Teen pro league is hoping to fulfill more hoop dreams Non-college crowd targeted

city team among 10 planned

April 06, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

You're a high school basketball star who has failed to get the qualifying scores on the ACT or SAT exams and now face some difficult choices: Pay your own way to college while you sit out a year. Go the junior college route. Attend prep school for a year.

Or enter the professional ranks in a league reserved solely for teen-agers that promises an average salary of $110,000.

By this time next year, a Chicago salesman hopes to provide such an option with the proposed Teen-Age Professional Basketball League, which he plans to launch in eight cities -- including Baltimore (Gold) and Washington, D.C. (Commandos) -- next summer. Yesterday the league held a draft for its two Chicago teams, the Stallions and the Charmers.

Offering teen-agers six-figure salaries is a controversial idea. But Freddie Cleveland, a Chicago real estate and car salesman, said the league is yet another alternative for kids who may not be able to afford a year's tuition while sitting out a season in college. Or for kids who simply don't want to go to college. The league will accept only graduating high school seniors who, by agreeing to play, would give up their college eligibility.

"Here in Chicago you've had a lot of guys who have had their hopes built up high, only to wind up sticking up 7-Elevens because they were never able to make any money," Cleveland said. "With this league, we're not going after the 'A' and 'B' students. We're going after the inner-city kids from one-parent families who haven't qualified for a scholarship and who don't have the money to go."

Told about the league, Southern High School coach Meredith Smith said he would have three words to say to one of his players considering it.

"Remember Skip Wise," said Smith, referring to the former Dunbar star who left Clemson after his freshman season to play for the Baltimore Claws, a team in the American Basketball Association that folded four days before its first season. "Skip Wise was successful at Clemson, and look what happened to him. I would advise a kid -- even if he had to go to junior college -- that the bottom line is to get a degree."

Cleveland agrees, and said that in conjunction with the league he will start a "college of knowledge" that players will have to attend.

"My program is going to be designed after the Northwestern Business School," said Cleveland, who says he's also making progress on a regional television contract and a sponsorship deal with a major shoe company.

What Cleveland doesn't have yet are owners for the 10 teams, which also will play in New York, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia and Miami.

Cleveland said the league would have a shot clock of between 20 and 22 seconds, and there will be no charging calls within the three-second lane. The season of between 65 and 75 games would run July to November.

"The first couple of years we don't want to be in direct conflict with the NBA and the colleges," Cleveland said.

Conflict with the colleges or the NBA? Although a spokeswoman with the NCAA could not be reached for comment yesterday, an assistant said she had never heard about the league. The same thing with the NBA.

"We don't have enough information about this league to really comment on it," said NBA spokeswoman Teri Washington.

But Cleveland was undeterred. "Most kids only go to the college for two years anyway, so why not come here?" he said. "Some of these kids are NBA-type players now . . . the talent is there."

Pub Date: 4/06/96

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