For some players, American dream has European flavor

THE BALTIMORE SUN

EMMITSBURG - They arrived at the European Showcase from scattered parts of the nation seeking jobs that would land them in another nation across the Atlantic.

To the 50-odd players auditioning their basketball talents last weekend at Mount St. Mary's Knott Arena, the event - the first of its kind between Baltimore and Boston - was all about opportunity.

"You just try to get the most exposure," said Tabari Brown, who completed his eligibility at Jacksonville University and is the older brother of the Washington Wizards' Kwame Brown. "And here the people from Europe get to see you firsthand."

The presence of coaches and agents representing various leagues on the continent was a major drawing card for a first-time venture being operated by former Mount players Chris McGuthrie and Silas Cheung, both of whom have extensive experience playing in Europe, and ex-Mount soccer player and coach Matt Gannon.

"The idea is to let everyone come out and play and see for themselves what it's about," said McGuthrie, the No. 2 scorer in Mount history with 2,297 points and a seven-year European veteran in Israel and the Netherlands.

"There are always guys looking me up for jobs, and, in my mind, I can't tell them they don't have the talent. Everyone has excuses why things didn't go better for them in high school or college. This kind of camp separates those who do or don't have a shot."

No doubt skills abounded among the campers who were divided into teams of roughly seven players each so everyone would have ample time to showcase himself. And until now, the talent-rich Baltimore-Washington-Philadelphia corridor has been without such a platform for those not coveted by the NBA.

One player at the camp with more options was 6-foot-3 shooting guard Torrey Butler, a former star at Mount St. Joseph and two-time Big South Conference Player of the Year at Coastal Carolina, where Cheung coached for one season.

Butler said he probably will go to training camp with the Indiana Pacers, has already tried out for the Brevard (Fla.) Blue Devils in the United States Basketball League and is weighing offers from three countries overseas.

"I'm here basically to stay in shape," Butler said. "European basketball is not going to start until August, and some more looks won't hurt my chances. I'll just keep shopping for the best offer and opportunity to play."

Players learned about the new camp through Internet sites, letters sent to NCAA Division I and II colleges and universities and plain, old word of mouth.

Distance was no detriment to the candidates, who traveled to rural Emmitsburg eagerly. Nor was the $400 charge (which included two nights in a dormitory, meals and jerseys) a drawback.

Marqus Ledoux, a rangy forward from the University of Tulsa, arose at 4 a.m., flew to Dulles International and rode to Frederick County to be an early camper.

On the back of his warm-up jersey were inscribed the words: "Dreams don't work unless you do."

"It's a chance to pursue a pro career," Ledoux said. "This is exposure and was attractive because they had different people coming from overseas. From here, I'll go to L.A. for a Euro camp out there. Hopefully, I'll have some kind of success."

A look is all Kilian Watson, a Detroit resident who played at Eastern New Mexico, was seeking as well.

"To me, this is about challenge and making the best of it," Watson said. "I haven't been to any other camps, and hopefully, I won't have to go to any. It's my desire to go over there [Europe] and continue my love for the game."

The presence of McGuthrie, Cheung and others who have played in Europe, such as Terrell Myers of St. Joseph's, proved attractive to the aspirants, who could learn firsthand about what was expected of pros in other countries.

In the bleachers, Pat Price (Cork City) of the Irish League and Hugo Lopez (Los Barrios, C.B.) of Spain jotted notes and appraised the talent. They were just two of several European representatives expected to attend the camp.

Because European teams have limitations on the number of Americans on their rosters (usually two to five, depending on the country), coaches must be very selective and address specific team needs. Out of this camp, only a handful will wind up playing somewhere in Europe.

"This is a start for most of these guys, and a lot depends on what happens after here," Price said. "Because there are no such camps from here to Boston, a lot of these guys would have had to travel a long way to generate interest in themselves.

"Before, a lot of times you had to do follow-ups on video. What sets this camp apart is that these two guys [McGuthrie and Cheung] have the players' best interests in mind. They're creating opportunities. It's good for us because it gives you a sense of what's out there."

Price said not much time is required to evaluate the skills once the camp games begin, although "sometimes these things tend to be guard-oriented and it's difficult to appraise a big guy if he's not getting a lot of touches."

He said he was zeroing in on two players who had already caught the eye of his team.

Lopez, who, like Price, has also coached in the United States, was even more succinct, stating he was "looking for a three man [small forward] and a post player. But I also like to be wide open and look at everybody who's in camp."

He pointed out American players have to be exactly suited for the jobs they fill because in Europe, "they have to be better than anybody else. They have to make the difference. More is expected of them."

Because of those demands, Americans generally command higher salaries - in the high five figures - than their European teammates once they survive the trials of getting hired. That's where the former Mounties came in - to provide the stage for hopefuls from a talent-rich area that had been neglected.

"We decided to use what resources we had to get European coaches and agents here," said Cheung, the third guard on Mount St. Mary's first NCAA Division I tournament participant in 1995 and a National Invitation Tournament squad member the next year.

"There were a lot of these camps that players went to where there was nobody to watch them. There was a lot of trial and error before we got it going, but now we're here."

McGuthrie tried to begin such a tryout session a year earlier with different people while he was playing with Amsterdam but "I had to step out of it. This is not about making money. Basically, we're just covering expenses.

"It's just that this area is such a hotbed and guys go to a lot of these camps just to work out and go home with nothing. This camp is not an end-all, but if you're going to play in Europe, it helps to be seen by Europeans."

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