Pro-Am Preview

Written by Brian Batko on .

Tonight marks the start of the revamped Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am, which for me is kind of like Christmas in July. I’ve attended/covered college basketball’s only summer league in this city since something like 2009, or in other words, the summer before T.J. McConnell’s first summer at Duquesne.

T.J. McConnell dunks

(Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

That seems like a long time ago, and back then, this league was pretty much just referred to as “Green Tree” because that’s where the games were played. But two years ago, it moved to the more spacious Montour High School, folded last year largely due to injuries, and is now back with a shorter season but pretty good participation numbers.

With all that said, let’s take a closer look at some of the teams — especially those with Duquesne players — and perhaps even rank them, if only because I’m always searching for new avenues to be wrong. Our old pal Craig Meyer also had a good notebook-type blog post last week when the rosters were released, so do read that if you haven’t already.

Here are the full rosters and schedule but as an UPDATE since the time this was posted: Pitt's Mike Young and Jonathan Milligan reportedly will suit up for the CDW team.

South Hills Audi
- Duquesne players: Tarin Smith and Jordan Robinson (plus DU alum Bill Clark)
- Smith and Robinson will likely be counted on to do much of the heavy lifting for this team, but Clark is no slouch either. He could get buckets back in his day and was the second-leading scorer this past season for French club Caen Basket at 14.4 points per game. This roster also has a couple of Robert Morris newcomers (one freshman, one junior-college transfer) and two Point Park graduates. Smith could have a huge summer given the style of play at Montour.

- Duquesne players: Nakye Sanders and Mike Lewis II.
- Perhaps Sanders and Lewis can develop some early chemistry running pick-and-rolls this summer on the same team. Sanders will have help inside from Robert Morris freshman Braden Burke, while Lewis has some other talented players to look for in Pitt-Johnstown grad/overseas pro Nick Novak and Yale senior Anthony Dallier, who played at North Allegheny. This team also apparently got a huge boost Wednesday afternoon with the late addition of Pitt's Mike Young to the lineup.

Shale Land Services
- Duquesne players: Rene Castro and Kale Abrahamson
- Castro is a bona fide Pro-Am legend, with no one being able to stop him two summers ago in this league. That hasn’t translated to much at Duquesne, but now he’ll get to work with Abrahamson, a grad transfer who could be a key piece for the Dukes this season.

- Duquesne players: Darius Lewis and Emile Blackman
- I still remember my first time seeing Darius Lewis, in this very league when it was still played in Green Tree, and he looked a long way from becoming a serviceable Division I player. To his credit, he’s become not only that but an Atlantic 10 starting big man. Blackman could provide some highlight-reel dunks in this often defense-optional setting, but will he be able to run point/facilitate on a team without many other options there?

- Duquesne players: Isiaha Mike and Eric James
- This is as exciting a wing tandem as there is this summer. Two guys who are really athletic and play above the rim, but one is blossoming into a Duquesne veteran while the other is the new on the scene. Could this be two Dukes starters paired together? Pitt fans likely will have their eyes on this team too with freshman point guard Justice Kithcart on the roster along with Big East legend Chevy Troutman.

Systems One
- Duquesne player: Spencer Littleson

- Duquesne player: Mar’Qywell Jackson
Not sure why they couldn’t pair Jackson and Littleson together, or at least throw in another Dukes guy on each side. I would think walk-ons David Haus, Zach Snyder and freshman Kellon Taylor would be welcome to play in the Pro-Am, but they aren’t listed on any rosters.

Duca/Nepa Road Warriors
- Duquesne players: None
No Dukes, but lots of local flavor to this roster with the Jeter cousins Sheldon and Lance, Cameron Johnson (Pitt, OLSH), Julian Batts (Jeannette grad headed to Long Island) and Jesse Reed (Greensburg Central Catholic alum who just wrapped up a fine D-I career at American).

So, should I rank the above squads? Sure, why not.

1. Duca/Nepa Road Warriors - Lance Jeter is on my running list of basketball players I don’t ever want to pick against (also includes LeBron James, T.J. McConnell and Tyler Ulis, among others). The other guys he’s running with are pretty solid, too.
2. PBC - I like the aforementioned Mike-James duo (shoutout to Dukes legend Mike James) and happen to think Kithcart is Pitt’s next starting point guard. The Luther bros. Ryan (Pitt) and Collin (Elon) have the benefit of twinning. Also, Chevy Troutman.
3. Shale Land - This is my sleeper team. No Pitt players, but Castro is already a Pro-Am all-timer, Abrahamson should stretch the non-existent defense, Aaron Tate is a rugged veteran from Robert Morris and the Shippensburg inside-out duo of Dustin Sleva (Montour) and Antonio Kellem (Lincoln Park) is nothing to sneeze at. Don’t sleep on North Catholic grad Henry Pwono, either.
4. South Hills Audi - The Tarin Smith and Bill Clark show? They should be able to do some damage. I'm all in on Smith's abilities.
5. HBS - Big men aren’t exactly key to summer league success, but Lewis is a solid one and Jakim Donaldson, a French pro from Edinboro by way of old Oliver High School used to be a man among boys in the Pro-Am. Maybe this team will pick up a true point guard at some point.
6. UPMC - There’s a lot to like about this team, which might have Robert Morris’ two best players in point guard Kavon Stewart and top-notch rebounder Billy Giles. But the question is what can Jackson and second-year Pitt players Damon Wilson and Rozelle Nix bring to the table?
7. Systems One - They’ve got maybe the best current college player in the league in Pitt forward Jamel Artis as well as Elijah Minnie, who transferred from Robert Morris to Eastern Michigan. It’ll be interesting to see how effective the sharp-shooting Littleson can be at this level of competition.
8. CDW - A very inexperienced bunch with two freshmen, a sophomore and an RMU walk-on -- or at least it was until Young was added. Like Littleson, it’s worth watching how Lewis adjusts as a freshman going from high school ball to playing against some really tough opponents. Novak and Dallier are good players though. This team should probably be higher with Young and Milligan now in the fold, but whatever.

Here’s tonight’s schedule if you go:

7:00pm South Hills Audi vs. Duca/Nepa Road Warriors (Montour Sports Complex)
7:00pm Systems One vs. HBS (adjacent Montour Intermediate gym)
8:15pm UPMC vs. CDW (Sports Complex)
8:15pm Shale Land Services vs. PBC (Intermediate)

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