REGION — Three months ago, with his son’s third collegiate basketball season wrapping up, Michael Howell started thinking about how he would keep his son’s skills sharp over the summer break.
Howell, who serves as an assistant basketball coach at San Marcos High, started talking to one of his best friends, Miramar College assistant Kwaku Amoaku.
From that conversation spawned an idea that is coming to fruition June 23 — the San Diego Swish Pro-Am Basketball League. And founders and supporters believe it has the potential to be a major boon for San Diego’s profile as a basketball community.
“We all feel honored to be able to be part of something that will be a positive impact for so many young men in the community,” Howell said Wednesday. “We’re very excited.”
A “Pro-Am,” for the uninitiated, is a sporting event where professionals are paired with amateurs. In the case of the Swish League, overseas, NBA G-League and even a few NBA players will play alongside collegiate basketball players from across Southern California and a few top high school players.
The players, who will be selected by invitation only, will be placed on 8 teams and play a 12-game season over six weeks, with games being held at Miramar College’s Hourglass Fieldhouse starting June 23 and running to August 3.
As with any sporting event involving professionals and amateurs, the Swish League had to — and did — receive the blessing of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, college athletics governing body.
So how did Howell and Amoaku turn that conversation in passing into a full-fledged league with commitments from NBA players, players from San Diego State, USD, and UC San Diego, USC, Arizona State, UC Irvine, UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara?
Amoaku, who also operates a nonprofit that provides opportunities for basketball players from Africa, said he was also looking for a program for several of the players from his African Youth Basketball Organization, Nathan and Joel Mensah, who play for San Diego State University.
That was when Amoaku said he thought about the San Diego Pro-Am, a now-defunct league that he and many of San Diego’s top players used to participate in during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Amoaku credits the league for providing the platform for him to receive a scholarship to Grand Canyon University.
Both men agreed that the idea was good, but needed someone to bring it together.
“One thing I said was that we could make it work if we get John Block involved,” Amoaku said.
Block, a longtime San Diego resident and former NBA player, is known for his Rolodex of contacts in the NBA world.
Amoaku and Howell called Block and pitched him their idea.
“He immediately jumped on board,” Amoaku said.
Through Block, the trio was able to recruit NBA legend Bill Walton to serve as the league’s lead ambassador, and former NBA standouts Stu Lantz, Jelani McCoy, Chris Dudley and Andre Miller to serve as league advisers.
“I had coached at Point Loma Nazarene for a while, and I had got involved in a lot of different groups, training kids and working with coaches, but when I heard this idea, I just saw the value immediately,” Block said. “I didn’t hesitate, I said, ‘This is a great idea, let’s go for it.'”
All three men said that the league, if successful, will also help to elevate San Diego’s basketball scene as a whole.
The city, which used to be home to the San Diego Clippers and San Diego Rockets, has seen its basketball visibility increase as a result of the success at San Diego State and, in particular, of its star alumnus, Toronto Raptors wing Kawhi Leonard.
From 2016 to 2018, three San Diego boys players were selected to play in the prestigious McDonald’s All American Game – TJ Leaf, Jaylen Hands and Brandon McCoy.
And San Ysidro is currently home to a soon-to-be freshman that many analysts consider to be one of the best basketball players in his grade in the country, Mikey Williams.
With all of this energy surrounding basketball, the group hopes the league will cement San Diego as a summer destination for top basketball players across the country.
“It’s really exciting, it’s just starting to come to fruition in the last month, and it’s this swell that keeps building into a really cool wave, and we are going to ride it,” Block said. “It is exhilarating at this point for all of us.”
San Diego Swish Pro-Am Basketball League