Tucson is a basketball town; of this there is no doubt. It actually has been for as long as anyone can remember, and for those who have been here 20 years or less, I can state unequivocally that it was a basketball town long before Lute Olson showed up in the desert.
Part of the way to recognize a basketball town is to check out how much ball is being played in the off-season, especially during the summer. Obviously, a lot of Tucsonans prefer to stay indoors during the summer, but that doesn't account for the incredible number of local camps, leagues and pickup games. And this summer, Tucson's hoop quotient has increased geometrically with the inception of the Tucson Pro-Am Basketball League at the Jewish Community Center.
The brainchild of former Wildcat Corey Williams--who is now playing professionally in Belgium--the league brings together professional, college, prep and city-league players in a format that is sanctioned by the NCAA and the NBA and allows fans to see their favorites of the past, present and future up close and FOR FREE!
The league features eight teams, each sponsored by a local business. There are two games each on Wednesday and Thursday nights and four games on Sundays. There is seating for about 500 people, and the place is packed every night. It's definitely THE place to see and be seen.
I went opening night, not really knowing what to expect. The place was electric. People started showing up two hours before game time. Kids were bringing balls and jerseys to be signed; a few players were shooting around; and Corey Williams was trying in vain to use a special kind of tape to mark the NBA three-point line.
Jim Storey and Ben Hansen were doing a live, remote broadcast of their sports talk show on 1490 AM. As long as there are passionate sports geeks like this in the world, all that opera and ballet crap will remain on the far fringes of society.
Here's how strong the appeal of the league is: My high-school girls' basketball team was playing in a summer league a couple weeks ago. We played our game and then had a chance to play another one because one of the teams scheduled to play the later game didn't show up. I asked my kids if they wanted to play another game, and they all gave me this look like they had intestinal gas or something. Finally I asked, "What's the deal? You guys are usually ballers. Why don't you want to play?"
One finally said, "We sort of have plans. We're going to the JCC."
"What for?" I asked.
"To look at all the hot guys," one explained, in a tone that had "you idiot" in unspoken parentheses at the end of the sentence.
Then one of the girls remembered her manners and asked, "Do you want to come along?"
I said, "I used to be a lifeguard at Malibu Beach. I've seen a lifetime's worth of hot guys."
So the next day, one of the girls comes back and says she'd had a conversation with a ballplayer who will remain unnamed (and NOT because he said or did anything inappropriate; his identity just isn't important to the story). She was all happy because he had been polite, and they had spoken several complete sentences to each other.
As it happens, I had to take my son to a dentist's appointment the next day, and there, in the waiting room, was that very guy. We started talking basketball, and then I told him that he had spoken to one of my players a couple nights earlier. Then I told him, just to goof on her, that I was going to tell her that I had told him that she was only 12 years old (she's actually 15). He laughed and shrugged.
That night, I told her that I had seen the guy and had told him she was 12. She was mortified. She asked why I would say that, and I said, "It doesn't matter. He's not gonna differentiate between 12 and 15. It ain't like he's R. Kelly or something."
Is it any wonder why my kids play hard for me?
The league should reach a fever pitch in a couple weeks. Former Wildcats Luke Walton and Richard Jefferson will be doing a camp together at Catalina High School the weeks of July 19-22 and 26-29, and both should play in the games at the JCC. The camp brochure at lwrjbballcamp.com says that each day there will be a guest speaker for an hour. Bill Walton is scheduled to speak, and I'm tempted to go watch, just to see if he can limit himself to talking for only an hour.
Until those two arrive, it's safe to say that Miles Simon remains the runaway favorite of fans of all ages. Channing Frye, with his easygoing manner and approachability, is very popular. And coming on strong is UA recruit Daniel Dillon from Australia. According to my players, he's a hot guy, and he has an accent, which I guess makes him a Hotter Guy. You read it here first.