Maurice Ager's second act

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
11:09
AM ET
Palmer By Chris Palmer
ESPN.com
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In the middle of the block on an historic street on the edge of Beverly Hills sits a two-story apartment house that looks like it could have been a set in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. After hitting a call button and announcing my arrival a slender man in gray sweat pants and a white muscle shirt answers the door.

“Welcome to the studio,” says former Michigan State guard Maurice Ager.

Ager, who took up residence in Los Angeles last spring, found this place through Westside Rentals and it’s become ground zero for the pursuit of his next career: hip-hop music producer.

At 27, the former 2006 first round pick of the Dallas Mavericks played just four games for Minnesota last season and is currently an unrestricted free agent. With basketball seemingly in his rearview mirror he envisions himself as the next Dr. Dre.

“With everything that’s going on in basketball I felt that it was the right time to come out here and try to do this full time,” says Ager. “Making music is something that’s always been in me. I feel like I have a talent for it and I’m going to try to make it work.”

Ager leads me past a sparsely furnished living room and an alcove kitchen to the back room of the apartment, which has dingy curtains, a John Lennon poster, various pairs of basketball sneakers and a lone microphone stand. At first glance it’s not what you’d expect a studio to look like.

In the corner of the otherwise unspectacular room is Ager’s reason for being -- an Open Lab’s Miko LXD music production station that houses a drum machine, mixer and keyboard with 37 keys. It set him back about $4,000. The unit is integrated with a desktop Mac on which he runs the music production application FL Studio, which is used by many of hip-hop’s top producers.

Ager will sit here for 10 hours a day, five days a week constructing beats, arranging instrumentals and experimenting with sounds all in the hopes that he will put together a track that will change the trajectory of his life and legitimize him in the eyes of the music community.

“I just sit here and grind,” he says. “This is where I want to be. Right here with the music.”

Ager’s musical roots run deeper than his basketball ones. He was raised in Detroit in a family that valued music almost as much as it did education. His mother, Mattie Ager, sang in a group called the Dayettes, a doo-wop quartet that harmonized on street corners. She passed up an opportunity to move to Los Angeles (and sign with Motown founder Berry Gordy) to get married and start a family. She married Melvin Rucker, an architect, who moonlighted as a drummer and keyboardist in a local band.

Ager’s parent’s would spin Motown records in the living room or play old 8-tracks in the family car. The O’Jays, Marvin Gaye, Anita Baker and The Commodores were the sounds that filled the house.

“When I was five I was much more interested in playing with a keyboard than toys,” says Ager. “It was something that was extremely fun for me back then.”

Ager made his first beat in high school, about the time he was averaging 24 points, seven rebounds and four assists as a senior at Detroit’s Crockett High School.

In a friend’s basement, he put together some drum sounds and recorded it on a tape deck. “It sounded like some crap,” he says. “First one was just terrible.”

At Michigan State he would sometimes stay up to four in the morning experimenting with instrumentals, much to the amusement of his freshman roommate, former Clipper Paul Davis.

Success often depends heavily on who you know. Through NBA circles Ager was able to make a handful of contacts but not enough to launch the type of producing career he had envisioned.

When he got to Los Angeles there was work to do.

He made the rounds on the social scene going to parties and events where he thought he could make connections that could lead to career opportunities. Sometimes he’d meet contacts at other studios, the mall or even restaurants.

“I could meet somebody walking down the street,” he says. “You never know where it’s going to happen but you have to be ready.”

“People think just because I played basketball that it would all come easy to me but I had to work my way up from the bottom just like everybody else,” Ager says. “You have to hustle and let people know what you’re doing. They have to see you and eventually word will get around.”

“I’m still working. I’ve still got to prove I’m a dope producer.”

After a while word began to spread about Ager’s keen ability to combine smooth bass lines with jumpy staccato beats splashed with easy percussion which gave his tracks a soulful Detroit flavor.

In July, his hustle paid off when he signed a non-exclusive deal with 50/50 Konvict Muzik, a label started by pop singer Akon that specializes in up-and-coming artists. He recently produced a track for 10-year-old rapper Bentley Green, who became an Internet sensation several years ago with his Tupac cover ‘Hey Mama’. Ager’s album of beats called “M.A.P. HIP-HOP Instrumentals Vol. 1” is available on iTunes.

His basketball future is a bit more uncertain. He’s played little basketball this summer forgoing workouts at UCLA and the famed Drew League for cardio in the celeb filled canyon trails of Hollywood.

The question of basketball is a tough one for Ager. Given the opportunity he isn’t certain he would attend a camp if an offer was extended. But he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of training camp with the Lakers or Clippers. He says his days in the D-League are pretty much done. After 82 career NBA games in four seasons with an average of 2.1 points the writing may very well be on the wall.

But there are those who think Ager, who earned a rep as a likeable teammate and still possesses quality athleticism, could find a home. An L.A.-based trainer who hasn’t worked with Ager but is familiar with his game believes so. “He’s still got some basketball left in him,” says the trainer. “He’d have to find the right fit but there’s certainly a possibility.”

But right now Ager is content trying to forge a path in a new profession. Things are going well enough where the NBA’s dollars aren’t the siren song they use to be. Once he aspired to be like Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas. Now it’s music producers like Swizz Beatz, Just Blaze, Boy Wonder and DJ Khalil who inspire him.

Being in the Konvict stable, the idea of someday producing tracks for Akon protégé Lady Gaga is a reasonable dream that’s replaced making an NBA All-Star team.

“I’ll get there some day,” said Ager as he sat in his makeshift studio. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Chris Palmer

ESPN the Magazine

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