<< Don't pass this up!

By Sam Rubinroit, 12, Malibu HS
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At the SPL, there are players from around the world. It is sometimes hard for them to understand what the coach instructs, since the players are the products of diverse cultures. In the language of sports though, there is no confusion. If the referee blows the whistle, the players know to stop. If he raises his hands in a "T" shape above his head, they know it is a timeout. You can be Chinese and playing basketball in Poland, and still know if you are being called for traveling.

"Basketball is a universal language," said Bryan Finley, a guard for the American Basketball Association’s team the Gwinnet Gwizzlies. His advice for kids playing basketball is, "When in doubt, just shoot it."

But what brings the players here?

"I just love the game," Baron Davis said when asked why he comes. Bo Outlaw, a player who usually wears glasses, didn’t wear them while in a game because he said that he didn’t care about getting hurt, and was just playing.

Players, scouts, and NBA reps. are drawn to this particular Summer Pro League for more than basketball. After all, if they want to work and watch some great basketball, why not come to L.A.? It is always sunny and everyone agrees that the Long Beach SPL is better than all the other ones elsewhere. While the people play or watch, their families can go to Disneyland, Universal Studios or just hang at the beach. The players also say that this is most well-run league, and that the top scouts come here.

The Long Beach Summer Pro League is the longest running independent Summer League. It opened in 1970, and it is currently run by lawyer John Younesi. Some people must wait and climb the corporate ladder and work for years to obtain ownership. John, however, says, "Well, I actually represented the league when I was a lawyer, and it just worked out after a period of time that it made sense for me to become the owner and I acquired ownership of it about a dozen years ago."

For the "fame-hungry" young players, two weeks at the SPL may be the meal ticket to the NBA. Magic Johnson summed up the importance of the SPL as a place for guys who have no other place to showcase their talent by simply stating, "Thank God for the Summer League." But how can you get a place at the table? There are five ways to qualify for the league:

First, for the most talented (and luckiest), they have already been drafted out of college, or these days maybe even out of high school by one of the NBA teams that competes at the SPL. You don’t have to be drafted to play on an NBA team, because some of the players that are on the NBA teams are prospects that the organization wants to give a little more time to develop.
Magic Johnson explains, "One thing the Summer League does is tell you where you are, what you’re lacking and what you need to work on."

Second, you were so good that you were chosen to play on your country’s national team, where you were a standout and have been invited to participate on one of the SPL teams. This is hard, because if you are here in America reading this paper, you probably are from the U.S., and aren’t on another country’s national team.

Third, you qualify for "Direct Entry." This means you were invited to one of the post-season camps such as the Portsmouth Invitational, Desert Classic or Chicago Pre-Draft, played well in last year’s Summer Pro League, or played on a foreign country’s equivalent to an NBA team. The equivalent to a NBA team is different than playing on your country’s national team. You could be from America, but play on Holland’s equivalent. The cost of Direct Entry varies, but it costs either $380 for early entry, and $405 for late entry.

Fourth, you can get into the League through the tryout camp on July 5-8. The tryouts are a mix of tests, practices and games. For a $305 fee, you go through a four-day camp, and, at the end, a coach that is assigned to you provides a detailed written evaluation of your best skills and what you need to work on. "It’s not an overly moneymaking proposition for us, but it gives the kids a chance, and they get seen by directors of player personnel from a number of teams, they get evaluated, and if they are good enough, they get to play in the [Summer Pro] League itself," says SPL owner John Younesi.

Fifth and finally, you can get picked by a sport’s agent to play on a team he organizes to spotlight players he believes to have great promise. If you attract interest from a NBA or foreign team, the agent receives a share of your salary. This is a good way to get in, because then you have already practiced together. Most teams outside of the NBA don’t know who is going to be on their team until late, but the teams already put together have good chemistry and are ready to play.