The energy never leaves Carey Rich’s step, although he has been doing this for almost 20 years. The excitement grows as he talks about one of his proudest creations – the S.C. Pro-Am, which begins its third season Thursday night at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School.
“I’ve been doing it for a while. It just wasn’t the Pro-Am,” Rich says, smiling. “When I was in college, we always had to drive to Charlotte to play in games like this. I thought we had enough talent in Columbia.”
As a flashy homegrown guard at South Carolina from 1993-95, Rich always was the organizer. On the court, off the court – if players wanted to get together during the non-regulated summer months, Rich was the guy they called.
Nicknamed “The Mayor” by his coach, Eddie Fogler, Rich was the guy to call Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Xavier McDaniel, Tyrone Corbin – native South Carolinians who were making it big in the NBA, but still needed somewhere to work out during the summer. Those pickup games became so popular that years later Rich turned it into a showcase for any past-or-present South Carolinian to come to Columbia for the summer and play against top competition.
The result is the Pro-Am. Players get the chance to go against someone besides the teammates they’ll face in practice all year. And it’s free for fans.
“It makes people in our community talk basketball at a time when nobody wants to talk basketball,” said South Carolina coach Frank Martin, whose entire team is expected to play in the Pro-Am. “The Pro-Am is not really structured, but there are referees and fans in the stands. There are responsibilities for our guys to act and play a certain way because they’re representing who we are.”
Rich, Martin and several others agree – playing pickup against your teammates quickly wears thin.
The Pro-Am will welcome collegiate players from the ACC, SEC, Southern Conference, Big South, Atlantic Sun and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. It will also feature several former college players who are playing overseas.
The event has two notable changes from last year – no recruitable athlete (high school or junior college) will play, and it’s back to three weeks of action following a two-month schedule last year. The Pro-Am will play every Thursday and Sunday through July 24 (with one Tuesday, July 22) and then hold a three-day playoff from July 27-29.
There are eight teams, each sponsored by a local business or church and coached by a former college player. All games are free and at Heathwood.
Rich rounded up sponsors and volunteers, but still has an overhead of around $25,000 for gym rental, security, insurance, a trainer and the like. All costs are covered by sponsors and donors.
In his role as commissioner, Rich will organize, direct and most of all, reflect.
“October 18, 2004,” Rich said. “That’s when my kids were born. I was at the Y playing basketball, and my kids were getting ready to be delivered next door.
“Waiting to go in and get ready for delivery, I’m looking out the window, and I said, ‘Man, you know what? Basketball has dominated your life for as long as you can remember. Now, you’re getting ready to bring two kids into the world and you’re responsible.’ From that point, I never picked up a basketball again. While it’s still important, my kids are more important. So, I get my joy giving back to the kids who are still playing, and progressing from one level to the next.”