They all came back to East High Tuesday night. Danny Schayes, trying to become a million-dollar scorer; Billy Donovan, trying again to make the Jazz; Jeff Judkins, trying to shake the feeling that he really should still be playing in
the NBA; Steve Hayes, trying to confine his financial-planning work to part-time a little while longer by playing overseas.And a sellout, in a manner of speaking, crowd of more than 2,500 showed up, proving once again that the only thing that goes over even better in Utah than pro hoops is free entertainment.
"You don't get to play in front of crowds," mused Judkins, speaking of his post-NBA days, "and you miss that."
The five-year-old Utah Pro-Am Summer League arrives just in time every August for basketball-starved Utahns, who will pack the hot gym all week long to see former local collegians, the latest in Jazz candidates, and all kinds of players just looking for a game.
More than five years after the Jazz traded him to Denver, Schayes is the big gun in the Pro-Am this summer. At least, according to salaries. Not long after signing a six-year contract for almost $9 million with Denver, Schayes is in town to visit and play with old buddy Mark Eaton and work on his offensive game.
His 38 points in Coors' victory was a start in the right direction.
"The biggest thing is, I get to do a lot of things offensively without throwing the team off," Schayes said. "I know this league helped me last season, because I was able to work on my outside game a lot. The best way to work on things is in game situations, and this is an organized league with referees and trainers, and it's really one of the best spots I've found for big men."
Worth watching: Schayes vs. Eric Leckner Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
The lure of being able to monitor the big men's pushing and shoving has brought Darell Garretson, the NBA's chief of officials, to town this week with nine CBA referees, candidates for two openings on the big-league staff as the NBA goes to three officials this season. "I'm impressed," said Garretson.
Donovan and Bart Kofoed were the darlings of the Pro-Am last summer, the hustling rookies who had to pay their own way to Salt Lake City because of the NBA moratorium. Donovan eventually landed with the hometown New York Knicks but is back looking for a job; Kofoed, whose broken foot helped him stay around town long enough last winter to ease into a roster spot, was a victim of a cruel irony on the '88 Pro-Am's opening night.
Early in the game, he broke the same bone in his foot and will be out about two months. Donovan, meanwhile, is one of four point guards on the Jazz's rookie-free agent roster trying to replace Rickey Green. "We were really unorganized last year," said Donovan, then not allowed to work with the Jazz coaches. "I'm playing the way the Jazz do now, under their system."
FHP, the Jazz entry, had an easy time with the Salt Lake Community College team, pulling away for a 159-96 victory after leading by only 14 at halftime. Last summer, SLCC also fielded a Pro-Am team _ with Thurl Bailey, who's out this month with a leg injury. "That's 50 points a game," said assistant coach Vic Deauvono, only a little biased because he's Bailey's conditioning expert.
The other two teams are mixtures of players, a departure from the glory days of the Pro-Am when the BYU-Utah rivalry lived on. This summer, Tom Chambers is absent because he has a $9 million contract with Phoenix, Danny Vranes is missing because he has no contract with anybody just yet and Pace Mannion is out following foot surgery. That leaves Judkins, the Pro-Am legend who last summer helped encourage the Jazz to trade Dell Curry _ no kidding _ when he delivered a game-winning, overtime three-pointer over the disinterested Curry.
Judkins is playing with little brother Jon, Fred Roberts, Hayes and others for his usual sponsor, Associated Business Products, but without the same names. "The biggest thing was not the playing, but just being with the guys," he says. "That kind of reminded me of old times."
At age 32, Judkins looks to all the Pro-Am watchers like the same player who walked away from the NBA five years ago. "In the right situation, I could be on a team somewhere, someday," he noted. "I've probably lost some of the intensity I used to have, but I don't think I've lost my shot. I don't feel old, but I guess by basketball standards, I'm middle-aged."
Anyway, training for the NBA would cut into his slowpitch softball season.
Next summer, Jazz officials are considering switching to an all-pro format, bringing in rookie-free agent entries from other NBA teams. Would the summer league lose a little of the local flavor? Sure _ Judkins included. But when the likes of Chambers and Vranes are gone, something's already missing. "It's not the same," said Judkins.
So bring on the Rockies Rookie Review.