The way Jerry Weber sees it, elitism is a necessary evil in summer league college basketball.
Weber, founder and director of the Southern California College Open Basketball League, accepts only the area's best college-eligible athletes to play run-and-gun basketball from mid-June through mid-August at Morningside High in Inglewood.
"It's snobbery," said Weber, who has been involved in community basketball for 20 years, "but if the players aren't good enough they don't get in."
Twenty dollars is all a player needs to try out for Weber's 12-team league sanctioned by the NCAA. To play he needs enough talent to compete with some of the nation's best Division 1-A cagers.
Now in its fourth year, the SCCO includes UCLA sophomore center Greg Foster, Loyola senior guard Corey Gaines, USC freshman guard Anthony Pendleton and Pepperdine sophomore forward Tom Lewis. Lesser known players with comparable talents represent smaller Los Angeles schools and eastern colleges. According to NCAA rules, all players must live or play basketball for an institution within 100 miles of the league site.
Peek through the doors at Morningside's gym on any Tuesday or Thursday night, Saturday or Sunday afternoon and you'll see a variety of slams, jams and whirling-dervish drives to the basket. It's Showtime on a small scale.
"There's not much structure to the games," said the 6-foot-7 Lewis, who transferred to Pepperdine from USC last season. "It's kind of like pickup games. Whoever gets the ball shoots most of the time.
"It's probably more fun the way we play, but it'd probably help us more if we played a more structured game because no college coach would let their players roam free like they're doing here."
Instead, college coaches come to Morningside to observe the fast, above-the-rim game. Recently USC Coach George Raveling, Washington Coach Andy Russo and Loyola Coach Paul Westhead reclined on the bleachers for a Thursday night match-up between Molten America, featuring Loyola brothers Mike and Stephen Yoest, and Say No, a team with six USC players.
Weber said the Ravelings, Russos and Westheads like to evaluate their players. But the players' performances have to be taken with a grain of salt because the SCCO uses NBA rules not found in college play, such as the 24-second shot clock and mandatory man-to-man defense. The absent zone defense opens the larger key for big-man gymnastics. And the shot clock?
"I don't think the clock has gone off at all, except maybe once," said Foster.
The up-and-down game makes the shot clock unnoticeable, as 48-minute contests consistently reach scores of 100 or more. Set offense is a rarity. Spectacular offense is the norm.
The tallest players muscle for position and rebound while the guards blaze down court. The 6-10 Foster, who blocked 24 shots in 31 games last year at UCLA, plays to stay in shape and works on fundamentals if he gets the chance.
"People come out to slam the ball, run and excite the crowd, even though those are the wrong reasons to be out here," he said. "Everybody should be working on skills, but everybody comes out here to jive around, show off and have fun."
Except Weber. He runs the league because he wants to give talented athletes a chance to be noticed, and he enjoys the friendly atmosphere his league generates.
His objectives may be refreshing. But Weber, clad in jacket and tie as he attends games six days a week, three devoted to his NBA Pro-Am league, often looks weary from managing logistics and keeping 18-hour days.
Money doesn't rouse him. He is president of SCE TV, a sports television company, but says that offers few returns. The SCCO needs $18,000 to function, and he said breaking even is difficult. No problem, though.
"I've never taken a penny out (of my leagues) and I don't want to. I do it because it's not a business. I love basketball and working with kids."
The NCAA prohibits outside college leagues from charging admission, making the SCCO a bargain for the basketball junkie. Weber, an addict himself, follows NCAA rules religiously and believes his league is perhaps the best in the nation. His is a humble elitism.
"I charge a one-time, $20 tryout fee. That's the equalizer," he said. "That's why I get all the talent because some of these guys couldn't play summer ball if they had to pay."
Three or four SCCO teams do pay $1,000 to play, forcing each player to lay out $100 unless the team is sponsored. These teams bypass a six-hour draft because their coaches have already determined who they want. The players don't mind paying, according to Orange County Coach Pat Barrett, since the money assures them playing time other teams cannot offer due to larger rosters.