This time last year, Dayne Downey was getting ready to start his dream of playing college basketball. After starring at Palisades Charter in Los Angeles, Downey enrolled at Santa Monica College, where he would play junior college ball for the Corsairs. If all went well, Downey hoped he could transfer to UCLA, USC or another Division I program down the road.

This August, Downey, 19, earned himself an MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year Award. Although, it wasn't for real basketball. In fact, it wasn't even as Dayne Downey. It was as OneWildWalnut and it was in the NBA 2K League.

While Downey was averaging 6.1 points in 22.7 minutes at Santa Monica last year, he was also putting in heavy hours training on NBA 2K18. Downey knew the NBA 2K League, a joint-venture between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive would be starting in spring 2018 and he also recognized he was one of the best players in the world.

"It's just the love of the game," Downey says. "I love basketball, in general. I'd get to practice and work my butt off, then shower and eat dinner, and play basketball in the virtual game. 

"My parents would give me crap for being in there for longer than I should and for playing the game and to be honest, sometimes the priority was 2K over school work. That's not always the right thing to promote and say. I could have been a much better student than I was and I was a 3.5, 3.6 GPA kind of guy. That's pretty good, but it could have been better. I just love the game so much. It's a lot of time dedicated to basketball and a love for what I do, but I made it all work."

OneWildWalnut was selected No. 6 overall by Blazer5 Gaming, a franchise owned and operated by the Portland Trail Blazers, in April. As the team's first-round pick, OneWildWalnut helped hand-select the rest of the team during the draft, notably taking fellow MVP finalist and former Pro-Am teammate MamaImDatMan (Nidal Nasser) in the second round.

"Before the season, people said I was going to be an MVP candidate and other people said that I was going to be a bust in the first round," Downey recalls.

OneWildWalnut was 18 when the NBA 2K League started, but in a league with no history or traditions, he quickly established himself as an elite player of the league. He led Blazer5 to a runner-up finish in the season's opening "The Tip-off Tournament," but it was the next two months that saw Portland's team take off. 

After losing "The Tip-Off" Final on May 5, Blazer5 did not lose again until June 29. During this run, OneWildWalnut's team went 11-0 -- 7-0 in the regular season and 4-0 in "The Turn" Tournament, the latter of which earned the squad a $75,600 payout (the team also won $25,000 in the "The Tip-Off").

Blazer5 finished the regular season 12-2 and has a total 2018 record of 21-4. OneWildWalnut finished first in the NBA 2K League in rebounds (13.2) and blocks (2.4). He was second in steals (2.4). He also averaged 21.1 points during regular season play.

"This is more of a team award than anything," OneWildWalnut said in his MVP acceptance speech. "We've had the No. 1 team all season. They gave me the ball in the paint when I want it. That's all I can ask for. I've got a great point guard. I have the best team in the world. I love it."

OneWildWalnut and Blazer5 Gaming will take on Knicks Gaming in the NBA 2K League quarterfinals Friday night. From there, if the team keeps winning, they'll play a best-of-three series in the semifinals Saturday and a best-of-three series in the finals the following weekend.

Meanwhile, back in Southern California, Downey's basketball teammates wait for his return. Although Downey took off spring semester, he plans on returning to school and to the basketball team in the fall.

"I'm still working hard when I'm on my off time in Portland," Downey says of his offseason, which is OneWildWalnut's main season. "I take advantage of it to stay in shape, keep my cardio in and to shoot some shots, do some drills. I'm still there, I'm still acting like it's a season, but I have big things going on in the NBA 2K League."

It's hard to argue with Downey keeping up his real-life basketball dream. After all, he somehow balanced training last winter to set himself up for an MVP season in the NBA 2K League.

"The latter part of the [NBA 2K League] combine was the latter part of my season for Santa Monica," Downey says. "I had a lot going on. I had one of my best games of the season. I had 23 points, 12 rebounds, both career highs for my college career, and then came right home and played the combine because the combine window, you know, I had to get it going."

Downey says his coaches at Santa Monica were supportive of his NBA 2K League goals, following his progress on Twitter. They have regularly sent him texts checking in this summer. 

As for his Corsair teammates, it took them some time to accept he was serious about the NBA 2K League.

"They kind of knew," Downey says of last basketball season. "There are some 2K heads on my college team. They kind of knew what was going on with the combine. They were kind of trying out themselves.

"Toward the end of the combine, I was like guys, 'This could be real. This could be a real thing. I'm gonna be in this league. My stats are so good, my record is good and I know I can present myself in the right way to the league to prove why I should be in it.' Once I made it they were like, 'Wow, this is sick.'"

NBA 2K League fans know OneWildWalnut as a fearsome two-way center. OneWildWalnut can hold down the paint on defense while powering by opponents on the offensive end.

But real-life Downey is a different player. He's listed at 6'3", 185 lb. and plays an undersized small forward game.

"My actual basketball player comparison is Marcus Smart: Undersized, scrappy, I play good defense for my size," Downey says. "I pride myself on being a good defender in the post against bigger players like Marcus Smart does."

"For 2K, I would say Andre Drummond," adds OneWildWalnut. "Just a terrific rebounder, knows where to be in the right places, good screen-setter, knows when to roll and especially this year, he really improved his defense."

For many NBA 2K League players, this year's competition has been a first step onto a large-scale stage. Of course, OneWildWalnut has dealt with crowds before. At both Palisades and Santa Monica, he played elite teams and players in hostile environments with notable sometimes famous figures in the crowd. After all, Steve Kerr's mother is a regular in the Palisades stands (Kerr is an alum).

"I played against Shareef O’Neal at Windward and I think that we lost by six, but he's the most notable name that I've played against," Downey says. "I matched up with him a little bit. I had a couple of plays where he was coming full speed at me and took a mid-range jumper, which he made, instead of just stiff-arming me and going to the rim. Shaq was there."


Downey has harnessed this type of experience into his life as OneWildWalnut.

"Just the competitive feel of it, just playing against someone 5-on-5 and having them be in the studio with you, it just brings the energy out in you, trying to get into people’s heads," he says. "It just translated easier than I expected. I was never nervous in the studio at all. I played in front of big crowds, so it was an easier transition than I expected."

Dayne Downey has long been on a path for basketball greatness. He didn't expect it to come necessarily virtually, but that's where he is at. 

And thanks to the scheduling, his real-life basketball dreams are still alive. His sophomore season is just on hold as he tries to win Blazer5 Gaming a championship.

Dayne Downey/OneWildWalnut's quotes were gathered from both a June appearance on "The 102 Pod," a ThePostGame Podcast, and his MVP acceptance speech at this past Saturday's NBA 2K League Awards.

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.