John Wall has confirmed that he will participate in a two-week summer league that famed trainer Joe Abunassar is organizing and plans to launch on Sept. 12 in Las Vegas. Wall has trained with Abunassar since he was preparing for the NBA draft last year, and is expected to be one of nearly 60 NBA players to take part in the latest effort to remain sharp and maintain that competitive edge during the lockout.
Players have managed to stay engaged in basketball this offseason, even as the league and the players’ union make no progress toward a resolution to the nearly three-month labor dispute. Some have played in pro-am leagues across the country. Others are training with their national teams in international tournaments and exhibitions. Some have secured contracts overseas with out clauses for whenever the NBA season returns. Others are even returning to college. The rest have stuck with their usual summer training routine.
The impasse has created an opportunity for Abunassar, the founder and head trainer at Impact Basketball. Dozens of NBA players have convened in Las Vegas for several years for training sessions and intense scrimmages — two or three times a day — with Abunassar before training camp. But Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley recently suggested to Abunassar that Impact should form an all-pro league with organized teams competing on a daily basis, with a set schedule and playoff games.
“I said, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” Abunassar said. “Once we did that, I’ve been getting calls from agents, players, saying, ‘I want a slot. I want a slot. I want a slot.’ It should be great.”
Hoopworld was first to report on the organized training sessions. Abunassar isn’t comfortable referring to it as “a league, because there are implications with that” but he still plans to have four games a day, five days a week. The structured games will adhere to NBA rules, have referees and a 24-second shot clock.
Wall has been one of the more active players in pro-am leagues this offseason, and recently participated in the highly-publicized battle between the local Goodman League and the Drew League at Trinity University last week. Wall scored 28 points in that game, declaring afterward that he was “back,” and is already waiting for another meeting. Wall wrote on his Twitter account this week, “Gotta have a rematch of La Drew league vs Dc Goodman league in La though!!”
No date has been set for a Goodman-Drew rematch. But, unlike those summer pro-am exhibitions, which featured some college, international and street ball players, the games in Las Vegas will only include NBA players. Abunassar is hoping to have a maximum of eight teams with no more than eight players per team. He wants to cut it off to just 64 players.
About 25 players currently train at Impact’s locations in Reseda, Calif., and Las Vegas, including Wall, Chauncey Billups, Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, Al Harrington, Corey Maggette and J.J. Hickson. Many other veterans, such as Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Tayshaun Prince, Monta Ellis, Josh Smith, Yi Jianlian, Glen Davis and Al Thornton have also trained at the facilities.
“Our business is training players and getting them ready for the season, even though we don’t know when the season will start,” he said. “This will be a great tool for them to play at a high level and get themselves in good shape.”
Several members of the Los Angeles Clippers trained with Abunassar last week in Los Angeles and he said Williams, Randy Foye and Blake Griffin spoke about possibly having their own team formed in the league. Nazr Mohammed is trying to get Kevin Durant and James Harden on board. And Abunassar said he expects Wall to reach out to some of his Wizards teammates to participate, which could give the league the feel of a mini-training camp. Nick Young and Jordan Crawford both work out at the Impact facility in Reseda.
“A guy like John, he’s going to get on the phone and get a couple of his teammates here, so they can play together,” Abunassar said. “The guys in Vegas, they are already dividing their teams. I’ve got this guy, I’ve got that guy.’ Because I’ve been with Chauncey for 14 years, so we kind of defer to guys like that, with how what do you think is the best way to do it. We’re really looking at how to divide the guys up. We’ve gotten more and more calls with higher and higher level players. There is a reason they are in the NBA, they love to play hard and compete.”
Abunassar has yet to decide if he will allow the public to watch the games, and is throwing around the possibility of using the games to help raise money for charity. He said he received the support of Derek Fisher, president of the National Basketball Players Association, and Roger Mason, a union vice president who trains at the Impact facility in Los Angeles.
“We do what we’re doing now anyway,” Abunassar said. “We’re expanding it now and had a tremendous response to guys wanting to come. It’s not a bad thing for them to come to Vegas, if they don’t mind coming. We’ve got the court. We’ve got the setup. It’s going to be great games and it’s going to be the best of the best competing against each other. It’s going to be competitive and I think it’s going to be fun and a service.”
The NBA is expected to have another negotiating session next week, but if the lockout becomes protracted, Abunassar said he would consider extending the sessions beyond two weeks. “I don’t think guys are going to play here the whole time,” Abunassar said, “but we’ll see how it goes and where we’re at. If it goes well, there is no reason to stop. We’ll just keep it going. We’re here for the guys.
“It’s not under the lights at Madison Square Garden, or D.C. or whatever, but it’s as close as we’re going to get,” he said. “I’m excited to be providing these guys with something as close to training camp as we can.”