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PHILADELPHIA Like so many others who play college basketball, Brian James had the dream, the dream of playing professionally. But even though he graduated as the third all-time leading scorer at Division II New York Institute of Technology, the shooting guard from East Elmhurst lacked the exposure to get picked up by a team fresh out of college.
Luckily for James, hes got some friends who were willing to help. New York Tech assistant coach Dave Rubin told the former Newtown standout about the National Rookie League, a fledgling league that serves as a showcase for players like James to get contracts overseas.
If I went to a bigger school, I probably would have been somewhere already. I just have to work harder, thats all, said James, who plays for the Philadelphia Force, one of six teams in the NRL. Ive been playing against most of the guys who have played Division I anyway and I know Im just as good as them, if not better. I can do the job also.
James and Fred Warrick from Coppin State are the only two players not from Philadelphia on the Force, coached by former Temple standout Howard Evans.
The rest of the team is dominated by players from the Philadelphias Big Five Division I schools LaSalle, Drexel, St. Josephs as well as the University of Pennsylvania are represented on the Forces 12-man roster. Former Philadelphia University standouts and James former rivals in the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference, Tai Crutchfield and Anthony Jefferson, are also on the squad.
We have the best team, but its mostly guards. Its guard-dominated, James said. The big men are not really a factor.
Which has made it difficult for James to get playing time. According to league rules, the Force can only pay 10 players $40 per game. A player who doesnt dress doesnt get paid.
James hasnt dressed for the last couple of Force games and if it wasnt for the help of another friend, the 6-foot-1 guard may have already packed his bags for home.
Providing free housing and support for James is former Christ the King standout Craig Speedy Claxton, who was selected 20th overall by the 76ers in the 2000 NBA Draft. The two went to grammar school together at St. Gregorys in East Elmhurst.
I still go to practice every day, play hard, James said. Im still getting better every day. But if I wasnt staying with Craig and working out, I probably would have left already.
Claxton, who is rehabilitating his left knee after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament last October, works out with James every morning and brought him to LaSalle College where several pros work out. James played against Alvin Williams, Eddie Griffin and former Temple standout Pepe Sanchez.
Hes shown me some little tricks and he tells me what I need to do to make it, James said of Claxton. He helps me out a lot. He knows that I should be playing.
While playing time has been at a minimum, James knows just being on the Force gives him an excellent chance to get noticed.
Its been tough for Brian with our team because we have a plentiful array of talented, accomplished guards, said Philadelphia Force President Bryan Clobes. But this league, whether its with the Force or one of the other teams, is a good vehicle for someone like Brian who might not otherwise get a lot of attention.
And Clobes knows from last years inaugural season when 10 of the 13 players on the Force roster went on to play ball overseas.
Its sort of Pro Basketball 101 here its an education, it gives guys a heads up and the scouts who come, this is where they want to see you, said Force General Manager Jesse Rappaport. They dont want to see you in your local rec league.
If James doesnt get a professional contract through playing with the Force, another friend Sal Lagano, New York Tech head coach may provide James with a playing opportunity in Australia.
He was probably the most courageous kid Ive ever coached. He always wanted the ball in his hands at the end of the game, Lagano said. Hes definitely someone who will be missed and is someone who was under appreciated by people who werent around him everyday.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.
©2001 Community Newspaper Group
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