When I first found out that all the NBA Summer Leagues were cancelled due to the lockout, I was initially devastated. Although the news was disappointing at first, once summer Pro-Ams kicked off, my complaints went down the drain. NBA players have always made appearances in Pro-Ams and summer leagues across the country, however this summer has definitely been one to remember. Since there’s no Vegas, Orlando or Rocky Mountain league to keep players tied up this summer, and they can’t workout with their teams, what else are NBA stars supposed to do to stay in shape besides get busy?
By now, everyone has heard about the Goodman League and Drew League, the Indy Pro-Am and Jamal Crawford Summer Pro-Am, but there are definitely some great leagues out there flying under the radar. The Wallace Prather Jr. Pro-Am in Atlanta is one of those leagues.
Atlanta has its fair share of NBA talents just like other major cities, and when it comes to Pro-Am play, Wallace Prather is the only place to be. We caught up with Jennifer Prather who runs the league and asked her a few questions about the Wallace Prather Jr. Pro-Am.
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Dime: Who is Wallace Prather Jr.?
Jennifer Prather: Wallace Prather Jr. is my husband, he was one of the co-founders of the Atlanta Celtics AAU organization. He was very well-known in the basketball world down here in Atlanta for a long time. He was mostly known for getting scholarships for his players. After he passed away in 2005, I wanted to do something in honor of his hard work and dedication, so a friend of mine told me I should start a Pro-Am league in his honor and call it the Wallace Prather. We’ve had plenty of Atlanta Celtics alumni come out and play. Josh Smith, Dwight Howard and Derrick Favors have all come out. The money we raise from the league all goes to a charity foundation in my husband’s name.
Dime: How long has the league been in existence?
JP: This is our fourth year in existence. We started out with eight teams. After the first few years, we had to add on two more, so now we have 10 teams.
Dime: Who are some of the biggest names you’ve had play?
JP: Josh Smith, Jarrett Jack and Lou Williams come out every year. This year some of the younger guys like Derrick Favors, Travis Leslie and Josh Selby have come out too. Iman Shumpert has been playing with us long before he got drafted, so we’ve seen his game grow and progress a lot.
There are a lot of great players that come from overseas as well. Guys that can really play but didn’t get make the NBA like Zach Peacock from Georgia Tech, B.J. Elder, Jarrett’s former teammate, Anthony McHenry who plays in Japan, Jeff Newton, Donnell Harvey that played at Florida who now plays in China. There are plenty of guys playing in Spain and Turkey, we’ve got guys from all over the place.
Dime: I know Georgia is a hotbed for high school recruiting. With national powerhouse schools like Norcross, Wheeler and Milton all in the area, do you accommodate any highly-touted high school talents?
JP: No, high school kids have never participated. They’re not allowed to because of something to do with the NCAA. College kids have to go through NCAA compliance in order to participate in our league, but high school kids can’t do that. Rising freshman would be allowed to play, but nobody has tried yet.
Dime: I know you’ve heard about the Goodman League vs. Drew League game later this month. Have you ever considered competing against some of the other high-profile leagues in the nation?
JP: No, I haven’t considered that yet. Right now we’re just getting off the ground. We have more than enough talent to make sort of an All-Star team to represent the league, but I haven’t looked into it yet. Right now we’re taking baby steps. Currently I’m looking for some additional sponsorships, once we get a few more maybe we’ll branch out.
Dime: How do you feel the talent out of Georgia compares to the rest of the nation?
JP: Well I think that a lot of the guys that are playing in this league could play in the NBA. A lot of them deserve a chance to, but they never got the opportunity because of how hard it is to make it. Georgia has definitely produced some talented players, and some guys have been fortunate enough to make it to the NBA. But the guys who weren’t can play just as well for the most part. I feel that if we made a team to compete against other Pro-Am leagues we would definitely be tough to beat.
Dime: You mentioned that Iman Shumpert has been playing in your league for some years now. How have you seen his game evolve over the years?
JP: I’ve been watching Shump since he played his first games at Tech. He’s always been very, very competitive. When he was younger he used to hate coming out of the game. He’s so passionate about the sport and is such a high-energy guy that he can easily get his team hype. Last week I caught his game and he was on fire out there, poppin’ threes all over the court. I think he’s progressed mostly in his maturity. When he was younger I wouldn’t say he was unmanageable, but he was a little bit hardheaded. Now he’s much more poised and under control.
Dime: Have you given him any advice?
JP: I talked to him briefly after his last game. Every time I get a chance I always tell him, “Don’t go to New York and get a big head now, you have to listen. This is your job now so you have to do everything that is asked of you because you’re getting paid for your services.” If he keeps that in mind I’m sure he’ll do just fine up there.
Dime: What does your league provide for players in terms of opportunity?
JP: Well there isn’t much more opportunity you can provide for the NBA guys; for them it provides the opportunity to play somewhere against other top competition and stay in shape. One of the coaches, he goes by Vatalie, he’s a foreigner, his team is the Challengers. Almost all of his players are from overseas. We start the season out with 10 teams, but only eight make the playoffs, so he usually picks up some of the college guys that fall short of the postseason. Vatalie provides a great opportunity for college guys to get connections overseas. Aside from him, college guys also get a chance to compete against some great NBA talent.
Dime: What is your most memorable moment from the league?
JP: Hmm, that’s a tough question. There’s so many it’s hard to pick just one. Whenever he plays, Lou Williams loves to guarantee 50-plus points. Nine games out of 10 he’ll get 40, but he gets 50-plus occasionally. This past Thursday he told the guy who was guarding him he’d score 60 on him and he fell three points short with 57. He put on a great show though.
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