June 7, 2012 in Professional
In my introductory post when BallinMichigan launched, I mentioned that one of my greatest disappointments in my short newspaper career is that by the time I’d made it to the Flint basketball beat, I was about a generation too late. One of the staples that old-timers in Flint still reminisce about is the old summer pro-am league, which was at one of the best in the region at one time. Flint and Saginaw greats like Jason Richardson, Morris Peterson, Mateen Cleaves and Charlie Bell all played. Urban legends like the great Cory Hightower, who most of the Flint pros will still insist is the best Flint player they ever played against, emerged with unreal summer performances. Even Detroit Pistons players like Chucky Atkins, Ben Wallace and a few others made occasional appearances.
Sadly, paralleling the plight of the rest of the city, Flint basketball has deteriorated over the years and the pro-am eventually became dormant despite the fact that Flint actually still has a pretty impressive collection of professional players excelling overseas.
Keenan Gray, a Beecher graduate, is working to bring high-level summer basketball back to Flint, and he has a couple of Flint’s big names helping him — Marquise Gray and Antonio Smith. From Eric Woodyard of MLive:
“Hopefully, we will have the best players around for people to see,” Gray said. “I know if we get it started this year, then it will be easier for years to come.”
Second Chance Church aims to give youth a place to be safe on the weekends. Kids will get the chance to spend time with professional athletes who will mentor them with encouragement.
Both Gray and Smith are spearheading the charge. They have started by recruiting Flint’s top overseas basketball talents like Lamar Rice, Kelvin Torbert, Thad McFadden, Cory Santee, Kevin Tiggs, William “Bean” Hatcher, JuJuan Cooley and several others to join the league.
“This league will be more involved with the community,” Marquise Gray said. “What we’re trying to do is set it up where more inner-city youth will get involved in what we’re doing.”
It’s certainly a worth undertaking and God knows Flint could use a positive and affordable place for kids to spend time over the summer. The pro-am always helped fill some of that void. But at the same time, I hope the Flint guys participating in this league doesn’t take away from Desmond Ferguson‘s Moneyball Pro-Am in Lansing. Last season, two rosters were full of Flint players in that league and there was incredible talent from all over the state on display in those games. It would a great asset for basketball in the state as a whole if Michigan had one huge, great pro-am that featured all or most of the state’s best professional and college players, similar to some of the famous ones around the country like the Drew League in California or the Rucker Pro-Am in New York. The Lansing pro-am seems to be growing, so hopefully the efforts in Flint don’t take away from a good thing that’s being built in Lansing as well.