Women basketball players to get summer league

Knoxville-area fans of women's basketball will now have something to cheer about in June.

A local AAU organization, Adidas Team Hustle, has formed a summer league and got permission to use a key component – Lady Vol players.

Adidas Team Hustle, a nonprofit boys' and girls' AAU organization, formed a board to determine the feasibility of such a summer league. The result of their efforts was the Adidas Team Hustle Sisterhood Summer Classic, which will begin play in June of 2010 at Catholic High School in Knoxville.

"The folks I've talked to, AAU coaches, players and parents, have all been thrilled to hear of the league," said Rob Wampler, an assistant coach for the KGC Lady Pride and also a part of Team Hustle. "I don't think I've had a single negative reaction from anyone. The pieces on this fell into place so quickly and easily. It felt right from the very start."

A key piece was permission from Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt to allow her players to participate.

"I'm excited about it," Summitt said. "The men have had it for awhile, and it gives a lot of players in this area an opportunity to be on an organized team. That could give us a lot more talent in this area. You've got good coaching and opportunities to compete."

Summitt reasoned that her players would be participating in pickup games anyway – since the league is in June, the same time as Lady Vol summer camps, the players generally are already in town – and this gives them a chance to play in a structured environment. She does realize that summer leagues are pretty much about offense, so the defense-oriented coach will have to comfort herself with the fact her players are lofting a lot of shots in the off-season.

"That wouldn't surprise me if you didn't see a whole lot of defense," Summitt said with a smile.

Summitt will have a connection to the league besides her players. Her son, Tyler Summitt, will serve as a coach.

The other five coaches are Shelley Sexton Collier, a former Lady Vol and now the head coach at Webb School of Knoxville; David Ball, the basketball coach at Catholic; Shane Wells, Lenoir City basketball coach; Devin Driscoll, owner of Next Level Training and former Catholic basketball player; and Atlee Hammaker, the former pitcher for the San Francisco Giants and now a Knoxville resident.

The league will field six teams of 10 players each and will play games on Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning June 15, 2010, from 6 to 9 p.m. The championship game will be held July 2, 2010. All games will be played at Catholic, and admission will be free.

The league will run parallel to the men's Pilot Rocky Top League – which holds it games at Bearden High School on Mondays and Wednesdays – so area hoops fans will have plenty of summer action.

"It was only natural for the women to have a summer league to play in, especially in Knoxville," Wampler said. "Coach Pat Summitt has taken the women's game so far, and those of us in Knoxville feel like we've been there for the whole ride."

Wampler is one of four board members behind the push for the league, which was led by Habibi Andre. The other two board members are Hammaker and Dr. Jerry Punch, a national sports broadcaster.

According to Habibi, Punch provided the idea of having local high school students provide commentary at games to give them some real-game experience.

"We want to make it more of a community involvement," said Habibi, who noted that the Mission of Hope and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame would also be involved with food and backpack drives.

Habibi saw a void in the summer without a league for women and decided to fill it.

"There was a need for women's basketball," she said. "So we said, ‘Let's do it for the women.' We fell like the timing was right. We just kind of rolled it out."

The players will consist of those currently enrolled in college, graduates who played college basketball, professionals and incoming college freshmen.

Habibi said the league has had "great response," from area colleges, including Carson-Newman and Tennessee-Chattanooga.

Getting Tennessee's blessing was also crucial.

"It was great," Habibi said. "They're supportive, very positive."

Tennessee has 13 players on the roster – Amber Gray is out for the season after having brain surgery – plus the Lady Vols have two commitments from the class of 2010. The incoming freshmen would be allowed to participate and that would give fans an early look at new players.

"There are so many fans of the women's game here, so why shouldn't they have a place to see the new signees and the local kids that are playing for area colleges?" Wampler said. "And the Lady Vols, of course."

The Lady Vols could provide considerable star power and with free admission the league would likely be a magnet for youth teams.

"They will get to see the players up close," Habibi said.

The league has three sponsors – DeRoyal, AAU Girls Basketball and Duncan Automotives – and needs three more to sign up. The sponsor's team will wear jerseys with the company's name and logo.

Habibi said any company interesting in sponsoring a team should email her at: habibiandre@aol.com or call her at 865-207-2321.

Summitt said she thought her players would be excited about the league.

"I think so. I really do," said Summitt, who by NCAA rules can't promote the league but is allowed to answer questions about it from the news media. "I think it will be good. It gives them, again, an organized team to play the game.

"Would that be a good thing? Yes. Most of our players are going to be here. It gives them another place to go work out and get some competition. That's the main thing."

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