He thought it might get here, but knew it would take a lot of work and commitment from people that weren’t him.
It’s why Carey Rich wanted to thank all of the people who have made the S.C. Pro-Am such a success over the last four years, and invite them to view the fifth.
“The one word they’ll all tell you that I love, is sustainability,” Rich said on the eve of his college summer league’s genesis. “To be able to do this for five years, to be able to get the sponsorship, the buy-in … the first year, we hadn’t had a Pro-Am. It was a foreign language to the local businesses.
“They trusted me and they trusted what I was trying to do.”
The Pro-Am, an event for college players to go against other college players and refine their games during the summer, begins Sunday at Heathwood Hall. Fans can check out South Carolina’s new freshmen, as well as the Gamecocks’ returnees; plus see athletes from the other in-state schools.
Admission is free and there will be four gamedays, with three games each. That leads to a playoff day to conclude it.
Rich ideally hoped the Pro-Am would get to this point, but had no way of knowing how well it would be received. Because the NCAA has mandated that no profit can be turned, Rich had to try and get money from local sponsors without a proven product to display.
Endorsements from USC coach Frank Martin and Clemson coach Brad Brownell helped, and that enabled South Carolina’s mid-major schools to join. This year, players from Wofford, College of Charleston, Presbyterian, S.C. State, Coastal Carolina, Benedict, Newberry and Coker besides USC are expected to play.
“The two things that make it work: Before you get sponsorships, got to have the endorsement of the head coach,” Rich said. “For me to ask for money, I’ve got to have a proven commodity. The crowds last year were great. I expect the same this year.”
When Rich played collegiately, players were always looking for a safe, comfortable environment to improve their games. He was lucky enough to find homes in a Charlotte Pro-Am and then by invitation-only to a summer league at Keenan High.
When he got out of the game, he wanted to give the same opportunity to current players. With coaches’ backing and sponsorships from Founders Federal Credit Union, Richland County Hospitality, Bernie’s Chicken, Honda of Columbia and others, he was able to.
Jeff Whalen at Heathwood Hall has volunteered his gym and USC has given trainers and medical supplies. Fans have embraced it and were packing the arena last year to watch overseas professionals, former local stars and current college players compete.
Former Gamecock Michael Carrera spent much of the past two summers working on his outside shot. It translated into an all-SEC season last year, and Rich likes to use the example for other players.
Going against teammates in practice and pickup is nice, but it gets boring. Working on your own is important, but there’s a low ceiling.
In the Pro-Am, there are different faces and different abilities to go against. Why would a player not want that?
“Drills don’t fight back,” Rich said. “Nothing gets more stale than having to go against the same guy in practice every day. And then there’s the bonus of the small in-state schools getting to play the USC and Clemson guys.”
NOTE: All of USC’s roster is expected to play, except for freshman Maik Kotsar (foot stress fracture) and redshirt sophomore Kory Holden (knee tendonitis).
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