They came from across the country. Teenagers, young adults, regular guys in their mid-thirties--all with the dream of hoopin' for a living.
Last Friday through Monday, the International Basketball League, a new venture that hopes to grow into a developmental league for the NBA, held its first tryouts, staging a pre-draft camp at the University of Maryland. Nearly 330 players attended, paying between $200 and $250 apiece (depending on when they registered) for the opportunity to showcase their skills to team and league officials. The league will begin its first season in late November with teams in nine cities; the closest teams to the Washington area are in Richmond and Baltimore.
For some players, such as former University of Massachusetts guard Charlton Clarke and former Clemson University guard Tony Christie, the camp is a beginning to their professional careers. They hold reaching the NBA as their goal. If they play in the IBL, where annual salaries will range from $20,000 to $100,000, they hope it will only be a steppingstone.
For others, though, this is the closest they will get to pro ball without having to buy a ticket. Some are just out of college, several have been working other jobs while holding out hope they can make a living on the basketball court. Others, such as Donald Hemphill, 30, a hazardous materials specialist for Boeing in Pueblo, Colo., just want to see if they can make it.
Of the close to 330 players who worked out in College Park last weekend, only about 20 are expected to make the league. The rest went home with memories, the chance to say their games were evaluated by people like former University of Virginia and NBA star Ralph Sampson (general manager of the Richmond Rhythm) and, of course, the reversible black-and-white jersey that says "IBL Pre-Draft Camp."
If you just looked at the court and saw Matt Rosner, one of your first thoughts would probably be, "What is that guy doing out there?"
Dressed in black surfer shorts and wearing skateboard shoes, Rosner certainly did not dress like a basketball player. He also did not look like one; at 5 feet 6, he was the shortest player in the camp. But that last fact only gave him a better marketing approach--he told league officials that his height would help attract fans.
"If they really want to sell the league as a love-of-the-game thing . . . no one wants it more than me," he said. "The bottom line is if a team would take the risk, the results would be positive."
Rosner, 26, played at South Lakes High School in Reston with NBA all-star Grant Hill. After graduating from James Madison University, where he played on the tennis team for two years, Rosner worked for two sports marketing companies, started a cellular phone business and gave the pro tennis tour a try. That's when he decided he had to give basketball a chance.
When the NBA lockout was settled in January, Rosner flew to Chicago hoping to talk Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause into giving him a tryout because the Bulls had few players under contract. Krause said no thanks, so Rosner tried out for four teams in the United States Basketball League, including the Washington Congressionals. After hearing about the IBL and its pre-draft camp, Rosner wrote letters to team executives and league officials, hoping to spark some interest.
"I just hope to bug them enough so they see the name," he said.
But by Saturday night, Rosner's weekend was complete. He failed to make the first cut, leaving him with a long drive back to Front Royal, Va., where he and his wife moved into a new house last week.
"The real key for me is if you do what you love, only positive things will happen," he said.
The Three-Year Plan
Perhaps no player smiled more throughout the weekend that Dink Peters, a former All-Met from Potomac (Md.) High School who graduated from East Carolina University in 1998, then joined the Harlem Globetrotters for a few months.
Weight has been a problem for Peters, who said he was 340 pounds when he graduated from Potomac. He said he got down to 260 at East Carolina, but that he was depressed after things did not work out with the Globetrotters and put the weight back on.
For this camp, Peters was listed at 6-9, 290 pounds (though his friends joked that figure should have been "290-plus"), making him easy to spot. On Friday, Peters was easy to recognize because he was wearing his Globetrotters shorts--red and white vertical stripes, with blue waistband and white stars.
On the court, it nearly was impossible for opponents to stop Peters as he used his hulking figure to back in and work his way to the basket; for such a large man, he has remarkable touch and quickness. Also, Peters helped make himself noticeable with an array of screams and gyrations after plays he liked.
"I'm chasing my dream right now," Peters said. "If I have to start from the bottom up, not to say that this league is the bottom, but everybody has to start somewhere. I'm just trying to get in. I guess that is everybody's goal. I'm going to put my full effort in, then settle down and try to use my degree [in social work]."
Peters, 22, said he has a three-year plan to get to the NBA. And he knows it starts with dropping some weight and getting in better shape.
"I know I can do it," he said. "I have supreme confidence. If nobody else loves me, I love myself."
In the Mix, for a Bit
Wayne Davis said he had not played in an organized game in 19 years, and that he had not been in a competitive situation since he was a member of the freshman boys basketball team at John Marshall High School in Richmond. Still, after reading about the IBL in a newspaper, Davis felt he had a chance to become a professional basketball player. At 37, he was the oldest of the nearly 330 players attending the camp.
Despite his age, Davis seemed to have little experience. The 5-11, 199-pound guard seemed out of place, routinely losing his man on defense and struggling to keep up with the pace of the game. It didn't help that his teammates rarely passed to Davis; when he got the ball, he almost always shot and missed.
That's not to say that Davis, who works in the mail room of a marketing firm, was not noticed.
With his low-top, navy canvas shoes, wire-rimmed glasses, cotton shorts and calf-length two-striped socks, most of the players and scouts were aware of player No. 11.
"What he is trying to do is a dream," said Butch Beard, the general manager of the St. Louis Swarm and a former coach of the New Jersey Nets and Howard University. "Being in a situation and surroundings like this is a great experience for him. He can go back and tell the kids and grandkids that he tried out for a new league. It's good, but it's not realistic and he knows it."
Don't tell that to Davis. After playing in his first game Saturday, Davis said he thought he had a chance.
"I'm the type of person who really thinks positive despite the odds," he said.
When the first cuts were posted on Saturday night, Davis was among the first to leave the Ritchie Coliseum gymnasium to check the list. After seeing his name was not among the 240 to survive, he walked out of the building and went to his car, ready to make the two-hour trip home to his wife of eight months.
"It's been an experience," Davis said. "Now I know what these guys go through. If I hadn't tried, I never would have known if I would have made it."
Local Looks Inside
Most players, from the playgrounds to organized teams and leagues, dream of one day reaching the NBA. Not Darryl Prue. At least, not anymore.
The 32-year-old graduate of Dunbar High in Washington has made a living playing basketball; now, he would like to be able to do it a little closer to home. Prue, a 6-9 forward, spent last season playing in South Korea, where he made a decent salary and enjoyed the perks of playing overseas: paid room, board and transportation.
Since returning home to Fort Washington in March, Prue has been a substitute teacher at St. Patrick's Episcopal Day School in Northwest Washington and has coached an Amateur Athletic Union under-19 team. He also played one game for the Washington Congressionals of the United States Basketball League.
But Prue would like some stability in his life. And he would like to be able to play basketball in the United States. After all, in the Washington area, it is difficult to find scores from South Korea; it is nearly impossible if one can't read Korean while scanning the World Wide Web.
"I don't want to go overseas; I want to play in the States," said Prue, who added that when his playing days are over he would like to coach. "It doesn't have to be the NBA. But [the IBL] is offering what I was getting [in salary] overseas. Over there, it gets pretty lonely."
Prue did his best to get noticed in College Park. He consistently scored inside and displayed a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
"I've been playing pretty well," he said. "A lot of guys are athletic, but some of them don't know the game. You've got to know what you're doing."
The Next Step
Patrick Evans also looks at the IBL as a way to make a living. The 26-year-old Temple Hills resident played in Finland two years ago, then returned home for the summer and severely sprained his ankle. He gave up basketball and pursued a career in personal training. With his bachelor's degree in physical therapy from the University of Delaware, Evans has established himself as a trainer at a gym in Alexandria.
He said he enjoys the work and makes a good income. However, Evans said he is often at the gym from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m., and he would like to reduce his working hours before he gets married next year.
"If I'm getting married and I'm spending 16 hours a day at the gym," he said, "I can't spend that time with my wife."
Last winter, he was playing in a recreation league when one of his teammates sent a videotape of a game to Washington Wizards President Susan O'Malley, hoping that the local team might see Evans's talent. Evans said he received a phone call from Wizards director of player personnel Chuck Douglas, but nothing ever came of it.
Still, Evans said he believes his game has improved significantly since college, particularly because of his improved physical condition. He said he is in the best shape of his life. After playing in the AAU men's national championships two months ago in Des Moines, Evans said his confidence has grown every time he plays.
"I think I have a real good shot," he said. "Hopefully, the sky is the limit."
Just like the IBL wants it to be.
CAPTION: George Robinson dribbles past Wayne Davis, who at 37 was 19 years removed from his last organized basketball game.
CAPTION: The IBL candidates ranged in experience from a former U-Mass. guard (Charlton Clarke) to Wayne Davis, who had not played competitively for 19 years, but they gathered at the University of Maryland with one goal: To earn the attention of the IBL talent evaluators en route to a paid roster spot in the league that begins play in the fall.
CAPTION: Matt Rosner, center, joins huddle during scrimmage. Rosner, who played with NBA's Grant Hill at South Lakes High, has tried out for four USBL teams.
CAPTION: At rest, Dink Peters ices down. Peters was an All-Met at Potomac (Md.) High, played at East Carolina and had a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters.