July 19, 2006 - The first person I locked eyes with as I stepped into the gym at St. Gregory's College Prep wasn't the pretty girl wearing the vibrant T-shirt taking tickets, instead it was old Arizona Wildcat and new New Jersey Net Hassan Adams.
I get the feeling that Hot Sauce, as he's called, doesn't like me much ever since that day in McKale two years ago when he shot me a glare that clearly stated "you're about to get the throttling of your life." Apparently he didn't approve of the question I asked.
Nevertheless, I was happy to see him after scanning the list of players in this year's Tucson Summer Pro League before entering the northeast-side gym - even if an injury wouldn't allow him to play.
Reading through the rosters of the league's 10 teams I struggled to find a name I recognized or wanted to see play. Where were Richard Jefferson, Jason Terry and Eugene Edgerson? Shoot, I'd even settle for an Isaiah Fox or Kurt Walters. Instead, the rosters read like a "who's who of who's that?"
As a result there were plenty of seats available for the three games held on Sunday afternoon, July 16. Of course, anything with the slightest tinge of University of Arizona basketball is going to bring out the most diehard fans, most notably the gray-hairs who filled up the first two rows. But no longer was the tiny gym at St. Gregory's reduced to standing-room-only like years past.
More and more marquee names are failing to show up for the league. There were even seats available for the All-Star Charity game that followed the three league games and featured the likes of Joseph Blair, A.J. Bramlett, Josh Pastner and UA legend Steve Kerr.
The only thing that separates the Tucson Summer Pro League from your average city league is the connection the UA players bring, even if now it's just a smattering of them throughout the 16-day schedule.
It's a shame considering there is some decent basketball played in the TSPL - even if the league features more missed dunks than blind referee night at Krispy Kreme. Games are entertaining and close. Sunday's contest between Ace Hardware and Del Sol wasn't settled until league founder and UA hoops alum Corey Williams hit a lay-up with 30 seconds left to put his team up for good.
The biggest threat to league attendance is the lack of the younger players. The fans flock to St. Greg's for Mike Bibby, instead they get Michael Schwertley. Current Wildcats Ivan Radenovic and Fendi Onobun were no-shows on Sunday despite being listed on TSPL rosters.
Perhaps it's the new nature of the college game where players opt to take their chances in the NBA draft rather than stay a full four years. Mustafa Shakur, Chris Rodgers and Adams didn't stay for a full tour because of loyalty to the program. They stayed because their draft prospects were slim.
Lots of player turnover, especially in the me-first era of basketball, has hurt school loyalty. The older Wildcats come back regularly, even if not for the Tucson Summer Pro League. Players like Sean Elliott and Kerr still come back to town to play in the league and host children's basketball camps.
Granted, most NBA teams don't want to see their players getting hurt in the summer. But they do give more freedom to their players than the college programs allow. If getting hurt is the issue, they don't even have to play. Adams was a hit on Sunday even though he didn't compete. He signed autographs, chatted with anyone who approached him and stayed for all four games.
Combine the high level of play with the wisdom of the older players and the TSPL becomes a great opportunity for the young current Wildcats such as Marcus Williams, J.P. Prince and Mohamed Tangara to cut their teeth.
Founder Corey Williams' tireless efforts allow him to put together a well-run, entertaining league. It's up to the new players to make sure it keeps going. It's not like the supply of big names are going to dry up any time soon. After all, Lute Olson has put just as many players - more than 50 - into the NBA in the last 15 years as elite programs Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina.
Believe it or not, a lot can be learned from the oft-temperamental Adams. He, among all the Wildcats of his era, has the most grueling task this summer as he sets out to prove the skeptics wrong and thrive in the NBA. Insiders say he'll make the Nets the first year while he learns the nuances of the game.
Next summer he can come back as an even bigger star and inspire a new crop of players and fans. Plus, by then I'm sure he'll have long forgotten about wanting to hurt me.