By Chuck Miller

The Continental Basketball Association announced its 2008 All-Star Game participants and coaches this week. The game, which will be held in Yakima, Washington (think two hours south of Seattle), will showcase the league’s top talent from every team.

So who made the squads?

For the American Conference, the Albany Patroons will send former NBA forward/center Amal McCaskill and G/F Nat Burton to the game. McCaskill currently leads the CBA in rebounds with 11.8 rpg, and is the Pats’ leading scorer, with 21.3 ppg, while Burton averages 21.0 ppg.

The Minot Skyrockets will be represented by the CBA’s active career point leader Ronnie Fields who, in his third All-Star Classic appearance, currently averages 20.5 ppg, and has amassed nearly 5,600 career CBA points, and is about to pass former NBA/CBA star Tim Legler for ninth place on the CBA’s all-time scoring list. Two other Skyrockets joining the All-Star Squad include Kevin Rice (15.6 ppg) and Sidney Holmes (7.8 rpg). But with Rice and Fields being dinged up this season, Rice’s spot will be filled by Marshall Phillips (14.9 ppg).

The East Kentucky Miners will have three representatives at the All-Star Classic; James “Boo” Jackson (20.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg) and guard Josh Pace (23.2 ppg), as well as the newly-signed Mike Dean, who averaged 25.3 ppg during his earlier stint as a member of the Rio Grande Valley Silverados.

The Pittsburgh Xplosion’s two representatives will be Shaun Fountain, in his second All-Star Classic (17.6 ppg); and former Rucker League star John Strickland (14.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg), who was recently signed by the Xplosion after starting the season with Minot.

Representing the Atlanta Krunk will be Steve Thomas (12.2 ppg, 11.3 rpg) and Zeck Marbury, who currently leads the Krunk with 20.4 ppg. So Stephon Marbury’s not going to make the NBA All-Star Game, but his kid brother will play in his first CBA All-Star Classic.

Coaching the All-Star American Conference team will be Minot Skyrockets head coach Chris Daleo. Daleo, in his fourth All-Star Appearance, was the winning coach of the 2005 All-Star classic.

Meanwhile, the National Conference will feature four members of the 22-1 Yakama sun Kings on their roster. How’s this for a starting minor league four – guard Jason Sasser (18.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Desmond Ferguson (18.0 ppg, over 400 3-pointers in his CBA career), Jermaine Blackburn (11.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and former Houston Rocket Moochie Norris (10.1 ppg, 7.7 assists per game). Nice. This will be Desmond Ferguson’s and Moochie Norris’ second stints on the CBA All-Star squad.

But since you need six more players to fill out the roster, the National Conference’s other All-Stars include two players from the Butte Daredevils – team leading scorer Odell Bradley (21.2 ppg, 26.6 ppg since signing with Butte) and former ABA Vermont Frost Heaves champion Aaron Cook (13.3 ppg, 5.8 apg). The Oklahoma Cavalry will send former OU standout Daryan Selvy (23.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and F/C Marvin Phillips (14.8 ppg, 11.8 rpg). The Great Falls Explorers will send forward Nate Green (17.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg), while the lone representative from the Rio Grande Valley Silverados will be forward Demorris Smith (18.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg).

Interestingly, the All-Star Classic wasn’t originally designed as a league showcase. During the 1948-49 season, the speedy guard from the Pottsville (Pa.) Packers, Tommy Bell (5’10”, LaSalle) was playing a league game against the Harrisburg Senators on Harrisburg’s home court at the time, the Zembo Mosque (a Shriners’ temple that was often used as a multipurpose indoor arena). Because the Zembo Mosque’s basketball court was also used as a dance floor, basketball games were played on a glisteningly waxed floor. During a fast break, Bell slipped on the floor and crashed into the stands. He would not finish the game, but came back later in the season and played several more contests.

But over time, he developed a crippling pain in his abdomen. Eventually the pain forced him to seek hospital care, and although he promised he would return to the Packers to help them toward the playoffs, the team and fans sensed they would not see their beloved captain in uniform that season. With the Bell family struggling with hospital bills, the Packers and the CBA (then known as the Eastern Professional Basketball League) held an All-Star contest, with the Packers facing a hand-selected list of the best talent from the rest of the league. After the game, the proceeds – along with donations gathered from fans – were given to the Bell family to help defray the medical costs.

The Packers would eventually win the 1949 league championship, but Bell did not return to the team. What was thought to be a simple stomach injury related to the game at Harrisburg was actually an unrelated, and previously undiagnosed, form of stomach cancer. Tommy Bell died in December 1949, and all Eastern League teams held a moment of silence on the courts in his memory. The league then created a “Tommy Bell Memorial Trophy,” which today is still handed out as the CBA’s Most Valuable Player award.

As for the All-Star Contest, it was not played again until 1958, when once again the showcase was designed as a fundraiser, this time to help defray the cost of building a new church structure in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., home of the 1958 All-Star Classic. The format of the All-Star Game would vary from season to season – sometimes it would be two teams of divisional rivals, sometimes it would involve the host team against one team of all-stars.

Weather played a significant role in the 1978 and 1979 All-Star Classics. The 1978 game was to be held at the Quincy (Mass.) Armory, home court of the Quincy Chiefs. But the Blizzard of 1978 tore through New England, and the Armory was commandeered by the National Guard, forcing the Chiefs to hastily reschedule the All-Star Classic at a local YMCA.

In 1979, another snowstorm caused a power failure at the Rochester Zeniths’ home court, the West Henrietta Dome Arena, with the game prematurely ending in the second quarter. CBA Commissioner Jim Drucker resolved that the game would be continued the next day, and so that fans would get their true moneys’ worth, a four-quarter game would be played – combined with the two quarters played the night before, creating the first two-day, six-quarter pro basketball game ever. The Zeniths beat the All-Stars that night, 182-168, with Rochester’s Andre McCarter scoring 42 points the two-day contest.

That year saw the first appearance of a Slam Dunk contest in CBA history, which was used as filler in hopes that the power could be restored to the blacked-out arena. With a single emergency floodlight aimed at a basket, Maine’s Billy Ray “Dunk” Bates won the CBA’s first Slam Dunk contest. The Slam Dunk would become a regualr staple to the CBA’s All-Star Classic in the late 1980’s, along with a Long Distance 3-point shootout (two other skills competitions, a one-on-one matchup and a HORSE competition, were briefly seen in the 1990’s).

For the players, the best part of the CBA All-Star Classic is the proliferation of scouts in the building – NBA scouts looking for a player to fill a 10-day contract; overseas scouts looking for a skilled player for their team or league. For every All-Star player this season, there’s more than just bragging rights on the line.

But winning the game would still be nice.