League expands from basketball

Summer competition has goals for teens beyond play on court

July 16, 2008|By Karen Shih | Karen Shih,Sun Reporter

The players race from one end of the court to the other - shoes squeaking, coaches yelling, whistles blowing.

It looks like a typical summer basketball game, albeit one in a league that pits some of the top high school teams in the region against each other.

But the new Merrill Lynch Summer Basketball League seeks to make its players competitive on the court, in school and in life, requiring them to attend a mandatory weekend session on the importance of college and thinking about the future.

"We wanted a great basketball league," said Richard Crabtree, league co-founder and senior resident director of the Merrill Lynch Annapolis office. But they also "wanted to do something extra, above and beyond."

The 16 teams recruited from Baltimore, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties and Washington have faced off at the Annapolis Boys & Girls Club once or twice a week, with a total of 10 games in the regular summer season. Playoffs start today and will culminate with the championship game scheduled Tuesday.

"You play basketball in the winter, but you improve in the summer," said coach Paul Pellicani of the Semper Fi, or the Severna Park High School team. "It can only make you better, playing better players."

As much as he praises the organization and competitiveness of the league, the "education on recruiting, leadership, teamwork ... [you] can't have enough of it," he said.

The aspiring college players attended a six-hour session the first weekend in June that aimed to teach them skills they will need to be successful in all facets of life, including SAT preparation, National Collegiate Athletic Association eligibility requirements and the college application process, and etiquette and public speaking skills.

Having skills off the court is "like dribbling with your left hand," Crabtree said. "If you can do it, you create options."

The league was able to secure teachers and other educational tools through Merrill Lynch's sponsorship, he said.

"It's a significant financial investment to make sure a very high-quality league is put out," he said, though he declined to disclose the amount of funding. "We've done a lot of other community activity in the area."

The league is NCAA-certified, meaning that college coaches can come during most of July to watch potential recruits.

With the NCAA changing its academic requirements to become more stringent starting in August, better preparation outside of basketball is a must.

"If you got all your academics in order and you got skill, you just wait till they come and choose you," said co-founder Ed Meyers, who coached basketball at high schools and colleges for 45 years, most notably as assistant coach at Georgetown when the team won the 1984 national championship.

Meyers brought in sports psychologist Joe Carr, co-developer of the National Basketball Association's rookie program that helps young players with the transition from amateur status, to help players learn how to build team chemistry by working for the team, not for their individual benefit.

"You can use the same skills to get a job," Carr said. "You have to buy into your manager, your boss. You have to build relationships with your employers and your co-workers."

The educational session also included a mock news conference.

It was "the most overwhelming thing," Meyers said. "None of them have ever been in front of a microphone. It was an awakening because the questions they would be asked, they would have to give it some thought. Now they know it's not easy to get in front of a mic after the game."

Kendal Smith, 15, a junior at Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf, which lost in the state basketball finals last season, said he appreciated the league's extra effort.

"It was a learning experience for me," he said. "They taught me etiquette."

He, like several other players, said they wanted to play college basketball, with dream schools including Texas A&M University and Boston College.

But they know that playing professionally would likely not be in their futures, so for many, plans after college included graduate school and careers beyond basketball.

"So few will make money in basketball," Crabtree said. "If they can use those skills to get a stethoscope, if they realize those skills can get them an education, that's far more valuable than playing basketball."

karen.shih@baltsun.com

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