- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2000

ANYWHERE BUT SIOUX FALLS, S.D. The CBA is a phone call from the NBA.

That is the hope anyway. The hope tugs at the players in the CBA.

Seventeen players from the nine-team CBA have been called up to the NBA this season. That is almost 19 percent of the original labor force.

The call-up is the basketball equivalent of the lottery.

No one from the 10-player roster of the Sioux Falls Skyforce has hit the lottery this season.

"Hopefully, some of us will get the call-up this season," Skyforce center Brett Robisch says. "Otherwise, there's no point in us being here."

Robisch lives in a modest hotel room with his wife, Shana, and their 2-year-old daughter, Savannah, and newborn son, Brendan.

"It's not the greatest situation," he says.

The South Dakota winters are not the greatest, either.

The reality complements the harsh weather.

Most of the players were somebodies in a previous athletic life. They played on national television. They played before huge crowds. They played in the manufactured den of hypemeisters Dickie V. and Billy P.

Skyforce guard Corey Beck was a member of the Arkansas team that won the national championship in 1994. He has had a couple of stints in the NBA: two with the Hornets and one with the Pistons last season. Yet here he is again, with the team he led to the CBA championship in 1996, looking to receive one more call-up.

"I want to get back to the league," he says.

So he plays and waits, then waits some more.

The time between games is the hardest, which is to say it is hard most of the time.

"We sit around and look at each other," Beck says.

To break free from the routine, Skyforce forward Nick Davis tried looking at other options, only to be disappointed.

"There is nothing here," he says.

That is not entirely accurate. The Sioux Falls Arena, where the team plays, is an intimate gathering place that seats 6,100. The locals show up in league-leading numbers.

"The people here make you feel like you are at home," Davis says.

That includes the team's chief executive officer, Tommy Smith, who has a handshake, a smile and warm words for out-of-towners.

The crowd on this night, numbering 4,484, is treated to a tight affair between the Skyforce and the Yakima (Wash.) Sun Kings. The game is not decided until Victor Page's off-balanced 15-footer bounces off the iron, which allows the Suns to prevail over the Skyforce 105-104.

"I was leaning too much on the shot," Page says later. "I should have gone straight up."

The CBA is looking to go straight up as well, mostly through the button-pushing and connections of Isiah Thomas, who purchased the league for $10 million last October.

Thomas envisions a CBA that eventually has a team in every state and closer ties with the NBA. His roster of potential expansion team owners is stuffed with a number of NBA players, including Chris Webber.

Thomas is not unlike the players. Theirs is the league of big dreams in out-of-the-way markets.

David Vanterpool, a guard with the Sun Kings who played at Blair High School in Montgomery County, Md., has no plans to abandon his pursuit. He's too close to the NBA.

"My turn will come [in the NBA]," he says. "I've paid my dues. As long as we win, I can handle where I am now. You want to think that winning will take care of everything.

To shoot the ball or not to shoot the ball? Sometimes that is the only question in the CBA.

"A lot of guys on last-place teams are getting called up because they average 20 points," Vanterpool says. "I found myself passing up shots because I was doing what the team needs. In the long run, it's going to pay off."

Each player in the CBA has a shortcoming. Not that many of the players sitting at the end of the bench in the NBA don't have shortcomings, too, which is the point. Why is he there? Why not Davis instead?

Davis is so thin he could fit through a drainpipe, which is not good if you're a power forward.

Yet he says, "I think I deserve at least one call-up."

They all think that in the CBA. That is what sustains them.

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