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Summer League deeply rooted

When the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas was started in 2004, its founder had no delusions of grandeur.

Promoter Warren LeGarie said he knew how finicky local sports fans were, but he hoped the city would embrace his six-team event at Cox Pavilion at least well enough so it could come back the next year.

"We didn’t have any long-term goals," said LeGarie, executive director of the Summer League. "We knew if we didn’t produce, we’d be on the chopping block."

Five years later, the event is not merely surviving but thriving. Friday’s Summer League tip-off at UNLV will begin a 10-day schedule with 55 games by 22 teams, including a squad of NBA Development League players. Nine of the top 10 picks in last month’s draft, including No. 1 selection Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, will participate.

"It has always been about opportunity," LeGarie said. "Everything is over-scouted and over-known, and that’s not reality. Guys get overlooked, and this is where they can make a name for themselves."

It’s a place where an unheralded player such as former Georgia Tech guard Anthony Morrow can show up, make a good impression and not only gain a spot on a regular-season roster, but put himself on track for a long NBA career.

Morrow used last year’s Summer League as a springboard by playing well for Golden State’s entry, but he didn’t settle for merely making the Warriors’ Opening Night roster. He scored 37 points in his first NBA start (his fourth game) and led the NBA in 3-point percentage (46.7).

"A lot of people didn’t even consider him," LeGarie said. "He was all set to go to Europe. But he showed up (in Las Vegas), played well and had a great year with Golden State and really helped them.

"Same with (point guard Jose) Barea. Nobody knew about him. Dallas brings him in for their Summer League team a couple of years ago and he makes the team. Now he’s a regular for Dallas. It happens a lot more than you think."

How often? Last year’s NBA rosters featured 72 rookie draft picks and undrafted free agents who participated in the 2008 Summer League.

For LeGarie and the NBA, which partnered with him on the event beginning in 2007, the challenge is to keep the Summer League from growing stale. It’s unlikely, however, that all 30 NBA teams will ever send teams to Las Vegas in the same year.

"We’re not reinventing the wheel here," LeGarie said. "The truth is, there’s only so much you can do. The worst thing would be to monopolize anything because there’s nothing to contrast it to. No matter what you do, it may not be appreciated.

"But we’ve tried to come up with things that fans like. Adding the Thomas & Mack a couple of years ago was big for us. Getting the Lakers to come here was big. We’re always dependent on the quality of the talent. This year we have nine of the top 10 picks. Only (Ricky) Rubio isn’t here.

"But it’s not just the players. We’re trying to keep things fresh and make it NBA-friendly for the fans. Having the NBA as our partner allows us to push the envelope and tap into their resources, which makes the event stronger."

One new wrinkle is making all 55 games available by Webcast at a cost of $14.99 for the entire event. The games can be watched live and archived.

"A lot of people don’t have NBA TV, so this is a way to expose them to the Summer League," LeGarie said.

Adult ticket prices this year increased $5 to $25, but youth and senior general admission were reduced $5 to $15.

"It’s still a good deal," LeGarie said of watching a minimum of four and as many as seven games in one day. "And we throw in the air conditioning at no extra charge."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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