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Let the Games Begin
Shaw's Pro Summer League changing the face of summer basketball

By Reagan Berube

Mark Blount played his way onto the Celtics' roster at last year's Shaw's Pro Summer League.

It wasn't long ago that summer basketball leagues simply served as stopovers for caravans of basketball vagabonds. These road-tested players would perform for days in barren gymnasiums or on sweltering black tops in an attempt to earn a preseason tryout with an NBA team.

With a record number of players passing up a traditional four-year college career, most do not immediately have the tools necessary to compete in the NBA night in and night out. So as the dynamics of the NBA have changed, so too have the role of these summer leagues, particularly here in Boston.

Now entering its third season, the Shaw's Pro Summer League has led the way in taking summer basketball to a new level. Rather than constructing rosters full of obscure names you may only recognize from past NCAA tournaments, the league's 10 competing teams now bring regular season players, complemented with some of the most highly touted selections from the 2001 NBA Draft.

Take the Celtics for example. In the past, Boston has used the Shaw's Pro Summer League to farm out ten or more players recognized for being overachievers in the minor leagues.

But not this year. The host team enters the seven-day league with arguably the most talented roster, highlighted by three of its 2001 First Round draft choices -- Joe Johnson of Arkansas, Kedrick Brown of Okaloosa-Walton C.C. and Joe Forte of the University of North Carolina. Combine these three collegiate stars with three of Boston's everyday regular season roster players -- Mark Blount, Milt Palacio and Jerome Moiso -- and you have the foundation for an exciting squad that promises to put points on the board.

"Our effort this year will be geared for our first- and second-year players," said Celtics Director of Player Personnel Leo Papile. "We want to get our coaches and the fans a look at what we think is terrific young talent. We are going to go up-tempo. Johnson will play both guard and forward spots. Forte will play both guard and the small forward spot. Kedrick will play the off guard and both forward positions. We'll play small, so we will look to play (an up-tempo game)."

The Celtics' top 2001 pick, Joe Johnson, will see a lot of summer league playing time.

"Our fans are going to get quite a look at our three picks," continued Celtics General Manager Chris Wallace. "I think the first order of business every game is going to be getting those guys out there and getting extensive playing time. We are going to play them even if it requires us to play odd alignments. Say we are going to go small at times, we won't be tied to traditional positions. We are going to get those three guys, Mark, Milt and Jerome out there as often as possible."

"I think we will score a lot of points. The team is going to be very fast paced. We are going to press, run and play uptempo ball."

But the Celtics will not be the only squad boasting talent. The Washington Wizards made history when they became the first team to select a high school player -- Kwame Brown -- with the first overall pick in the history of the NBA Draft. Now Michael Jordan's Wizards have once again made history, becoming the first team to bring the draft's top pick to the Shaw's Pro Summer League, as they are set to give Boston fans an exclusive sneak preview at Brown.

The Nets are set to bring all three of their 2001 First Round picks -- Richard Jefferson (Arizona), Jason Collins (Stanford) and Brandon Armstrong (Pepperdine). Seattle, which already has a track record for using the Shaw's Pro Summer League as a proving ground for players such as Desmond Mason, Rashard Lewis and Shammond Williams, are set to bring their top two picks -- Vladimir Radmanovic (Yugoslavia) and Earl Watson (UCLA) to UMass-Boston.

Tony Parker. Jonathan Bender. Brian Scalabrine. Kerry Kittles. The list of talent scheduled to be at the 2001 Shaw's Pro Summer League goes on. Why else would NBA coaches, scouts and executives all flock to the UMass-Boston in the middle of July?

"We are a young team that it trying to get better," said Nets' President Rod Thorn. "We have young players that have a continuous need to play against top flight competition and that is what the Summer League brings. The competition is key for our players' development."


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