ABA comes to Vicksburg for summer

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Jackson Showboats General Manager Grant Worsley stands Tuesday outside of Jackson Street Community Center. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

Jackson Showboats General Manager Grant Worsley stands Tuesday outside of Jackson Street Community Center. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

The American Basketball Association is setting up shop in Vicksburg for the summer.

The national semi-pro league will conduct its first summer league developmental and workout camp beginning Friday night, and the Jackson Street Community Center will be among the host sites.

More than a dozen cities nationwide will host similar camps. Games will be played each Friday and Saturday night beginning this weekend and continuing through Aug. 2. Admission to games is free.

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The Vicksburg summer league is sponsored by the Jackson Showboats and will mostly feature players from Mississippi and surrounding states. This is the only one of the ABA’s summer leagues to be held in Mississippi.

Showboats general manager Grant Worsley said conducting the league in Vicksburg offered a chance for the team to showcase the ABA’s unique brand of basketball in front of both returning and new fans, and to provide a destination for players.

“The NBA has its summer league in Las Vegas, and we wanted to have ours in Vicksburg,” said Worsley, who also credited the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen with helping to bring the league to Vicksburg. “You have a great destination point in Vicksburg. You have a lot to do here, and with the success of Jonathan (Phelps) this year, and people from Jackson and Vicksburg wanting to see the team, it felt like a natural fit.”

Phelps, a former Vicksburg High star, averaged 33.5 points per game for the Showboats last season and was selected to play in the ABA All-Star Game.

Worsley said a player like Phelps is a prime example of the kind of talent fans can expect to see during the summer league. A number of former college players such as Tougaloo College All-American Cordarryl Campbell, LSU’s Terry Martin, Ronald Ellis of Grambling and Chris Hyche of Jackson State will also participate this summer.

“It’s my fist time experiencing it. From what I’m hearing, it’s going to be guys with great game,” Phelps said. “It’s in my home gym, where I’ve been shooting since I was a little kid. I know all the rims. I’m happy about that.”

The league, which uses ABA rules, is part tryout camp, part offseason workout program, and part developmental league.

One of the ABA’s goals for individual players is to help them land more lucrative contracts with teams overseas or in the NBA Developmental League. While more established ABA players like Phelps can use the summer league to further hone their skills, others can use it to get a foot in the door and show their stuff.

Players in the summer league will have earned a spot through private, invitation-only workouts, Worsley said.

“They have to have played some college ball and have aspirations of playing pro ball,” Worsley said.

Although not all of the players will be on a roster when the 2014-15 ABA season begins in November, Worsley said that shouldn’t detract from the high level of competition each weekend.

He also added that he hopes the summer league becomes a hot spot for the region’s basketball fans.

“It’s going to be open to the public and there’s going to be excellent players playing. It is something people are going to gravitate toward. Something as good as this can grow into something bigger,” Worsley said. “We’re sending players to the D-League and overseas. We’re competing with bigger cities, and it’s something Mississippi should be proud of.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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