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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

A dozen years of dominance

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Bill Mason, Cat Tran Driver (Brown hair) Dennis Cady, Cat Tran Driver (black and white striped shirt) AJ Dowgiert, Cat Tran Driver (Plaid/Checkered Shirt)

The basketball culture in Tucson begins and ends with the Arizona Wildcats ever since Hall of Fame head coach Lute Olson took the reins in 1983. For former Arizona standout Corey Williams, the summer period is a chance to showcase the cream of the crop talent that pumps through the city in the Tucson Summer Pro League. 

Williams was a part of Arizona’s second Final Four appearance and two conference championships. Williams even played amongst household Wildcats such as Damon Stoudamire, Khalid Reeves, Reggie Gearyand Joseph Blair. Jokingly, Williams explained his dominance amongst the fraternity of what is Arizona basketball.

“I still have the highest 3-point percentage in Final Four history at Arizona,” Williams said.

Williams spent four years in the Old Pueblo and maintained a winning tradition at Arizona. After spending a dozen years playing professional basketball overseas, Williams founded the Tucson Summer Pro League with co-founder Carl Graham in the summer of 2004.

Williams eventually ventured into the television broadcasting business in 2009 and hasn’t looked back since.

When Williams is not color commentating for ESPN or providing in-depth analysis for Pac-12 Conference networks during college basketball season, he spends his summer weekends organizing and promoting the Tucson Summer Pro League.

In a radio show interview in June, Williams explained his reasoning for starting an official NCAA-certified summer league.

“It was more out of frustration really. Look at all of the summer leagues around the country like Drew League. It was started for college kids to come home over the summer and work on their game,” Williams said. “It’s even great for the kids to come out and watch, because they get to see some of the big faces coming out of U of A every now and then.”

Former Wildcats like Jordan Hill, Richard Jefferson, Hassan Adams, Steve Kerr, Kevin Parrom and Mark Lyons have all made appearances.

Even though it is NCAA certified, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s strictly for current student-athletes. For Kansas Wesleyan University sharp-shooter Matt Dickman, it was an extension of playing basketball at the highest level and showcasing his range from beyond the arc. Dickman last played for the Coyotes in 2011. In an interview in June, Dickman revealed to have taken his talents from playing to coaching.

“I coach now and I play for fun. I’ve always been able to shoot the ball from that far,” Dickman said. “Last year I really didn’t have that kind of role, so I took over that role this year.”

Even players such as local legend Donte Williams have been playing for the TSPL since it was first running. Williams even “retired” the first half of the 2014 season and came out of retirement to finish the summer and compete in this season’s Pro League. Kyrie Irving’s Sprite commercial featuring himself in an old man costume and going out to the blacktop to buckle the ankles of rising stars is the same vibe Williams gives off when playing considering his long tenure at the TSPL.

The Tucson Summer Pro League has consistent players that compete every year, which is why local businesses sponsor teams. Casino Del Sol Resort, McFadden/Gavender Advertising, Ace Hardware and Truly Nolen are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the teams in the TSPL. Dickman led his respected Truly Nolen squad to a 100-93 victory over Asarco during the TSPL Championship.

Truly Nolen manager Randall Hartman even did his best impersonation of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on the court high-fiving the players and holding up the trophy with the newly crowned champions Sunday.

TSPL cofounder Carl Graham is arguably the hardest working man at the Tucson Summer Pro League outside of Williams.

Graham is a major contributor to the TSPL. He coaches the men’s league as well as the kids league and applies his cheerful spirit and knowledge to teach kids the fundamentals of basketball. The kids league has been a part of TSPL for three years, and it’s been a success according to Graham.

“It’s a blessing. Especially to see these kids learn and their confidence build up,” Graham said. “These guys have never practiced together, and they come out here looking like they played together all summer. It’s just awesome.”

The 2015 Tucson Summer Pro League season came to a conclusion Sunday after an afternoon of basketball festivities including a 3-point shootout, TSPL All-Star game, TSPL kids championship, slam dunk contest and the championship game. If dozens of 3-pointers and highlight windmill dunks that even get ESPN Tucson’s Zach Clark out of his seat don’t count as a grand finale, then Williams has more in store for years to come.

“It was a great year. We’re going to split the league in half and make it both Phoenix and Tucson next year,” Williams said.

Another year is in the books for the Tucson Summer Pro League, and as long as Williams and Graham are in charge, Tucson will always be a summer gem right in the heart of Arizona.

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