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Active Cultures: the hottest basketball ticket in town this summer is free

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It began as idle conversation between Vince Carter and Michael "Skeet" Horton, a couple of basketball aficionados from the near north side. "We were talking about how there is no really strong college summer tournament in the city," says Carter, the boys' basketball coach at Von Steuben high school. "We thought we'd start one."

Finding players wasn't hard. For over 20 years Carter's run the Demons, a youth basketball organization out of Cabrini-Green for kids aged 9 to 18. And Horton, a former basketball standout at Sullivan High School, is the recreation director at the New City YMCA. Between the two of them they pretty much know everyone who's anyone in Chicago basketball. They wanted a competitive league that wouldn't be dominated by one or two high-profile superstars. "In some of the old pro-am summer leagues you had the amateurs clearing out for the pros to go one-on-one--it's not much competition," says Carter. "We wanted to get serious players who wanted to play seriously within a team format to show people what they could do."

In the spring, they started making some calls. "First thing we did was check out the NCAA rules--there's a bunch of rules," says Carter. "We can't charge to come in, can't charge for parking. Can't have more than two players from one Division One school on the same squad. Stuff like that. We filled out the appropriate forms and had our league."

They rounded up about 90 players--enough to fill eight teams. Some are former high school stars home for the summer from out-of-state schools. Others are making names for themselves locally at DePaul and Loyola. "We've got guys from all over Illinois and Indiana," says Carter. "We've got Dennis Lattimore from Notre Dame, and Royce Parran from Chicago State, and Tracy Robinson from Loyola, and Mike McKinney, who plays for Northern, and Drake Deiner, who plays for DePaul, and Lorenzo Thompson, who also plays for DePaul, though a lot of people remember him from Crane high school. And there's Dave Telander from Loyola and Ben Rand out of Northern and Mike Hall, who plays for George Washington. Then I got my guys from Von: Temi Soyebo, Ryne Hamblet, and Josh Hudson."

And Shannon Brown? "Oh, yes, Shannon--how can I forget Shannon?" says Carter of the Michigan State guard, the 2003 Illinois Mr. Basketball from Maywood. "Everyone wants to see him."

The first game of the Hoop 'Til It Hurts Summer League--after Horton's Hoop 'Til It Hurts line of basketball clothing--was June 22 at the New City Y. Only about 50 people showed up to watch, but as word has spread, more people have started to come, and the last few games have been downright crowded. It's good action, a cut above the usual summer-league fare. The players at least look like they're trying to play defense, and they pass the ball, sometimes spectacularly. The games are close, the gym's hot but not stifling, and the fans are loud. Some of the players are high jumpers, like Brown. Others are charismatic, like Thompson, a remarkably nimble ball handler for such a massive man (he stands 6'9" and weighs about 260). Drake Deiner's got a sweet, silky-smooth jump shot.

It seems as though everyone in the gym knows everyone else--or at least everyone knows Carter and Horton, who greets fans with wisecracks. "It'll cost you $3 to get in," he tells one teen in a tank top. "Then it'll cost you $2 to get out."

The July 15 game drew Carter's old Leo High School classmate Tony Parker, the legendary point, to watch Pierre, his youngest son. (Another son, Tony Parker Jr., starts for the San Antonio Spurs, and yet another, T.J., plays guard for Northwestern.) Running the clock was Skeet Horton's son, Michael, a sophomore at Von Steuben and one of the hardest-driving point guards on the north side. Next to him sat Jalen Pughsley, an 11-year-old on Carter's sixth-grade team, whose father, LaVerick Pughsley, played for the Demons in the 80s. LaVerick stood in the corner next to referee Pamela Oliver, who's known Lorenzo Thompson since he was a baby. Next to her was Louise Torres, who explained that her son, Fil, played for the Demons in the mid-90s before going on to the University of Arizona, where he made the team as a walk-on. Back for the summer league as a coach, Fil was nervously pacing the sidelines. His team had the ball with the score tied and the seconds winding down. The pass came to Eddie Smith, out of Moberly Community College. He passed to Marques Warfield from McHenry County College, who drilled a three at the buzzer.

Afterward Warfield sat on the bench, dripping sweat, as folks continued to stream into the gym until every seat was taken and they were lining the walls. Lorenzo Thompson's team was up next and everyone loves Thompson. "We're all looking for good games," said Warfield. "And this is as good as it gets."

Hoop 'Til It Hurts games are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 through August 12 at the New City YMCA, 1515 N. Halsted, with the league championship game on Friday, August 13. Admission is free; call Horton at 312-440-7282 for more info, and go early if you want a seat, because there are only a few rows of bleachers.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jon Randolph.

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