Basketball’s Bush League

Playground Legends and Local HS Hoop Stars Mix It Up in the USBL

Despite his book-length basketball résumé (literally; one was written by Newsday's John Valenti in 1990, and an updated version is in the works), Daniels is only 32 years old, and his game looks pretty good, too. The 6-7 Daniels was mostly playing forward against New Jersey, while recent St. John's grad Chudney Gray played point, but it was clearly Daniels's team. He directed traffic with and without the ball. And his passes? Pretty Magical.

Of course, in the USBL, offense rules (of the 11 teams, only the Kings and the Washington Congressionals don't average 100 points per game). The games are played entirely with NBA rules: same shot clock, same team defense rules, same three-point arc. But where the NBA has skilled big men to make the defensive schemes work, the USBL most definitely does not.

"This is a league of twos and threes," says scout Scott Adubato, referring to the shooting guards and small forwards who dominate the USBL. Adubato, son of New York Liberty coach Richie Adubato, works for the San Diego Stingrays of the International Basketball League, a new minor league that's a couple rungs above the USBL. "There's just no shot blockers, and the taller you go, the weaker the talent. But the shorter guys . . . it seems like there's a million of them out here trying to make it. You have to be so fucking good, though. Look at some of the NBA twos. Reggie Miller, 6-7. Allan Houston, 6-6 and strong. The guys here have to be prepared to do the little things, play hard and play smart. Because if they do ever make it, they're going to be 12th men."

Basketball Jones: Adrian Autry handles the rock for the Brooklyn Kings.
photo: Pete Kuhns
Basketball Jones: Adrian Autry handles the rock for the Brooklyn Kings.

Among the guard types are younger players like Gray and Queens native Duane Woodward of the Surf; Kevin Garnett's high school teammate Ronnie Fields of the ValleyDawgs; Brooklyn native and LIU product Mike Campbell of the Kings; and Ray Tutt of the Shorecats, an explosive scorer out of UC-Santa Barbara who's gotten a couple of looks from the NBA since he finished school two years ago.

After scoring 39 points against the Surf on a variety of aggressive takes to the basket, the 6-4 Tutt contrasts the constant frustrations of playing in the USBL (a three-point line marked off with electric tape; a less-than-serious attitude on the bench; a crowd count in the low two figures) with the luxuries of the Show. "My time in NBA camps really spoiled me," he admits with a grimace. "The nice travel, the meal money, the hotels, but what can you do? When you do make it back to that level I guess you can just appreciate it that much more."

And USBL players, who are, after all, making a living—one place or another—playing basketball, can always simply appreciate what they're doing every day. "I may have been projected to be a star when I was younger, but what's a star, really?" Reese asks. "I ain't making a million, but I bought a house in Yonkers, I'm putting my son through school, and I'm enjoying what I do. I still feel like a star."

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