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Summer Pro League Features NBA Stars, High Draft Choices on Their Way Up and Unknowns Taking a Last Shot at Fame and Cash : A Midsummer Cage Dream

August 14, 1986|ALAN DROOZ | Times Staff Writer

The Southern California Summer Pro Basketball League isn't for everybody.

There are no Soviet or Yugoslavian draft choices. There are no women players. There are no playground hotshots who sneaked in or 40-year-olds trying to make a comeback. There are no high school referees trying to earn summer spending money.

What the league has is real players--draft choices, young pros sharpening their games, hungry free agents hoping to be discovered--real coaches and real referees.

The league, which finishes its season at Loyola Marymount University this weekend, has National Basketball Assn. affiliation, with eight NBA teams represented. There are several high NBA draft choices playing this summer, along with some established pros.

You'd Better Be Good

The caliber of play, league officials and players said, is the next-best thing to the NBA.

"You can't walk off the street and play in this league," said league President Larry Creger. "You can't walk off the street and coach in this league. It's the closest thing to the NBA except the NBA itself.

"More than 100 players from last year are playing professional basketball somewhere. We feel most good about those who make it into the NBA itself--guys like Larry Spriggs, Mark Iavaroni, Jeff Lamp.

"This year is the best talent ever in the league."

The summer league began in Los Angeles in 1970 and expanded steadily after Creger--a former assistant coach with Bill Sharman in the American Basketball Assn. and a longtime scout for several NBA teams--bought the operation in 1980.

Why They Compete

The league provides a threefold opportunity to players:

- It gives veterans a chance to stay sharp and be seen in the off-season.

- It gives draft choices their first exposure in an NBA atmosphere, usually under the tutelage of one of the team's coaches. Lakers Coach Pat Riley got his first head coaching experience in the summer league.

- And it gives free agents a chance to land a job. The league is scouted extensively, not only by nearly every NBA team but by dozens of international scouts and representatives of the Continental Basketball Assn., which has evolved into a minor league for the NBA.

The league's most valuable player last season was Lakers guard Byron Scott, who is playing again this summer. Past MVPs have included Herb Williams, Lafayette Lever, Roy Hinson and Bernard King, all starters in the NBA.

Laker Top Pick Playing

This year's players include Lakers No. 1 draft choice Billy Thompson and second-year man A. C. Green, Charles Oakley and Sidney Green of the Chicago Bulls, Leon Wood of the Washington Bullets and No. 1 draft choices Walter Berry, the college player of the year out of St. John's, and Scott Skiles, the Michigan State All-American. Lakers guard Michael Cooper has also played and Clippers forward Marques Johnson may appear in this weekend's playoffs.

The represented NBA teams include some of the league's elite: Lakers, Bulls, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers. There are also two teams of loosely bunched NBA veterans.

Creger said it is no accident that the most successful NBA teams take the summer league seriously. "That's why they win--they work," he said. "I can't understand why the other teams aren't here. The teams who are here are the successful teams in the league."

The league is filled out by 10 teams of free agents.

Chance for Free Agents

The number of players seeking to get into the league has grown so large that Creger now runs a pre-league tryout camp. The best free agents are chosen to fill out the rosters. They come from everywhere--large and small colleges, European and other international leagues, the CBA.

Their games, usually played earlier in the day in the league's four-games-a-day format, often draw more scouts than fans. Creger said more than 50 non-NBA scouts had shown up by last week.

He said the free agents "see this as the mecca of professional basketball in the summertime. We get most of the better free agents from all over the country. They know it's the only (summer) league where the scouts come in any large number."

Free agents range from three players under 5-10 to 7-3 Rogue Harris out of the University of Hawaii. There are unknown players from places unknown--when was the last time you saw Lincoln Memorial University of Harrogate, Tenn., on TV?--and American players who have put in time overseas, including former St. Bernard High star Butch Hays.

Former Gardena Star

One of the free agents trying out is Gardena High graduate Deon Richard, who was a star on the small-college NAIA level at Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego. The 6-6 forward, known for his jumping ability and defensive prowess, was dominant on the small-college level and is showing he can play with the big boys.

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