Twin Cities Pro-Am continues to draw big names, bigger crowds

18 July 2023

Paige Bueckers was actually nervous on a basketball court – well, a sideline, anyway.

A guest coach in the Twin Cities Pro-Am summer league Monday at Minnehaha Academy, the Connecticut guard and Hopkins grad pulled out her dry-erase board and went to work diagramming an action to get her close friend – Orlando Magic guard and Minnehaha Academy alum Jalen Suggs – an alley oop attempt.

“First thing she said, she was getting nervous, she said, ‘I don’t know if this is going to work,’” Suggs said. “C’mon, P, we’ve got confidence in you.”

For good reason. Most things Bueckers touches on the court turn to gold. And, sure enough, the play successfully led to a Suggs slam. As he ran down the floor, the guard pointed to Bueckers, who sported a big smile.

“It was pretty cool,” Bueckers said.

“We’re calling that one ‘UConn,’ ” Suggs said.

Just another night at the Twin Cities Pro-Am.

The exhibition – which consistently features many of the best men’s basketball players to come out of the metro – continues to grow in attendance and prominence in the local summer sports scene. The Redhawks’ home gym was packed Monday to nearly as big of levels as last year’s championship game. Spectators were treated to a show featuring the likes of NBA guards in Suggs and Tyus Jones – a staple of the league – going head to head, with Bueckers and Gophers guard Amaya Battle serving as coaches on opposite benches.

“It’s awesome getting them out here, getting them involved,” Jones said. “They’re part of the reason there was a turnout.”

Battle shared the bench with Gophers teammate Mara Braun. Like Bueckers, Battle also drew up an action. She was also picking the brain of Jones throughout the night.

“They’re not just here just for fun. They’re trying to learn, asking questions, trying to take advantage of the situation and the moment,” Jones said. “She was like, ‘How come you never look sped up? How come you look so calm on the floor and you’re in control?’ Just little stuff like that, talking about how to break down the game, how to play at your own pace, but also change of pace, how that’s key. But just little stuff like that. For me, that was cool to see that she was eager to ask questions.”

Everyone gets something out of the experience. Battle and Bueckers dipped their toes into the coaching waters, while also watching and learning from pros before they eventually reach that stage. Jones and Co. get competitive summer runs without the hassle of having to find gym time and playing partners. And fans get the chance to watch many of their favorite players – past and present –  compete against one another at no cost.

“That’s what it’s about. We’ve been saying it for years, Minnesota has got talent. And what better way to showcase it than everyone getting into the same gym and putting on a little show for the fans?” Jones said. “Everyone is looking for something to do, looking for some basketball to watch with Summer League finishing up, and this is what it’s all about.”

Suggs flew into the Twin Cities late Monday afternoon. He went straight from the airport to his alma mater – initially with the intention of supporting Bueckers from the sidelines. Things changed in the first half.

“Something about being in the gym, seeing a bunch of family, friends and familiar faces, I wanted to get on the court,” Suggs said. “There was no way I’m going to miss my chance to get coached by Paige. That was a dope moment. Me and Paige are super close and have been for a long time now, so just to be able to come out and have fun together in front of our city.”

Suggs missed out on the chance to compete in the pro-am the past couple years as he played in NBA Summer League and recovered from injury. He thoroughly enjoyed the chance to compete against a bunch of familiar faces in front of a captive audience that delivered plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” every time Suggs dazzled with a different highlight reel slam.

“Everybody showed up, showed out. They were fun, had great energy. It was a good time. I enjoyed it,” Suggs said. “I’m glad I did it.”

As was Bueckers, who noted she’d like to again participate in the action down the road, though perhaps in a different capacity.

Bueckers and Suggs will need to take part again in an effort to even their pro-am records. They fell to 0-1 Monday as Jones delivered a critical four-point play late to push Team Tyus past Strictly Bball.

“Hopefully,” Bueckers said, “someday I can be playing in this with (Jalen).”

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