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Summer League Springboard
by: Brian Gleason

With the 2003 Reebok Pro Summer League approaching it's time to dispel some summer league myths. We've heard that there are no exciting players that attend pro summer leagues, that all the players are undrafted rookies or B-list players trying to get a European or NBDL team to notice them. This myth is simply not true. Some of the most exciting young players in the NBA have used the Boston Summer League to springboard themselves into successful NBA careers.

NBA teams like to use the summer league to showcase their top young players and their recent picks from the June draft. Teams can spend the week working with and fine-tuning players that have been in the league a year or two and prepare them for a starring role, while draft picks get their first taste of NBA action and can show teams why they were selected so high in the draft.

Let's start by taking a look at the 2003 NBA Finals, the highest level of basketball in the NBA. The starting lineups alone featured three players, Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins of the Nets and Stephen Jackson of the Spurs that have laced them up at UMass Boston. Jefferson was recently named to the United States Olympic Qualifying Team and was seen in the summer league as recently as last summer. And if you watched the fourth quarter of Game 6, then you know that Speedy Claxton, a Boston Summer League graduate, played a huge role in the Spurs clinching their second NBA Championship.

But the list doesn't stop there. Take a look at the Milwaukee Bucks, who feature Michael Redd, a top candidate for the 2002-03 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award and Desmond Mason, the 2001 NBA Slam Dunk Champion. Both of which have showcased their skills in the Boston
J.R. Bremer guards Atlanta's 2002 first round draft pick Dan Dickau in last year's summer league.
Summer League and are considered some of the best young talents in the league. The Indiana Pacers have also had some of their top young players make the mid July trip to Boston. Al Harrington, who is poised for a breakout season in 2003-04, Austin Croshere and Jonathan Bender all got their start in the Boston Summer League.

The Seattle SuperSonics are another team that showcased some prime talent in the Boston Summer League. Rashard Lewis averaged 16.3 points per game in the 1999 summer league and is now a main cog in the future of the Sonics. In 2002-03 Lewis scored 18.1 points per game. Former Sonic Ruben Patterson, who now comes off the bench for the talented Portland Trailblazers, joined Lewis in the 1999 summer league.

And don't forget the hometown Boston Celtics who have taken advantage of the summer league. The Celtics have used the league to fine tune their young players such as Tony Battie, Walter McCarty and Kedrick Brown, while also discovering talents like Adrian Griffin, Mark Blount and 2002-03 Second Team All-Rookie selection J.R. Bremer.

Battie is a player who definitely benefited from the Boston Summer League early on in his career. Rookies usually struggle with the intensity of training camp and often arrive unprepared. It can be tough for a young player to learn a teams system and learn how hard he needs to work to become a better player. But Battie had the opportunity to play in the summer league and became prepared for what the NBA's regular season had to throw at him.

"It's a win win situation. You help yourself by playing against top competition and you get to work on your game in the offseason", commented Battie. "When the time rolls around for training camp you're in a little bit better shape and things come a little bit easier. It helps with your skills and conditioning, which stay with you throughout the summer. You become focused and learn what it takes to be where you need to be."

So when mid July rolls around and the ball gets thrown up at the 2003 Reebok Pro Summer League there will be plenty on young, exciting players preparing themselves for next season. You might not see Jason Kidd suiting up for New Jersey or Paul Pierce for the Celtics, but you can be sure there will be plenty of first round draft picks getting their first NBA runs and some future All-Stars preparing themselves to take their game to the next level in 2003-04.