Davis, Pippen among those at Young H.S. for debut of new pro-am basketball league
BY PATRICK Z. MCGAVIN For Sun-Times Media June 15, 2013 9:26PM
Updated: June 16, 2013 6:02PM
Anthony Davis proved it is possible to come home again.
The former Perspectives-MSA star returned with former Kentucky teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to formally launch a new edition of a Nike-backed Pro-Am league called Chi-League at Young Saturday afternoon.
The 10-team, nine-week league is an effort to recapture the golden era of Chicago’s Pro-Am culture when Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre and other top college players showcased their game, for free, before adoring crowds at Illinois Institute Technology and Chicago State in the late 1980s.
Games started on Saturday and proceed through the end of the summer at Young. With each team carrying as many as 15 players, the summer league is designed as a hoops bonanza. Saturday was just the drop of the curtain. Current NBA players are restricted until July 1 to participate in summer league games.
By stitching together NBA, professional aspirants and elite college and high school players, the free form league offers a thrilling chance to see players, like Simeon star and Duke-recruit Jabari Parker, battle seasoned-college players, as he did Saturday afternoon.
It offers the rare ability to see different eras and generations collide.
“It was a way for me to keep my game crisp,” the two-time Mr. Basketball winner said. Parker is part of the Mac Irvin Fire team made up of players who started for the iconic Nike-club affiliated program in the last five years. “It also gives you a chance to play against older guys and adjust to the physical style of play.”
Parker played with Curie star senior center Cliff Alexander, a top-five nationally-rated player.
Young star center Jahlil Okafor, the country’s top prospect for 2014, is expected to join the team after participating with US national team. Other former Public League stars, such as Wayne Blackshear of national champion Louisville, are also preparing a run for the team.
Young itself was transformed. A special black-wood surface was installed and the center court was emblazoned with a Chi-League logo. A 140-foot LED video screen was also installed at courtside.
Former Bulls’ great Scottie Pippen joined Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist. Before the festivities were formally unveiled, the three spoke to a select group of some 70 local high school players from 20 different area schools Saturday morning.
Pippen’s story as a lightly-recruited role player and former team manager who wound up at Central Arkansas whose emergence keyed the Bulls’ six championships served as a tale worth emulating. “I think what I tried to stress is the feel good confidence of taking part in something like this,” Pippen said.
“You don’t have to be a superstar. You can be that ninth, 10th or llth man, and still work and try to get something out of it.”
Pippen’s trajectory paralleled that of Davis. The No. 1 pick of the 2012 NBA draft of the recently rechristened New Orleans Pelicans, Davis dominated college basketball in powering Kentucky to the NCAA national title 15 months ago. His return home occasioned his own reflections on his remarkable rise.
Three years ago, Davis was an unknown player. His high school did not even have its own gym. After he grew some nine inches, the 6-11 power forward emerged as the country’s top prep player in 2011 despite the fact his Perspectives-MSA team lost nearly twice as many games as it won his senior year of high school.
His defensive dominance and rapidly-improving offensive game was the lynchpin of Kentucky’s blitz through the 2012 national tournament. He is regarded, like Derrick Rose, as a bright light of the NBA’s future.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Davis said. “I had a great support system with my family. Definitely, there were times I wish I had some of same opportunities, as far as access to elite skill camps, like what we’re doing now.”
Davis said he was uncertain whether he would play in the games after the July 1 moratorium. Kidd-Gilchrist announced he would play. Davis said he is excited by the possibilities. “I’m excited to see the new guys evolve on the court,” he said.
“I can’t wait to get it started.”