PRINGFIELD - The level and style of play made it difficult to get an exact read on Shannon Crooks' play, but in his debut in the Greater Springfield Pro-Am Basketball League Tuesday night at the Boys and Girls Club, Crooks gave University of Massachusetts fans glimpses of what they can look forward to.
The league is an eight-team circuit that holds two games each Tuesday and Thursday running through the playoffs in mid-August. The teams are made up of current and former local college players as well as some members of the Springfield Slamm, which is a pro team.
In addition to Crooks, Minutemen Monty Mack, Jonathan DePina, Anthony Oates, Kit Rhymer, Winston Smith and Ronell Blizzard are all on teams. Ex-Minutemen Ted Cottrell and Rigo Nunez are also playing.
Crooks' first step proved to be as quick as advertised, which he put to use early on, beating his defender off the dribble on the baseline and burying a floater.
Crooks made the only 3-pointer he attempted and the rest of his 12 points came off drives to the basket. His physical strength allowed him to absorb fouls and still make shots in traffic, resulting in a pair of three-point plays.
The big question about Crooks was whether he could pass well enough to play point guard. The early returns seemed positive as he finished the night with five assists. He could have been in double digits in that category had his teammates finished some of his prettier feeds.
Though Civic Pub won, 79-73, in overtime, the team's lack of on-court experience was evidenced by some sloppy play as the team employed a predominantly playground style of basketball. Crooks said he is considering switching to a more structured team to help him prepare for the coming season.
"I feel like I might need to be on another team that's more organized to get me ready for the season," Crooks said. "I'm not knocking any of the players or anything. It just might not be for me. I have to look out for me first."
Most of the Minutemen have stayed in Amherst for the summer, working at coach Bruiser Flint's summer camp and taking classes. According to Crooks, the players are working out together regularly.
"We're running and lifting," Crooks said. "It's been all business. We play three times a week and stay active."
After sitting out last year, Crooks is ready to get back in action.
"I know I'm going to be out there this season," Crooks said. "It makes you work extra hard."
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Newest Minuteman Jovann Johnson isn't spending the summer in Amherst, at least not yet, according to Mack, who was at the Pro Am game sporting Allen Iversonesque cornrows. Mack's team doesn't debut until Thursday, but he and Oates were there to watch teammates DePina and Crooks.
PRINGFIELD - The Greater Springfield Pro-Am Basketball League began its inaugural season last night with Civic Pub, a team of mostly Connecticut players, winning 79-73 over Waterfront Club in overtime at the Boys' Club and Carew Hill Girls' Club.
Springfield's Jay Griffin led Civic Pub with 16 points, including a layup and free throw in the overtime.
Milford (Conn.) Academy graduate Shawn Bloom led all scorers with 19 for Waterfront. Teammate Jason Franklin finished with 16.
After the Civic Pub went up 55-51 behind Shon Jones' tough jumper in the paint to end the third quarter, Franklin helped Waterfront early in the fourth quarter by hitting two layups to put the team up 58-57.
He also hit a circus-style windmill layup in traffic with 10 seconds remaining in the quarter to tie the game at 69, where it stayed knotted through the end of regulation.
Waterfront did not hit another field goal the rest of the way, hitting 4 for 6 from the free-throw line in the extra period.
Jones and Griffin hit back to back layups early in the overtime for Civic Pub and each hit a free throw.
"We were very excited," said Waterfront player-coach Bryan Foster of Westfield State College. "I told them to get the jitters out early."
Civic Pub jumped out to a 7-6 lead with 6:40 to go in the first quarter, but Frank Hurrey of St. Thomas Aquina, who had eight in the period, made a layup to put Waterfront ahead 16-11 and added two free throws later to make it 22-15.
Hurrey, who was plagued by foul trouble beginning in the third quarter, finished with 13 points before fouling out.
Foster scored just four points, however, as coach he kept his team focused.
"We didn't have an opportunity to practice with each other so to take them (Civic Pub) into overtime was good," Foster said. "I'm glad to have that first game under our belt. Win, lose or draw, it's out of the way."
Griffin, a Harlem Rockets player, went 5 of 7 from the line, while the rest of the team went 10 for 21.
"Our team is made up of younger guys and to them free throws just slow down the game," Griffin said. "Free throws are a routine. If you don't do it in the beginning of the game, you're not going to do it in the end."
Griffin was right.
Civic Pub went to the line 13 times in the first two quarters, converting eight times, while in the fourth quarter, his team missed five of eight attempts.
Shannon Crooks (red) works on the defense here.
Sam's Sports Bar & Grill 68, Cover Technologies, Inc. 59:
John Smiley, a former Virginia Union player, scored 20 points, while Roberto Nunez added 17 and UMass' Jonathan DePina had 16 for Sam's.
Springfield Slamm member and former American International standout Chad Haywood led Cover Technologies with 20 points, while Slamm teammate Donta Johnson added 10.