By Anthony Rhoads
The Clayton State basketball team has some lofty goals in the 2003-04 season and they are laying some of the groundwork this summer.
Several of the players have been taking part in the Wilkins Summer Pro-Am League this summer at Clayton State.
The league's six-week regular season closed out Wednesday at Clayton State and the players hope that some of the experience gained in the summer will pay off in a Peach Belt Conference championship this winter.
"It's been going good," Clayton State player and former Mt. Zion High School standout Lamar Rodgers aid. "It's good that we're just together and playing together as a team."
Even though NCAA rules state that Division I programs can't play together as a team in summer leagues, Division II teams like Clayton State can take part in the off-season leagues.
"It's a big help," Rodgers said. "It's a big part of what we want to do here. The competition is pretty good and the overseas players make the competition better."
Even though he can't coach his players during the summer because of NCAA rules, Clayton State Gordon Gibbons definitely wants his players to be involved in the league.
It builds camaraderie and the players can keep their basketball skills sharp during the off-season.
"The summer league has been good for us," Gibbons said. "What I really like about it is it's the beginning of next year. It's been really good basketball and they play against good competition. It's just a good experience. In the summer, it gives them something to look forward to each week."
In addition to Clayton State, some of the other colleges represented in the league are Kennesaw State, Berry, Shorter, Clark-Atlanta and Reinhardt. Georgia and Middle Tennessee also had one player each take part in the league this year.
The league is not just open to current and former college players but professional players as well.
One overseas players who has taken part in the league is Jerry Johnson. Johnson, who played at Riverdale High School, is Clayton State alumnus and last year, played professionally in France.
In the Wilkins summer league, Johnson played in two games and was glad to come back to his alma mater.
"The competition is pretty good in this league," Johnson said. "I know a lot of the guys from college and from AAU and there's a lot of different players. It's great to see Clayton State get something like this. This is a good league and it gives more exposure to Clayton State."
Johnson plans to continue to play professionally in Europe and is currently talking to several teams.
The Wilkins league is run by David Archer, who has been involved in it since it began 15 years ago in Cartersville.
"Things have going very well here," Archer said. "We hope to expand next year. There's such a talent base; we should increase the number of teams."
Archer hopes that next year, the league will be run in Cartersville, Southern Tech in Marietta and at Clayton State.
"It's run very well," Gibbons said. "David Archer does a great job. It's very organized and they play pro rules with a 24-second shot clock even though the games are shorter. It's an up-and-down game."
The league also is a training ground for officials.
The league uses referees who want to move up to the collegiate and professional level and has used NBA Developmental League officials.
"It's great because it's above the rim basketball and a lot of the high school refs don't have the chance to ref this kind of basketball," said Glenn Tuett, who is with the Atlanta Basketball Officials Group. "With the pro-am league, it's a good opportunity."
Clayton State outlook for 2003-04: Gibbons is confident the Lakers will do well this season.
"I think this will be our deepest team," he said. "It's going to be our deepest, most athletic teams and we'll have senior leadership."
The team went 17-12 overall and 11-8 in the Peach Belt Conference last year.