Unlike many of the players frantically racing up and down the court in an attempt to impress fans and scouts at the Southern California Basketball Summer Pro League at Redondo Union High, Corey Gaines has had an NBA career.
It has not been much of a career--a mere 51 games over three years--but it represents the high point of the former Loyola Marymount player's life. Most importantly, there is still hope that he can add to it.
After his senior season at Loyola in 1987-88, in which the point guard averaged 17.4 points and 8.9 assists, Gaines was drafted in the third round by the Seattle Supersonics. It looked as if the former St. Bernard High player might make the team.
But the 6-foot-4 Gaines, who started his collegiate career at UCLA, was the last player cut. He has been on an elevator between the NBA and the Continental Basketball Assn., essentially a minor league for the NBA and leagues overseas, ever since. He played 32 games in 1988-89 with the New Jersey Nets and the rest of the season with the CBA's Quad City Thunder; nine games in 1989-90 with the Philadelphia 76ers, then the CBA's Omaha Racers; 10
games in 1990-91 with the Denver Nuggets, the remainder with the CBA's Yakima Sun Kings.
After an impressive 10 games with the Denver Nuggets (8.3 points and 9.1 assists in 22.6 minutes a game), Gaines, 27, was invited to the Washington Bullets' camp last season. Expected to be a backup to point guard Michael Adams, Gaines thought he had made the team when he was invited to a media luncheon shortly before the season opener at Indiana.
"It was the day before, we had just practiced, and I was packing--we were on the way to Indiana for the season opener--when Coach (Wes Unseld) calls me in . . . and tells me that they just traded for Andre Turner from Philadelphia," Gaines said. "I just couldn't believe it.
"I thanked him for the chance and I was on my way."
Scout Marty Blake said Gaines is among several players on the fringe of playing in the NBA.
"I'm not saying Corey wasn't the final cut, but you could fill the Coliseum with players who were the last players cut," Blake said. "No one was ever the second-to-last player cut.
"When I saw him in college, I thought he had a chance to be an NBA player. And he keeps getting calls from teams so . . . sometimes it takes longer for a player to find the right team. Look at (Indiana point guard) Michael Williams. He was cut by four teams in one year, and now he's set to make almost $2 million a season.
"Most quick point guards can drive and (pass). But when the area of penetration breaks down, that's when they have to finish the play. You gotta be able to stop and put up the jumper."
That could be Gaines' trouble. He has shot only 39% from the field in his NBA career.
After he was cut by the Bullets, Gaines played with the Sioux Falls, S.D., team of the CBA, where he averaged 18 points and 11 assists. Halfway through the season, he tore a ligament in his ankle and sat out the rest of the season.
"My whole game is speed," he said. "You think Corey Gaines and you think speed. I need speed to get my shot off. . . no speed takes my defense away. . . . I need speed to get other people shots. You might as well put my grandmother out there on the floor, because she will be of as much use as I will."
Although his ankle has healed, Gaines has changed his game. He frequently slows down the tempo and is not afraid of shooting a jump shot.
On this night at Redondo Union, he must guard former Nevada Las Vegas player Anderson Hunt. Hunt is shooting the ball well, and Gaines can't do much to deter him. Hunt finishes with 34 points on 11-of-18 shooting and has 11 assists. Gaines counters with 15 points and six assists.
Gaines' speed may not be at the level it was at Loyola, where coach Paul Westhead called him "one of the fastest, quickest players he'd seen." But he is definitely in charge of the team as he plays 40 minutes.
He is averaging more than nine assists and has been working to improve his jump shot.
"When I was in Seattle, Sedale (Threatt, now with the Lakers) told me to work on a move each summer," Gaines said. "First, two years ago, I worked on hesitation, then last summer I would fake like I was going over the pick and cut back to the middle. This summer, I'm working on going to the (basket) and pulling up for the five-footer."
With NBA camps scheduled to open next month, Gaines is optimistic about getting another chance.
But it is not as if Gaines has been Mr. Luck already. His statistics at Denver, where he was coached again by Westhead, show he can play in the NBA.
"It would be one thing if I played bad and was cut," Gaines said. "But I didn't. I did what I had to do. If you didn't do your best, you deserve to get cut, but I played as hard as I could.
"When I was in the league, even if I wasn't getting any playing time, I was so happy."
Although Gaines plays because he loves the game, he also carries the need to make his parents and 8-year-old daughter, Megan, proud.
"The first time I was cut, I remember calling my parents," Gaines said. "They told me not to worry, that I was still the best in their eyes. I felt bad, not because I had let myself down, but because I felt I was letting them down. They've been supporting me all my life, at UCLA, at Loyola . . . and I want to show them that it wasn't for nothing."
His daughter, meanwhile, has seen him play on television. She doesn't quite grasp the complexities of the game--she thinks her dad plays with or against Magic Johnson.
"She likes to see me on TV," said Gaines, who is not married. "The money is important, but it's all extra. I want my daughter, when she grows up, to say that her dad was a professional ballplayer."
It is clear that Gaines is tired of the CBA and bus rides from small town to small town. If the NBA closes its doors to him again, he might play overseas.
If he does, Gaines knows where he wants to play.
"Japan," he said. "The big corporations like Mitsubishi own the teams over there, and when you play for their teams, you work at their businesses in the off-season."
That's tomorrow. Today, Corey Gaines is waiting for another chance.