Men's league draws some top competition

Basketball: Soaring interest, even among former pros looking for game, swells the men's league to 70 teams in eight divisions.

Howard At Play

February 24, 2002|By Michael Farine | Michael Farine,SUN STAFF

How many times have you heard a sports conversation begin with, "Remember so and so? Whatever happened to him?"

If it's information about basketball players you desire, a good place to start might be the men's league operating under the umbrella of the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks.

The eight-division league, founded in the mid-1980s, is loaded with players you used to watch way back when - particularly the nine Sunday teams that make up the most competitive division.

Remember LaBradford Smith? The guard starred at the University of Louisville before being picked in the first round of the National Basketball Association draft by the then-Washington Bullets in 1991.

Smith now plays pro basketball in Europe. And he has also played in the Howard County men's league.

If you follow county high school basketball and the college game in the Baltimore area, his won't be the only name you might recognize (see box).

Catonsville resident Mark Pendleton, 45, one of several sports supervisors for the county's Department of Recreation and Parks, took over as commissioner of the men's league five years ago, when, he estimates, about 40 teams were competing. This winter, that number has grown to 70.

"Now, there's more teams and better competition," Pendleton said. "We run a pretty good program, and we have decent facilities. We have leagues in the fall, winter and summer. We get a good percentage of players from Howard County but also some from Baltimore City.

"Maybe we get some big names in our league because the competition is better here."

Pat McKindless, a sporting goods sales manager in Ellicott City, has been coaching in the county men's league since 1983. His team, originally sponsored by an Ellicott City restaurant, is now Knudsen Homes, which leads the Sunday Division I league.

McKindless' team is undefeated and averaging more than 90 points a game. In April, the squad will be going to the state championship tournament in Ocean City. In 1994 and 1997, Knudsen Homes won the over-30 championship in Ocean City.

McKindless estimates that since the mid-1980s, his teams have won - between tournaments and league play - 50 championships. During the summer, he said, the team competes in a pro-am league in Baltimore.

"In the past three or four years, the level of play has gone up [in Howard County]," said McKindless, a Centennial High graduate who played at Catonsville Community College in 1983 and 1984.

"We have a lot of former college players and players who play pro ball in Europe."

McKindless, 37, who lives in Ellicott City, said players are interested in the county league because "they just love to get out and play the game.

"Some guys who played college ball likely don't prefer pick-up basketball. They would rather play in a league like ours because it has more structure to it. The referees control things. This gives these guys more of a chance to play in nice gyms in nice conditions.

"It's also a great way for them to stay in shape."

Brian Parker, 30, a one-time shooting guard at Howard Community College who became a second-team All-Canada player at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, echoed McKindless' sentiments about the league, which has players ranging in age from 18 to over 40.

The league is self-sufficient financially, with each team responsible for putting up $470 to play in one of two Sunday divisions (a second division has somewhat less experienced players), and $440 a team in six weeknight divisions.

The price covers gym time and for each game, two referees and a scorekeeper. A season comprises eight games and playoffs. One division, on Tuesday night, is for players 30 and older.

"We try to do a good job of placing teams in appropriate divisions," said Pendleton, who gets the word out about the league by maintaining a mailing list of past teams, and by sending notices to local newspapers and to larger area employers.

"We look at standings from year to year. We try to take what we consider the best eight or nine teams and put them in the same division.

"We don't want final scores to turn out 85-35, [although] that's not to say there aren't one-sided games."

Sound familiar?

Among the players now or in the recent past in Howard County's men's basketball leagues that you may recognize:

Matt Hahn, Atholton High, Maryland. Now assistant men's basketball coach at Philadelphia's LaSalle University, where his father is head coach.

Phil Chenier Jr., Wilde Lake High, Howard University in mid-1990s.

Craig Valentine, Wilde Lake, Towson University in mid-1990s.

Marshall Strickland, South Carroll High School standout last winter, committed to Indiana University this fall.

Mike Reese, Boston College, Loyola College in early 1990s.

Sony Nixon, UMBC in early1990s.

Terrance Jacobs, Towson University, ECC Player of Year in 1991-92.

Bernard Hopkins, Overlea, Virginia Commonwealth University, Colonial Athletic Association Player of Year, 1994-95.

Jim Frantz, UMBC, early 1990s.

Kurk Lee, Western Kentucky, Towson University, late 1980s, briefly with NBA's New Jersey Nets, as well as in Europe. Averaged 26 points a game for Towson's first NCAA tournament team, 1989-90. On Baltimore BayRunners, 1999, with LaBradford Smith.

Michael Lloyd, Baltimore's Dunbar, Syracuse University.

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