All together now

S.C. summer Pro-Am Basketball

As local favorites elevate their game, basketball communities near and far take note

pobley@thestate.comJuly 29, 2012 

  • IF YOU GO WHEN: 2 p.m., today WHERE: Heathwood Hall WHAT: Four games featuring prep, college and pro players from around the state. Schedule (Times approximate; with notable players) 2 p.m. DJ’s Seafood (Damien Leonard, Alex Irwin, Sam Muldrow) vs. Honda of Columbia (Laimonas Chatkvevicius, Lakeem Jackson) 3:15 p.m. First Citizens (Eric Smith, Shane Phillips, Matt Howard) vs. Coca-Cola (Dominique Lacy, Mike Jones, Justin McKie) 4:30 p.m. The Wheat Farm (Tyrell Corbin, Demontez Stitt, LJ Peak) vs. Team 3 (Murphy Holloway, Julian Nelson) 5:45 p.m. Founders Federal Credit (Tre Kelley, Chad Gray, Brandon Wallace) vs. Steadman Hawkins Clinic (Devan Downey, Carlos Powell, Sindarius Thornwell)

Thursday night at Heathwood Hall …

Dominique Lacy took the pass on the right wing and saw a clear path to the hoop along the baseline.

Tracy McFadden saw an opportunity to take a charge.

When the two collided moments later, they created a moment that would earn the top highlight on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and, in the process, put the South Carolina Pro-Am basketball league on the map.

Lacy is an overseas pro, out of Wilson High in Florence by way of UNC-Wilmington. McFadden, also from Florence, is seeking a landing spot after two seasons at Clinton Junior College.

Giving both an opportunity to play alongside other South Carolina pros, collegians and even a few prep players was the brainchild of former USC player Carey Rich. The league has been an overwhelming success, supported by all of the state’s college coaches and gaining players by the week.

Lacy’s breathtaking dunk — a hammer thrown down with his right hand while stiff-arming McFadden in the face with his left — created the sort of viral phenomenon Rich and partner Adam McDowell had crossed their fingers for.

“Thanks to ESPN and thanks to Dominique Lacy,” Rich said with a laugh the day after. “My phone was blowing up. … Having the opportunity to see it for myself was surreal.”

The dunk was so impressive even McFadden was receiving calls from interested coaches.

“I just went out there and played my game,” a humble Lacy said. “I’d say, like an hour or two later, I just started getting phone calls and texts and people writing on my Facebook wall, saying they were trying to get it on ESPN’s Top 10. I was speechless.”

“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “And me being so proud of being from South Carolina, it was a big deal for me to do it at (the Pro-Am).”

There are 10 teams in Rich’s league during its inaugural season. There are eight current USC players and a bevy of former standouts, such as Devan Downey, Brandon Wallace, Sam Muldrow, Zam Frederick, Carlos Powell, Malik Cooke and Tre Kelley.

The current USC players are scattered across four teams because NCAA rules allow only two per team in Pro-Am settings to avoid the appearance of team play. Coaches are not allowed to attend the games, but they obviously are tuning in to the Internet broadcasts provided by the Augusta Basketball Report.

On Thursday, Lakeem Jackson and Laimonas Chatkvevicius combined for 32 points in their team’s 98-84 win. Damien Leonard and Alex Irwin also combined for 32 (though 28 came from Leonard) to overcome Brenton Williams’ 23-point effort for a 93-91 victory.

Eric Smith, Shane Phillips and Brian Richardson also suit up for Pro-Am teams as did Carlton Geathers before an injury knocked him out of commission.

“To come out there with refs and some guys who can really go out there is awesome,” Jackson said. “It’s good to go against some good competition with (Chatkvevicius). It’s really competitive, and you don’t get many opportunities to do this during the summertime.”

When Rich went to the state’s college coaches to get their blessing to allowing their players to take part, the lure was being able to play top competition in a safe environment. The biggest hazard for players during the summer is getting into a playground or recreational league against legends in their own minds, who try to “prove” themselves and cause injury.

“During the summer, it’s so hard to get a lot of competitive people in one place,” Downey said. “This pro-am gives you the opportunity and you don’t have to worry about anyone taking you out or trying to prove something against you. It’s just competitive basketball.”

But there indeed are players trying to prove something. Players such as Presbyterian’s Eric Washington, who went head-to-head with USC’s Williams. Or Benedict’s Ty Beatty, who has consistently hit double-figures while facing down Division I and pro opponents.

“We need this competition,” Beatty said. “We work out with the USC players during the summer. It’s good to be competitive.”

Downey’s team has been unstoppable, and that’s no surprise since he is teamed with Powell. But it’s Sindarius Thornwell and his status as the state’s top high school basketball player who sets the team apart.

Thornwell, a Lancaster native who will play his senior prep season at Oak Hill Academy, poured in 22 points Thursday night to lead Downey’s team to an overtime victory.

“I’ve always played against Devan since we live 20 minutes away, but it’s good coming out here because it gets you tough,” Thornwell said. “They’re not going to sag off because you’re a high school player, so you have to go at them before they go at you.”

Marcus Stroman, Matt Howard, LJ Peak, Justin McKie and Austin Ajukwa are other prep players seeing time in the league.

As soon as next summer, the Pro-Am could become a tour, spending a month in the Upstate before setting up shop in Columbia.

But for now, Downey’s team will stare down Kelley’s squad tonight in what Rich believes will be the game of the summer. With free admission and a record of filling the gym through the first three weeks, standing room only is a distinct possibility.

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