Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
TAYLORSVILLE — Even though the Utah Jazz Summer League has come and gone and fans are still nearly two months away from Jazz training camp starting up, professional-quality basketball is still being played in Utah.
At the Taylorsville Recreation Center, current college, NBA G-League players and professional international players compete with former college and professional players in the Taylorsville Pro-Am basketball league. The league is a far cry from pickup basketball or casual rec basketball. Teams have to pay an entry fee of $700 to enter the league, stats are kept and professional and college-level referees officiate the games.
The regular season of the Taylorsville Pro-Am League ran from June 20-July 27, and play concludes this week with the playoffs running from Tuesday through Thursday. The games feature intense competition and provide an outlet for current players to compete against high competition while allowing former players to lace ’em up and, in a way, relive their glory days.
The level of competition is high, and players get into the game. Some teams run set plays, while others take a free-form approach. The one constant is that all the players love basketball, they all care about the league, and they all play hard.
Adam Egan, right, hugs Lawrence Blackledge after they played against each other in a pro-am basketball game at the Taylorsville Recreation Center in Taylorsville on Tuesday, July 18, 2017.
(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
Lawrence Blackledge, who played college basketball at Marquette, wore his Ehime Orange Vikings jersey, a pro basketball team in Japan. Blackledge just finished up the season in Japan and has been playing in the pro-am for five years.
“It’s been better, this has been one of the lighter years,” Blackledge said of the level of competition this year. “For the most part, it’s pretty good. I always use this to get in shape before I go back overseas, so it’s good enough.”
Blackledge’s favorite memories in his five years of playing in the league are his championships.
“I’ve won a championship three straight summers in a row, two years in a row we were undefeated, so there’s some pretty good memories,” Blackledge said.
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Sam Orchard, who plays for Westminster College, has been playing in the Taylorsville Pro-Am since his prep days.
“I’ve been playing since high school, here at the rec center,” Orchard said. “My brothers were playing in it before me and when I was old enough, I joined them.”
In a 104-89 win for Orchard’s team, the Griffins, over SLC Select, Orchard scored 39 points. Orchard plays in the Taylorsville Pro-Am league to train for the upcoming season and to test himself against quality players.
“Reps are all you need to get better, so you just get a lot of reps and play a lot of games,” Orchard said.
There’s no draft in the Taylorsville Pro-Am, rather, players form their own teams and enter the league.
“You just make your own team, put it together, pay the money, and that’s it. Pretty simple,” Orchard said.
On Orchard’s team is Zach Scott, who is teammates with Orchard at Westminster. Scott is a newcomer to the league.
Mikey Hernandez passes the ball during a pro-am basketball game at the Taylorsville Recreation Center in Taylorsville on Tuesday, July 18, 2017.
“I think that it (the league) exposes you to more aggressive and more veteran competition,” said Scott. “It can be hit or miss. You have some days when it’s really, really lax and some days where guys really bring it. I think everyone here, you wouldn’t play in this league unless you really wanted to play, so I think everybody tries to do their best.”
Nick Covington, who played in the NBA G-League from 2011-2015 and was a member of the Utah Jazz’s Summer League team in 2014, also participated in the Taylorsville Pro-Am. It was his sixth year in the league.
Covington, who played college basketball at Weber State, heard about the league from members of Team Utah, a team consisting of former college players that all played in the state of Utah at one point or another.
Team Utah also participated in The Basketball Tournament, a summertime tourney featuring teams from around the country. Team Utah includes former University of Utah basketball players Shaun Green, Lawrence Borha, Tim Drisdom, Bryant Markson and Dakarai Tucker.
“Just the guys I was playing pickup with. The guys that play for (Team) Utah, we all play together and they told me about it,” Covington said. “We used to play pickup up here (in Taylorsville), so it’s only natural we play in a league up here.”
“Usually, it’s the best competition, and it’s kind of hard to find (a) good run sometimes in Utah, with referees, so if it’s good competition and referees, you know what I mean,” Covington said.