Minor league team's collapse irritates ex-Hawk

"This time they've gone too far."

The words of Tree Rollins came from a voice with passion and anger. The former pro basketball star, who spent 11 of his 18 NBA seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, has seen minor league basketball ideas come and go over the years. In fact, he joined with promoter Duane Allen Jenkins a year ago and agreed to coach an Augusta team that was supposed to open play in April 2009.

Though the team never hit the court, Rollins said then that such leagues were excellent avenues for young basketball athletes looking for a way to reach higher professional levels. The thought of giving prospects a chance to follow in his footsteps was his motivation for getting involved in minor league basketball.

Now, Rollins said, that same passion to help young athletes has him putting out a warning.

"I just want to tell them to be careful," he said. "I've seen guys come into a camp, pay a fee, get a T-shirt and a tryout and get promises that scouts and coaches will see them play and it can be all lies. That's fine. But now they're messing with the females."

Rollins said minor league basketball scammers sunk to a new low recently, targeting female athletes and coaches with dreams of playing or working in women's professional basketball.

Rollins specifically pointed Jenkins' most recent pitch, the Women's United States Basketball Association, a league that was to take root throughout the Southeast, including in Augusta.

Rollins originally supported the idea . But Jenkins pulled the plug on it in late May , a few days before the season was supposed to start.
"I've never come across a guy with such disrespect for the game and for other people," Rollins said. "I'm all for people trying to do something for basketball and to help kids, but I told him, 'Do not mess with the ladies.' "

Adrienne Goodson and Shanika Freeman were two of those coaches. Freeman, a former pro player in Finland who worked as a personal trainer, and Goodson, a WNBA veteran who was working as a high school girls basketball coach, both gave up their work when Jenkins offered them head coaching positions. Freeman was to coach the Augusta team; Goodson was headed for Savannah.

"He promised me a job, a salary, meals, a place to stay," Goodson said. "I was teaching and coaching at a high school, and I gave that up. They gave me my send-off party last week."

Goodson said she was to lead a 10-member roster full of young talent . Hoping to help those girls eventually reach the WNBA, she assembled the prospects and told them to report by May 28.

"They were all charged up," Goodson said. "They were giving up jobs and giving up opportunities this summer."
But on May 26, Jenkins used a league-wide conference call to tell the coaches that the WUSBA would not play this season.
Jenkins did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.

"Every coach was informed of the decision in a heated meeting Wednesday evening," Jenkins said in a statement posted on a minor league basketball Web site on May 27. "It got ugly, some of (the) coaches were extremely angry, one coach in particular directly confronted me with violent and insulting comments, however we made a decision and as they say, that is that."

The statement from the league said "funding was not a significant factor" but did not give a specific reason for why the league suddenly shut down. Jenkins did say in the statement that he will bring the WUSBA back in 2011.

Augusta, which has seen at least two minor league basketball teams play and fail in Augusta within the team's first year of operation, was to receive a WUSBA team called the Augusta Raging River with plans to play at Augusta State's Christenberry Fieldhouse, Jenkins said in early May.

An Augusta State official confirmed Wednesday that a deal with the WUSBA was being discussed, but Jenkins failed to pay a deposit required by the school and hasn't contacted the school since the league folded.

Rollins, a star at Clemson before playing in the NBA, said young female athletes and coaches might be especially vulnerable to such shady dealings because of the WNBA's lack of a solid feeder system outside of college athletics.

While the WUSBA's sudden disappearance might have turned away some talented athletes, Rollins said he won't give up trying to help the next generation of potential basketball stars.

"It may have tainted things a little," he said. "But it won't tear me away from trying to give something back to basketball."

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