by Howie Stalwick
Craig Ehlo made plenty of dough playing in the NBA, but he's hooping it up for free with 24,000 other basketball lovers this weekend at Hoopfest. Ehlo, a former Washington State standout who makes his home in Spokane, is taking part in his third Hoopfest. He's nearing 44, and the knees are starting to creak a bit, but Ehlo stays close to the game as a television commentator with the Seattle SuperSonics.
Ehlo played for Houston, Cleveland, Atlanta and Seattle from 1983-97. He averaged 8.6 points, including a career-high 13.6 for Cleveland in 1989-90, ranking among the NBA's better 3-point shooters and defensive guards for years.
Ehlo isn't the only NBA "veteran" playing in Hoopfest this year. Evric Gray, who played five games for New Jersey in 1996-97 before he went ballin' overseas, has been picked up by Battle in Seattle, a powerful squad based out of Seattle.
As usual, Hoopfest rosters are sprinkled with familiar names who have completed their eligibility at area colleges.
Bryan Depew, Whitworth's all-time leading scorer, returns with defending champion Happywifehappylife. The Spokane squad is seeded No. 1 in the top division, the Action Sportswear Over 6 Feet Elite Division (Ehlo plays in the same division, but for WalkingTall of Spokane). Battle in Seattle finished second last year.
Spokane's Wheatland Bank has an entire roster of former Gonzaga players -- Mark Spink, Jeremy Eaton, Carl Crider and Ryan Floyd. Two other ex-Zags, Tony Skinner and Alex Hernandez, play for No Mercy of Spokane.
Brandon Merritt, the gritty point guard who helped Eastern Washington advance to the 2004 NCAA Tournament, plays for Hallmark Hyundai of Spokane. Veteran European pro Jackie Johnson teams up with former Eastern Washington player Kemo Patrick on Spokanebyowner.com. Shann Ferch, who played at Montana and Pepperdine, is back with NBC Thunder of Spokane.
Continuing a recent practice, Hoopfest officials paid travel expenses for three out-of-state 6 Feet Elite Division teams, all of which have played in Hoopfest before.
Team Atlanta is a two-time champion. Two California clubs, Team Fresno and Team Pasadena, also return.
The Phillies, the two-time defending Action Sportswear Women's Elite Division champions, are again led by former Utah standout Lindsay Herbert of Coeur d'Alene. Herbert starred in a pro league in Germany this past season when she wasn't busy snowboarding, sightseeing or sampling local brews.
The Phillies figure to be pushed hard by the GU Ballas, who consist of four players who helped Gonzaga go undefeated in the West Coast Conference this year. WCC Player of the Year Shannon Mathews will be suiting up one more time with three other departing seniors -- Ashley Burke (a three-time All-WCC selection), Raeanna Jewell and Delphine Lecoultre.
The Old Eagles, champions from 2000-02, include former Eastern Washington standouts Lori Napier and Jennifer Sutter.