In the weeks before the NBA draft, former Georgetown basketball players Jason Clark and Henry Sims were at Verizon Center auditioning for the Washington Wizards. It was one of many pre-draft workouts for the recent graduates who were seeking to catch on at the next level.
Then draft day came and went, with the NBA bypassing both and leaving them few options to continue their basketball careers.
It was around that time they learned about the Basketball Alumni Legends League (The-BALL) intended to give players in similar circumstances an opportunity to pursue their on-court aspirations while remaining relatively close to home.
Still in the nascent stages, The-BALL’s soft launch is planned for next summer, and a full schedule in prominent East Coast basketball cities such as the District, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond and Charlotte is to be in place the following year. The-BALL operates only in the summer to accommodate players who also may play overseas or in the NBA’s D-League.
The inaugural games, meantime, are taking place this weekend in a showcase between teams representing the nation’s capital and Philadelphia. The District beat Philadelphia, 113-93, on Saturday afternoon at George Washington; the second game is Sunday night at Saint Joseph’s University.
The District team comprises former players from Georgetown, including Clark and Sims; Maryland, George Washington and George Mason. Former players from Saint Joseph’s, Temple, Villanova, LaSalle and Drexel make up the Philadelphia team.
“It’s always fun being out there, being around those guys,” said Clark, who scored a game-high 20 points. “The jokes never end, even while we’re on the court. Definitely playing with the former players is always cool.”
The-BALL’s founder is Michael Wranovics, a Stanford MBA whose inspiration came from watching former Cardinal star Arthur Lee. The point guard directed Stanford to the Final Four in 1998 but went undrafted and has played for 14 European teams in 10 countries.
“Seeing that he didn’t get picked, it just really amazed me, and I started to wonder about how many Arthur Lees were out there all around the country,” Wranovics said. “My research basically concluded there were players like this in pretty much every Division I program in the nation.”
Those players include Jai Lewis, Folarin Campbell and Will Thomas, all members of George Mason’s Final Four team in 2006, none of whom made it to the NBA. John Gilchrist was among the former Maryland players who played for Team D.C., and GW had all-time scoring leader Chris Monroe as a representative.
The-BALL also is intended to encourage players to pursue their undergraduate degree. Those without college diplomas will be required to re-enroll in at least one class toward completing graduation requirements in order to participate.
“We want this to be life beyond basketball for the players,” Wranovics said. “It would be great for these players to finish, and a lot of our guys will have already graduated. We’re focused on four-year college players. These are the guys who are the overachievers, the guys the fans really got to know over those four years. It’s the whole idea of local star power that we think will give us advantages in each of the markets.”