Mike Jensen: New basketball league planned for former college stars

Ramone Moore, who played for Temple, is one of the local alumni on Team Philly in Sunday's competition. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff
Ramone Moore, who played for Temple, is one of the local alumni on Team Philly in Sunday's competition. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff
Posted: August 05, 2012

A referendum of sorts for college basketball fans: How long does your affinity for your school's top players continue - or are you really just rooting for the name on the front of the jersey?

Sunday at St. Joseph's University's Hagan Arena, a real-life Where are they now? competition will be held. Instead of competing against one another, Big Five (and Drexel) rivals will team up, playing for Team Philly against a Team D.C.

It's a trial run for a league that hopes to launch next summer. The idea is to fill local teams with former college players still working in overseas professional leagues.

The Philly lineup is filled with big-time locals. We'll have to list them all. From Drexel: Frank Elegar. From La Salle: Rodney Green. From St. Joseph's: Tasheed Carr, Pat Carroll, Dwayne Jones. From Temple: Ryan Brooks, Dionte Christmas, Ramone Moore, Dustin Salisbery, Mark Tyndale. From Villanova: Allan Ray, Curtis Sumpter. Penn's Zack Rosen was going to play but told organizers he couldn't after signing a professional contract Thursday with an Israeli pro team.

Rosen and Moore just finished their college careers, but the rest played last season all over the world. Just in the last year, they were in Turkey, Italy, Greece, the Philippines, Germany, the Dominican Republic, Sweden, and France. Dionte Christmas recently signed a contract with the Boston Celtics but most will return overseas in the weeks ahead.

One undercurrent in play here is the idea that these players can't make any money - including endorsements and appearances - while they are in college, in the place they are best known. Then they go off to Turkey, Italy, Greece, and the Philippines, are typically fairly well compensated, but they aren't always as well known there, since they most often work on year-to-year contracts, and often move from place to place, wherever their agents can negotiate the best contract.

Meanwhile, back home, they are out of sight, out of mind. You recognize the names above, but how many can you match to the country where they last played?

I'm not rooting against it by any means, but I'm not convinced such a summer league can work even in a college hoops hotbed like this. I can see some initial interest in these players, checking them out. But that's different from a league making a go of it for the long term. I covered the USBL a bit when it was based at Holy Spirit two decades ago and the product was terrific, featuring locals such as Michael Anderson, Tim Legler, Tony Costner, Rodney Blake, and Dallas Comegys. Big-time players, all of them. But the games, at Holy Spirit, always had plenty of seats available.

This league, to be called The Ball - for Basketball Alumni Legends League - is looking to tie in closer with the local colleges, selling itself to "college hoops junkies."

"The love fans have for these players, I don't think it ends on senior night," said league founder Michael Wranovics.

The league has the unofficial approval of local schools, with testimonials from local coaches. And Wranovics has the right scale in mind. A place like Hagan is perfect, since he's looking for average attendance of 2,500, hoping to pay the players about $5,000 a month - good supplemental income, in addition to good exposure for players who always have to be thinking about the next job.

Wranovics got the idea when he was in graduate school at Stanford, he said, watching a player like Arthur Lee, wondering what became of him afterward.

Philadelphia is a top target market, with Wranovics also looking at Washington, with a test game at George Washington's Smith Center on Saturday between the Philly and D.C. teams, which include alumni of Georgetown, Maryland, George Washington, and George Mason.

Other potential markets, Wranovics said, include Syracuse and Hartford, with the Lehigh Valley another possibility.

"Basketball has become year-round," Wranovics said. "You don't stop loving basketball just because of what time of year it is."

Whether this works is up to the consumer, of course. If you love the idea of Rosen feeding Christmas and Ray, this is your league, and a chance to pay these guys a little bonus for their college years.

"They have this local fame - it is such a great asset," Wranovics said. "They finally have an opportunity to capitalize on it."

Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com or on Twitter @Jensenoffcampus. Read his "Off Campus" columns at www.philly.com/offcampus

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