Honestly, I don't know how long it's been going on, but with the NBA lockout going strong and tons of Indiana-based talent involved, the IUPUI-based Pro-Am league is a pretty big story this year here in Central Indiana. Of course, with JJ and Smooge both involved and kind of headlining the event, it matters to me...plus, as some of you have read here, I'm not much of a fan of the NBA. But, I am a huge fan of the athletes that represent my alma mater well- and Johnson and Moore have both done that. As a result, I really wanted to get to IUPUI's campus and see some good basketball and be around some of the best players in a more-intimate setting than the typical arena...Some of my goals were reached.
-The brand of basketball was pretty awful. It was a lot like a pick-up game at the co-rec...but instead of a bunch of try-hard guys playing, you had very skilled, world-class athletes running without much direction and little resistance from defense. That said, most co-rec games had some passion as guys like me really wanted to win just to scratch the competitive itch...that didn't seem to be the case from most of the guys on the court.
There were coaches, but they didn't do too much. Guys like ex-Purdue player, Brandon Brantley would orchestrate subs kinda...but I felt pretty bad for these guys. They were like substitue teachers at a high school, but with less power.
-Even with the makeshift lineups and passionless play, you could still see some guys shining. JJ exerted his will a few times in Game 2 and brought the crowd to its feet at least once with a strong finish. His teammate, Shelvin Mack looked for his shot and displayed some of what Butler fans enjoyed the last few seasons as his ole pal Matt Howard and he played some two-man ball.
Butler Sophomore, Chrishawn Hopkins did pretty much everything right in game 3- passing well, shooting well, hustling and throwing down some nasty dunks.
Pacer and former Bearcat, Lance Stephenson played a pretty damned mean iso game and was just physically intimidating when he decided to play hard.
After that, I honestly don't remember a ton of individual performers...other than IU SF, Will Sheehy putting on a display of impressive dunks as the court pretty much cleared for a dunk contest toward the end of Game 2.
-And speaking of Sheehy, this format creates some pretty odd combos...for instance: JJ and Smooge's team (E'Twaun didn't play tonight) had Jordy Hulls and Sheehy on the roster.
Gene Keady used to speak of how the AAU circuit weakened rivalries like Purdue v. IU because the kids all played together in the summers leading up to their college careers...and I think there's a lot of truth in that idea. This Pro-Am felt kinda like an AAU tourney on the next level. But, in this case, I guess it's nice that Sheehy & Hulls got to play with JJ- they seem to be big fans of his. Afterall, he's kind of been a teacher to both of them the past few seasons.
-The oddest part of the night was watching refs in NBA referee kits (as soccer fans call them) call these games in a half-assed manner. But after their games were over, some of them would retreat to top row of the not-too-tall stands to take it easy and even run the cameras that were filming the games.
-There was no shortage of hangers-on and handlers from the entourages of the big-time players in attendance...sadly and surprisingly, I was not able to find a way into the inner-circle and subsequent payroll of a locked-out millionaire.
Along with the guys that were there to play, there were a lot of faces in the hallways that I couldn't quite place, but knew that I recognized...some were ex-NBA players, others college stars...all pretty ginormous.
-LBD got to re-connect with JJ, who is always great with the kids that are fans...and specifically, my son...and I really appreciate that. JJ said that in spite of not being able to work in his chosen field just yet, he's doing well and enjoying time with his Mom & family back at home.
I'm glad I went tonight and appreciate all of the effort by the event's founder...but watching just made me look forward to football season even more.