Fans from all corners of the county were thrilled Friday night when hometown hoops stars stood tall next to former pro ballers at the War Memorial Arena’s inaugural Cambria County All-Stars Basketball Game – even though the height differential between the two teams was quite unfavorable.
SportsPower International bands former NBA and international basketball players together, touring them around the world and spreading positive Christian ideals through the love of the game. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the athletes gave presentations at each high school in Cambria County about making wholesome choices and leading a faith-based life.
The SportsPower tour culminated in an exhibition match, pitting the grizzled vets against a squad of players from each high school in the county on the arena court. The Cambria County All-Stars were held to a 120-87 loss, but they made the pros work for it.
“I thought it went very well,” said Bill Alexson, president of SportsPower International. “I think the crowd enjoyed the game. We had some good dunks. It wasn’t about who was gonna’ win so much, y’know?”
The anti-drug, Christ-inspired message took center court at halfitme, when former Philadelphia Eagles star Ray Sydnor spoke about decades of crack cocaine use, the threat of a terminal jail sentence and the acceptance of a holy savior that freed him from all of it.
“I saw how when the NBA player retires or gets hurt, everybody forgets about him,” Alexson said. “And who is he at that point? And you got all these young people with peer pressure and negative influences looking for answers. When you put the two together, you’ve got something very significant. If we’re gonna’ play ball, let’s do something meaningful.
“I believe changing lives is what it’s all about.”
Unfortunately, the local all-stars could do little to change their fates on the hardwood. The SportsPower game was flashy and, quite literally, over the kids’ heads, but the all-stars capitalized on many slips and mistakes the pros allowed. School teammates were paired up in squads and the tallest of the local athletes were divided between them to stay competitive against opponents that were nearly all 6-foot and some change.
“I knew our kids would have their hands full. I think both of them after a while were dogging for breath,” said all-star coach Dave Roman Jr., who also coaches the Westmont Hilltop boys squad.
“I thought they competed. I don’t think they backed down from the NBA guys,” he said. “I thought maybe they’d be a little intimidated, but all these guys come from good high school programs, so they were out there competing and having a good time.”
Marcus Lee of Bishop Carroll said after the game he didn’t feel too bad about the score spread.
“That’s under 40. That’s not too bad,” he said. “They were just messing around with us. It was pretty cool to play with those guys.”
“As tall as they were, you thought they were going to block your shot, but then they’d just do a little pump fake and try to get you off your game,” he said with a grin.
Former Greater Johnstown Trojan and Pitt-Johnstown Panther Marcus Tullis was called Friday morning to round out the SportsPower roster. He said his hometown opponents started grooving near the end.
“I feel like they were a little nervous in the beginning, but I feel like in the second half, they played a little better,” he said. “Turned it up a little bit.”
Local fan Jim Kleban said the match was as good as he’d seen anywhere.
“The memories those kids are gonna’ have for the rest of their lives,” he said. “A lot of these kids are never going to play big time ball and this is really going to be something for them.”
Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JustinDennis.