Carey Rich understands the struggles of finding challenging competition during Division I basketballs offseason. The former South Carolina point guard and two-year captain during his playing days (1992-1995) spent his summers playing against the older talent that was relevant in Columbia in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
He was lucky.
Coaches today struggle with finding viable skill-level opponents for their players to compete against during the summer months. That is where Rich, a radio host on the 560 The Team sports talk station, is stepping in.
For the first time, Columbia will play host to an NCAA-sanctioned South Carolina Pro Am League. Rich has used his contacts in the basketball community to secure college players from nearly every college team in the state along with several top-level high school talents. Add in former collegiate greats such as Devan Downey, Carlos Powell and Brandon Wallace, and Rich believes he will field a competitive 10-team league.
I was presented with this idea and took it to every coach in the state and they were instantly on board, Rich said. With these relationships and support from the coaches, it gives the league instant credibility.
Now, logistically, we were not able to get players from each school just because of the travel. But I reached out to everyone and they embraced the idea from the beginning.
The league is tailored toward college players. In the past, players would have to travel to Atlanta, Charlotte or Raleigh to find quality opponents.
Each roster will have nine players. Per NCAA rules, they can have playing together no more than two players from the same college team that has college eligibility remaining. All coaches must be approved in accordance with the guidelines established by the NCAA Basketball Certification Staff. Division I coaches cannot attend.
The season begins Sunday with four games at Heathwood Hall. Admission is free. They will feature four games each Sunday and Thursday through Aug. 9 and then hold a single elimination tournament from Aug. 10-12. Each game will consist of two 16-minute halves.
Collegiate officials will be on hand thanks to sponsorships secured from the likes of Founders Federal Credit Union and Steadman Hawkins Clinic. Adam McDowell, a former manager at USC under Dave Odom, has assisted Rich in getting the league running.
The sponsorship we received has been unbelievable, Rich said. There is no question that South Carolina is a football state but there is enough room for basketball and I think we are seeing that with the type of excitement level we have created.
Nearly every USC player who is enrolled in summer school is playing in the league.
Rich also has gotten high school talent such as Keenans Marcus Stroman, Oak Hills Sindarius Thornwell (formerly of Lancaster), A.C. Floras Matt Howard, Gaffneys L.J. Peak, Irmos Justin McKie and Cardinal Newmans Austin Ajukwa to commit.
This gives high school kids along with everyone else in the league the opportunity to gauge where they will be in two or three years, Rich said. It shows the speed, strength, skill set and effort needed to play at the next level. It should be a great month of basketball with a very, very high skill level being played.