The numbers are not encouraging for basketball players hoping to get drafted by a National Basketball Association team following a four-year collegiate career. Just 20 college seniors were selected in the 60-player draft, including only four in the first round — the first of whom, former North Carolina star Tyler Zeller, didn’t go off the board until he was picked 17th by the Dallas Mavericks.
With NBA teams constantly looking to find the next big thing amongst underclassmen and foreign-born youngsters, players with four years of college ball on their resume will continue to have trouble opening the eyes of general managers and talent evaluators. But by next spring, these seniors may have an opportunity to showcase their talents in a professional setting while playing in front of the same fans who rooted them on throughout college.
“The-BALL” (the acronym stands for “Basketball Alumni Legends League”) is scheduled to debut next spring in at least four markets along the east coast. Players — all of whom must either have a degree or be working towards completing it — will be assigned to teams in or close to their home markets. At its website, The-BALL lists eight potential franchises and the “designated schools” from which they will select players.
The-BALL will actually be unveiled next weekend, when it hosts a pair of exhibition games in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., respectively, on Saturday, August 4 and Sunday, August 5 on the campuses of Saint Joseph’s University and George Washington University.
The-BALL’s founder is Michael Wranovics, a Stanford alum who first noticed the lack of opportunities for graduated college basketball players when Arthur Lee, who led Stanford to the Final Four as a junior in 1998, went undrafted following his senior season and ended up playing professionally overseas.
“Just gobs and gobs of first- and second-team all-conference players never have a shot to play in the NBA and their careers are pretty much over after the fun runs out in college,” Mark Geddis, The-BALL’s director of media and business development, told TicketNews.
Geddis, a Syracuse native who used to work at Syracuse University, has an example of his own in Gerry McNamara, the guard who helped Syracuse win the national championship as a freshman in 2003 and later led the Orange to Big East titles in 2005 and 2006. But despite his stellar collegiate career, McNamara never played a minute in the NBA and bounced around lower-level leagues in America and overseas before retiring in 2009.
“Gerry McNamara, he’s a rock star in central New York,” Geddis said. “He walks around, people still ask him for his autograph. Outside of Syracuse, he probably couldn’t get a free Big Mac.”
While The-BALL’s organizers know participating in the league will not guarantee the next Lee or McNamara gets an opportunity in the NBA, it will at least provide such players the chance to play in actual games and give them additional “tape” to show NBA teams when seeking invitations to the NBA Summer League in July. The only pre-draft playing opportunities currently available for draft-eligible players are in invite-only combines held in various cities.
Fans, meanwhile, will get the chance to see favorite players in a familiar setting while also observing — and being a part of — experimentation on and off the court. Geddis said The-BALL is considering rule modifications such as a four-point shot from halfcourt, an “all or nothing” foul shot in which players will get one foul shot worth two points (instead of two foul shots worth one point apiece) and giving the ball to the defensive team whenever a “tie up” occurs instead of relying on the possession arrow to determine who has the ball.
While tickets will be inexpensive — the list prices for the exhibition games next weekend are $15 and $25 — Geddis said the league may offer premium seating areas as well as pre-game tailgate parties, the latter of which are normally associated with football games.
While the NBA is unquestionably the premier basketball league in the country, there have been no shortage of smaller basketball leagues that have been content to try and carve out a niche since the NBA absorbed the American Basketball Association after the 1976 season.
Between the timing of its schedule and desire to give overlooked players a place to showcase their talents, The-BALL is most reminiscent of the United States Basketball League, which played in the spring and summer from 1985 through 2007 and billed itself as “The League of Opportunity.” Future NBA stars such as Anthony Mason, Mario Elie, and Muggsy Bogues all got their start in the USBL.
“We can keep some of these guys playing [before] the draft, and it doesn’t have to be the just the one year out of college kids,” Geddis said. “Some of the kids will transition into the summer league program or they’ll just be that next fringe group that’s not committed to a roster.”
By Jerry Beach