Basketball's winding road is almost always a jolt.

Elite players spend their youth in a straight line upward. Middle school, high school, AAU ball, college.

Then the NBA issues a reality check. Thousands of players worldwide are chasing a dream, grinding as hard as they can to grab one of 450 roster spots.

When Carlon Brown graduated from Colorado in 2012, he thought he was a realist.

"I had played pretty well in the NCAA Tournament and I had played pretty well toward the end of the season," he said. "So I thought I had an outside shot at cracking a roster, making a team."

Denver Nuggets Carlon Brown (15) heads down court during practice July 8, 2014 at Pepsi Center before the start of summer league play.
Denver Nuggets Carlon Brown (15) heads down court during practice July 8, 2014 at Pepsi Center before the start of summer league play. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)

It was a level-headed assessment. The former Buffs standout guard knew it would be tough to make an NBA roster but didn't rule himself out of being able to make that jump. Golden State brought him to training camp in 2012, but cut him. Then reality hit. He ended up with the Idaho Stampede in the D-League, but he didn't play.

"Once I got in the D-League and I wasn't playing my first month and a half it was tough," Brown said. "It was times where I was like: 'I don't know if I can be here. I don't know if I want to put my time in this if I'm not getting (playing) time and able to show what I can do.' "

Then he was traded to the Santa Cruz Warriors. But along with the switch in teams came a change in mind-set.

"Once I got traded, I just snapped into a no-holds-barred, 'you have to attack every moment' (attitude)," Brown said. "That moment sparked me, and it carried me to my season last year overseas. And it's going to carry me the rest of my career. There's no looking back, no turning back."

Brown played the 2013-14 season with Hapoel Tel Aviv in Israel, and he played well. NBA decision-makers wanted to see more consistency, and he answered by averaging 19.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He played with confidence and aggressiveness.

In the process, he gained a new appreciation for how tough it is to the make it to the NBA.

"It's been a humbling experience," Brown said. "Nonetheless, I'm appreciative and I respect everybody that's in the NBA, because it's not easy."

He's with the Nuggets this summer to chase his dream, to show he can consistently hit the NBA 3-pointer, to show that the stage isn't too big for him, that he can play either guard spot. A good showing with the Nuggets' summer league team in Las Vegas could earn him an invite back to an NBA training camp this fall, even if it's not in Denver.

He's back to chasing his NBA dreams, and he's doing it with no regrets.

"I've learned that in this game, your window is very small depending on what position you play," Brown said. "If you're a big man, you've got a little extended period because there's not a lot of 7-footers or 6-10 guys walking around.

"But 6-3, 6-4, there's a ton of us. So I really have to separate myself any way that I can. I'm 24, maybe I have one or two years left — unless I get the Chris Copeland story (of success of another ex-CU player who eventually made it to the NBA after years). I'll take that. But right now I'm going to give it my all these next two weeks and see what comes out of it."

Christopher Dempsey: cdempsey@denverpost.com or twitter.com/dempseypost