by Eldon Khorshidi / @eldonadam
With the current labor impasse in the NBA, the summer of 2011 has been anything but normal. Uncertain what the future will entail, NBA players have stayed busy by competing in summer leagues across the country. One of those leagues is the Indy Pro-Am.
Held in Indianapolis, the Indy Pro-Am hosts games every Tuesday and Thursday at IUPUI University. Hometown NBA stars and college players from IU, Purdue, Butler and IUPUI are regulars every week. This year—the league’s third season—LA Clipper Eric Gordon led his team to the championship game, where he scored 46 points and took home the ‘chip.
A few weeks ago, SLAM sat down with IUPUI legend and Indy Pro-Am founder Carlos Knox to discuss the amazing summer of basketball, what separates his league from the others, and his goals for the future.
SLAM: Tell our readers a little about the Indy Pro-Am.
Carlos Knox: Our league is one of the best summer leagues in the country. All games are played at IUPUI gymnasiums. We have a league with about eight teams, and all of them stay stacked. I think we’re the best tournament in the Midwest—hands down—but we aren’t on a national stage yet. Our league is more than just the typical ‘streetball summer league’. Guys come here to stay in shape, compete and become better players.
SLAM: What are your goals and expectations for the league?
CK: In the short term, I want the league to continue growing and spreading. We are gaining more followers every week, which is obviously a great sign. Ultimately, we want to get our tournament to the top level, where it’s right up there and considered one of the best, if not the best. But our league is more than just a summer tournament or a place to come and have fun. Not that other league around the country aren’t official or legit or any of that, but I think our league can be distinct from all the others.
SLAM: How so?
CK: When you look at all the summer leagues out there, those leagues are for evaluation or just plain fun. But our league is more of a rehab/training center for NBA players—rookies, veterans and everyone in between. I’m also trying to to partner with the NBA. Our league is both NCAA and NBA sanctioned, which is huge. We could potentially be a league where teams send their players in the off-season to come and work and rehab and get better. For example, the Indiana Pacers would be able to send all their players here to compete at an elite level and work. This way, guys will have to stay in shape and they’ll be improving their games. We just have to get teams to feel comfortable with our league first, and I think we’re on the right track.
SLAM: What makes you confident you can ultimately accomplish this goal?
CK: Well, we already have tons of NBA guys coming through and competing every week, so the names and talent level are there. And with my extensive basketball resume and the connections I have throughout the league, I really believe we can make this happen.
SLAM: What does it mean to be ‘NCAA and NBA sanctioned’?
CK: NCAA sanctioned means that college players are allowed to participate in our league because the NCAA has given its approval. Universities always prefer for their players to compete in sanctioned leagues because it proves the league is official and in compliance with the NCAA. And for NBA guys, it means they are allowed to play in our league with insurance still covered by the NBA.
SLAM: Is there any drawbacks of being sanctioned?
CK: Yeah, there are a few. If you are NCAA sanctioned, you can’t charge admission to events and you obviously can’t sell apparel or anything with names of college players on it. There are some rules and regulations that we have to follow, but it’s certainly worth it.
SLAM: This summer we’ve seen numerous NBA players competing on the summer league/streetball circuit. Who’s showed at the Indy Pro-Am?
CK: So far we’ve had 14 NBA guys come and play: Alec Burks, George Hill, Zach Randolph, Christian Eyenga, Shelvin Mack, Lance Stephenson, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, DJ White, Bonzi Wells, Daequan Cook, Paul George, Gordon Hayward and Eric Gordon.
SLAM: Who would you say has made the biggest impression on you this summer?
CK: There have been a lot of guys, but if I had to choose two, I’d say Alec Burks and Lance Stephenson.
With Burks, I figured he had game, but he looks years ahead of his age. His jumpshot is absolutely crazy and he has a unique ability to create off the dribble. I honestly didn’t realize how athletic he was. He’s averaged around 27 points.
Lance Stephenson has also impressed me a lot. He has a big frame and can get to the basket whenever he wants. His ball handling is remarkable for his size. Larry Bird once said Lance Stephenson is the best player on the Indiana Pacers, and now I see why. He can definitely score with the best of ‘em.
SLAM: A lot of people say Lance has all the tools to have a very successful NBA career but there’s something holding him back. How would you assess his situation?
CK: Like I said, Lance can play with anybody, no doubt about it. But there’s more to it than just lacing up your sneakers and stepping onto the court. He has to understand the NBA style and system. He just has a ways to go in terms of learning the game and learning the system. For example, if you put him where he has to read a screen-and-roll, it’s just difficult for him to do it. He has a learning curve, because most of his life he’s played more of a one-on-one game than a complex team game.
SLAM: There are obviously a lot of great summer leagues out there (Drew League, Dyckman, Goodman, etc). How do you think the Indy Pro-Am ranks in comparison?
CK: I know a lot about those leagues, because I know the people who run them, and quite frankly, the leagues you mentioned are great. But our league is great too. Obviously we’re not going to be able to reinvent the wheel, because basketball is basketball no matter where you go. But I think our league is more than just a summer tournament. It’s a place for guys to come and work and get better and train, so it has a different dynamic to it. If we keep a solid product, we’ll be fine.
SLAM: How’s the turnout? Admission is free, so I’d expect a lot of people to show up…
CK: We always pack the gym with around 1,200 people, so it’s usually a good turnout.
SLAM: What are you trying to do in the near future to help the league grow and prosper?
CK: Our focus is trying to get sponsorships for each team next year so we can generate some sort of income. Whether it is restaurants, sporting good stores or any other type of business. My main concern and goal is to make sure we get to a national level. With the make of our league, I think we’ll reach our goals soon enough.