Sunday, June 8, 2003

From pickup games to local phenomenon


Summer basketball league begins 18th year, and, oh, how it's grown

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When Dennis Bettis and his friends conceived the idea of a summer basketball league for local pro and college players in 1986, they had no idea that several thousand fans would show up to watch it one day.

Back then, all they wanted was a gym to play in and a little structure so the best players in the area knew where to go to obtain suitable competition.

"We wanted to establish a summer league here like other cities had," said Bettis, who played at Northern Kentucky University and still serves as the league's director. "Most all the good players had open gym in high schools. We played against ballplayers of the same caliber, so we decided to give more structure to it and start a league ourselves."

Next Sunday, the NCAA-sanctioned league, now called the Deveroes Summer League, complete with sponsors, uniforms and referees, will begin its 18th season, its third at the 2,800-seat, air-conditioned gym at Oak Hills High School.

The league has become known as the place to be in the summer for basketball junkies. It's where fans go to get their first glimpses of incoming recruits for the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University.

In many ways, it's as much a social occasion as it is a basketball experience, with former XU player Jamal Walker adding to the atmosphere with his running play-by-play and catchy nicknames over the public-address system.

It's come a long way from those early days at Woodward High School when it was formed by Bettis, Butch Burbridge (Miami), Derek Davis (NKU) and Ralph Lee (XU).

"I wasn't concerned about fans when we first started," Bettis said. "When we started, we might have 30 people in the stands. It was just for the players. I didn't care if fans came or not."

The league was based exclusively at Woodward for the first three years, then alternated between Woodward and Purcell Marian. By the fourth year, it was played exclusively at Purcell.

The league gained popularity in the summer of 1993, the year UC's heralded recruiting class, led by Dontonio Wingfield and Damon Flint, attracted attention. Mostly, Bettis said, fans showed up to get a close look at Wingfield.

"Everybody was buzzing around, wanting to see that new class," Bettis said. "It's been popular ever since."

When the league was based at Purcell, the games were played in stifling heat. Bettis rented huge, industrial fans to relieve some of the misery, but they didn't do much good. In fact, enduring the heat became a badge of honor for the players and the die-hard fans.

"The players didn't complain," Bettis said. "But they ran for those fans during timeouts. Of course, they wished it was a little cooler, but they enjoyed it"

Over the years, the league has hosted NBA players such as Louis Orr, Ron Harper, Nick Van Exel, Corie Blount and James Posey. College players from UC, XU, Dayton, Wright State, Northern Kentucky and others also compete.

But no one has played in the league longer than Jack Jennings, a former star at Holmes High School and Western Kentucky University. Jennings, now 32 and still playing professionally in Israel, has played in the league every year since the summer after his senior year in high school.

"The big thing about the summer league back then was that if the players weren't going to get you, the heat was," Jennings said. "You had to be in some kind of shape to play in the heat."

Jennings, a strong physical player who scores most of his points by getting position on less-experienced players, plays a game similar to what Charles Barkley played in the NBA. He still looks forward to coming home every year to play in the league in front of his family and friends.

"When I come home for Christmas, they can't wait for the summer league to start," Jennings said.

The league is known more for its offensive displays than for its defense, at least until the postseason tournament begins.

"Everybody wants to play hard defense," Bettis said, "but when they're playing offense, they don't want to be touched."

With the games now being played in Oak Hills' air-conditioned gym, the heat is no longer a factor and the crowds are even larger, with an average of 800 to 1,000 for each session.

"Having the best players in the area play at Oak Hills High School is great for the community," Oak Hills basketball coach Mike Price said. "... It's amazing how many people in the community ask if the league is coming back."

Deveroes at a glance

What: 18th annual Deveroes Summer Basketball League.

When: June 15-July 20.

Where: Oak Hills High School, 3200 Ebenezer Road, Bridgetown.

Admission: Free; $2 donation requested at door.

Defending champion: Cintas defeated Stan Litz Law, 77-74.

2002 tournament MVP: Romain Sato.

2002 regular-season MVP: Jack Jennings.

Schedule

At Oak Hills High School

Sunday, June 15 - Games at noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m.

Tuesday, June 17 - Games at 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., and 8:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 21 - Games at 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Sunday, June 22 - Games at noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Tuesday, June 24 - Games at 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 28 - Games at noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m, and 3 p.m.

Sunday, June 29 - Games at noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Tuesday, July 1 - Games at 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Tuesday, July 8 - Games at 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., and 8:30 p.m.

Saturday, July 12 - Games at noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m.

Sunday, July 13 - Tournament first round, 1 and 3 p.m.

Tuesday, July 15 - Tournament first round, 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, July 19 - Tournament semifinals, 12:30 and 2 p.m.

Sunday, July 20 - Tournament championship game, 7 p.m.

---

E-mail bkoch@enquirer.com




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