to parents Erica Alston and Robert Bailey. Antoine grew up with three sisters, and his first experience of organized basketball came at the Roxbury YMCA in Boston, when he was 10 years old. However, Antoine wouldn't live in Boston for much longer, as his entire family moved to South Carolina.

Antoine would attend Fort Mill High School in South Carolina, where he would be a quarterback for the football team. Antoine would also play for the varsity basketball team, but only during his senior year because he was such a late bloomer. When he did play varsity basketball, Antoine was a starter and averaged around 12 points per game as a shooting guard. He also played AAU Basketball for Prime Time Players, and although he wanted to play basketball in college, scholarships weren't knocking on his door. It was his senior year and with one year of varsity basketball, no programs wanted him; with the exception of one.

Credit to the Nichols Athletic Website for Picture

Nichols College, back in Boston, wanted Antoine on their basketball team, and so Antoine accepted a scholarship from them. Antoine didn't get much playing time during his freshman and sophomore years, as the adjustment in pace and physicality was monumental. However, his junior year would be a different story. During that 2016-17 season, Antoine started in 27 games, and on November 19th, 2016, he would drop a career-high 24 points against Lasell University.

During his senior year, Antoine started in all 29 games the Bisons played. He averaged 14.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.7 steals per game while shooting 47.3% from the field, 40.7% from three, and 78.4% from the charity stripe. During that 2017-18 campaign, Daequon was named to the All-CCC Third Team, and on December 4th, 2017, he was named the CCC Player of the Week. He was also a member of the Worcester Area College Basketball Association (WACBA) Honor Roll.

There were lots of great moments during that 2017-18 season, especially when Antoine hit a buzzer-beating shot from the opposing free throw line to win the game. But what was next?

Credit to the Nichols Athletic Website for Picture

Thankfully, a friend of Antoine's named Delaney Rudd helped hook him up with a certified NBA agent, Mark Connor. Connor, who is also the silent partner for the Raleigh Firebirds, began looking for opportunities for Antoine to extend his playing career. Antoine had an opportunity to play professional basketball in Mexico, but he couldn't because he broke his foot.

Not too long after, Antoine would join the Firebirds for the upcoming 2021 TBL season. The 2021 Firebirds had a much different roster then their 2022 team, and the star was a man by the name of John Milligan, Jr. Antoine's role on the team was very small, as he did not start and averaged well under 20 minutes per game. When he did get into the game, Antoine's role was to shoot, and nothing else. His best performance of the season came in a game where he hit four threes. This was a role that Antoine would hold throughout the entire season, as he finished the year with averages of 7.6 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 0.7 steals per game.

It wasn't an easy year for reasons off the court. It was around the start of the season, when Antoine would lose one of the people closest to him; his youngest sister. She would pass away from an asthma attack, leaving her older brother grieving. It was easy to want to give up, but Antoine did his best to persevere.

"My little sister probably keeps me motivated. She passed away, so I keep going for her."

Throughout the offseason, Antoine's work ethic would prove unmatched as he tirelessly worked to get better. Antoine would workout at team owner Wade Harris' gym twice everyday, with one of the workouts at 5:30 AM and the other at 11 AM. While everyone else was sleeping in, Antoine was busy working his tail off to improve. Afterwards, Antoine would rest for a little bit, and then play pickup basketball around 3 PM. "It was just constant playing basketball every day," said Antoine. With all the workouts and pickup games, Antoine would take around 800 shots per day, a tremendous amount.

This year, a lot has changed. Antoine's responsibility on the court has increased tremendously, as he's started in every game the Firebirds have played this year. While his shooting is desperately needed for the Firebirds, Antoine handles the ball a lot more, especially when point guards Marques Sumner, Brock Young, and Will McNeil aren't in the game. "{Handling the ball,} that's something that they tell me to do," said Antoine. "They tell me to run that point position, I'm probably the next best ball handler. I run the point at practice if we don't have a point guard."

Antoine's stats have improved tremendously, as he went from averaging 7-8 points to 18-22 points per game. He is either the team's leading scorer or second leading scorer on any given night, and the team would be a lot worse off without him. In addition, his defense has improved, as his steals per game jumped up from 0.7 to 1.1 His rebounds increased from 2.0 to 3.3 per game, and his assists have increased from 1.2 to 2.7 per game.

Resilience has been another factor that explains his improvement, as Antoine will not give up on a basketball court, no matter the odds. Once this season, the Firebirds were down by 30 points, but still came back to win the game.

When asked what he credits this season's success towards, Antoine said, "Just being dedicated and staying consistent and going to the gym and working out every day. Wanting to improve, knowing that I'm just going to have to improve."

So, why should Antoine be the 2022 TBL Most Improved Player?

"Clearly my stats show the role; I went from six to 20 points per game this season. The numbers are there, you can see the improvement. I don't know who else went from under 10 {points per game} to 20. That's why I should have it."

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