CDBA Summer League draws big names past and present

Very few of the youngsters playing in the revamped Capital District Basketball Association Summer Le
Joe Cremo of Team Bye tries to get by Andrew Holmes of Team Weaver at the McDonough Sports Complex at HVCC Thursday, July 9, 2015.
Joe Cremo of Team Bye tries to get by Andrew Holmes of Team Weaver at the McDonough Sports Complex at HVCC Thursday, July 9, 2015.

Very few of the youngsters playing in the revamped Capital District Basketball Association Summer League opener Monday night had even a clue who James Thomas is.

“They don’t know me at all, but they will,” said the bruising 6-foot-8, 245-pound Italian pro and former NBA player who brings instant credibility to this NCAA-sanctioned league that includes elite area high school, college, former college and even pro players. The eight-team circuit features three games a night every Monday and Thursday from now through August at Hudson Valley Community College’s McDonough Sports Complex.

“This is my way of giving back,” Thomas said. “Dave Van Wormer [league president and director] does a great job. In fact, they do a fantastic job of getting all the best talent around. These guys are just babies, so I don’t care if they don’t recognize me. I’m from a different era. But I know I can get myself some double-doubles in this league. I’m here to bang with some of the big guys and keep in shape. That’s my job — beating up people on the boards.”

The 34-year-old Thomas is one of Schenectady’s all-time greatest players. He won a Class A state championship with the Patriots in 1998 before becoming one of the most dominant rebounders in the country for the University of Texas (2000-2004). He helped the Longhorns advance to the Final Four in 2003.

The NBA Development League Rookie of the Year in 2004-05 has been a pro for the last 11 years, including NBA stints with the Portland Trail Blazers, Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers in 2005 and the Chicago Bulls in 2006. Thomas competed in Italy and also played in Israel (Maccabi Haifa B.C and Maccabi Rishon LeZion) in 2014. More recently, he played in Venezuela. He knows what it takes to run a successful league with enough talent depth.

“I like what Dave [also a former Schenectady state champ] is doing in this league. They’ve got all the best players,” said Thomas, who added that he’s hosting a big man’s clinic Saturday and Sunday at Schenectady High School.

Thomas isn’t the only savvy veteran playing in this league. How about Albany graduate Devonaire Deas, a 6-5 former standout at Iona, Florida State and Winston-Salem? Deas would only admit to being 35-ish, but he’s actually closing in on 39.

“I’m just a competitor,” Deas said. “I love the game, and any league I can play in, I will. You’ve got to remember that my team won the last title in this league in 2012. I’m trying to see if I can still run up and down with these guys. There are some real players here.”

Siena College has a group of players competing in the league, including current Saints Brett Bisping, Ryan Oliver, Marquis Wright and Lavon Long, along with late-2000s all-timer Edwin Ubiles.

“You get to compete against guys with referees making the calls. It’s different than a pickup game,” Oliver said. “This looks like they have a lot of top-100 kind of talent in this league, and that’s good, because we all like to be pushed.”

Bisping only played a few games for the Saints last year because of a knee injury.

“Let’s just say I’m 100 percent,” he said. “I still can’t bend it the way I used to, but it feels good. This is a great league with some excellent talent. It feels good to play in a live game again. You just can’t go through the motions here. You have to have some savvy and play well enough to earn some respect against these guys. And we all love this kind of competition.”

Even youngsters like Shenendehowa’s Tommy and Kevin Huerter were impressed by the talent level in this league.

“This league provides top-notch competition and the chance to play 5-on-5,” Tommy Huerter said. “Physically and athletically, this competition is probably better than I had in high school.”

He will attend Cheshire Academy prep school in Connecticut this fall.

You couldn’t blame Kevin Huerter if his perspective on this summer league was a little different from his brother. After all, Kevin, who will be a senior at Shen this fall and is being recruited by numerous top Division I college programs, just returned from playing with NBA stars LeBron James and Antonio Davis in an elite Nike camp near Los Angeles.

“It was amazing playing with a guy like LeBron, who I’ve been watching on TV,” he said. “LeBron is so big and athletic. But when we were on the court together, he treated all of us guys just like any other player. It was a great experience.

“As far as this league is concerned, I think it’s a great idea, and there are some outstanding players here. I’ll be able to keep my game in shape.”

Among the other star-studded, familiar names are Joe Cremo, Greig Stire and Will Harris from UAlbany; Scott Knapp (Siena), Lloyd Johnson, and E.J. Gallup (UAlbany, Coastal Carolina) from the Schenectady Legends; former Amsterdam standout T.J. Czeski, and a handful of Saint Rose products — Phil Sellers, Zach Bye, Evan Lane and Clayton Longmire.

Admission is free. Games are run in two 22-minute halves. Van Wormer, who was thrilled that a couple of hundred spectators showed up for the opener without much advance publicity, said he felt confident he can bring back the CDBA, which had success back in 2011 and 2012 but then petered out.

“This is the best place to get the best competition,” he said. “You are not going to get a better venue or better players to compete against. The rosters speak for themselves. There are no weak teams. All we ask is for the guys to give it everything they’ve got every night and make it entertaining. I think this is a battleground for elite basketball in our area this summer.

“This is a labor of love for me. “We’ve got the younger generation mixing with the older generations, and they are learning from each other.”

“We, as a staff, believe in the concept of the CDBA being the gold standard of local summer basketball, where the community has a unique opportunity to witness an atmopshere of professionals at their craft, including players, officials and staff, across the board,” CDBA Director of Operations Patrick O’Connor said.

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