ELKHART -- Jamar Johnson wants his ambitious sports venture to be "a professional league for amateur players."
Except there actually are a handful of pros sprinkled in with all those amateurs.
And except the prices for fans are anything but pro. In fact, they're non-existent -- admission is free.
The Community Basketball League of Michiana tips off its inaugural regular season tonight at the Elkhart Sports Center with all 12 teams in action.
Johnson, assisted by a staff of six as well as several interns, has been working "non-stop" on a brainchild that he originally pitched to city officials and businesses in 2003. He later tabled it before announcing formation of the league last September.
Hints of the CBL's commitment to professionalism and sheer detail are evident on its user-friendly Web site, cblhoops.net, which Johnson, also the league commissioner, created and manages.
"I wanted to offer a league to amateur players that had the feel of a professional league, but also wanted to do it in a way that encompassed the whole community and the businesses within the community," Johnson said Wednesday. "Anybody can be involved."
Players -- there are 144, and 22 more on a waiting list -- paid $75 to join the league, except for one "general manager" on each team, who paid $150 and receives extra perks.
Johnson, a former Concord High School and University of Nebraska basketball standout who later opened his own sports management firm in Phoenix, says the fees are a bargain that don't come close to covering actual costs per player. They include three exhibition games, 16 regular-season games, all-star festivities and playoffs, plus uniforms that the players keep and other benefits.
Johnson estimates that the fees would be $450 if not for the sponsorships he has worked to acquire.
The sponsorships are where the free admission comes in, too.
"Our strategy is to capture the community and get them involved," Johnson said. "We're trying to create synergy with our business sponsors. They want to advertise to a sports fan base. What they want to see is numbers, and our players want to play in front of crowds, so if the sponsors are willing to support the league, why not offer it for free, which also puts a family-oriented entertainment spin to it. Hopefully, it works for everybody."
Johnson, 36, believes it will work if the three exhibition dates over the last couple weeks were an indication. Attendance was estimated at 500 per night, "a very pleasing number to start," according to Johnson, and the games were well-received by those watching.
Fans likely saw plenty of familiar faces. There are six former Elkhart Express players -- Corey Hadley (who scored a league-best 51 points in one exhibition), Antiony Hardin, Anthony Kyle, Darmetreis Kilgore, Lincoln Glass and Jeermal Sylvester -- and a few others with similar pay-for-play experience, such as former Purdue standout Jaraan Cornell and Cecil Mourning.
The league also boasts both a former Indiana Mr. Basketball and Indiana Miss Basketball in Delray Brooks and Kim (Barrier) McGuire. Those two happen to be on the same team.
McGuire is one of three women playing with the guys, and they're "holding their own just fine," according to Johnson, who would like to see enough interest for a women's division in the future.
Some teams registered as complete squads. Other players went through a draft process.
Players range from a bunch of former area high school stars well into their 30s to standouts just out of high school, like Karvel Anderson. Participating in the league does not violate amateur status, according to Johnson.
He says every player has a different agenda -- some just want to hoop -- but Johnson is offering them all networking opportunities with area businesses, as well as included health and wellness programs in cooperation with Elkhart General Hospital.
Ultimately, Johnson hopes his Elkhart league is the "cookie-cutter prototype" for similar leagues around the country. He already has a second Web site up, cblhoopsusa.net, intended to measure interest in other markets.
"People want to play, and will pay to play, when it's structured right," Johnson said. "I think it speaks volumes that even with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country right here, we've got a 22-player waiting list."
IF YOU GO
What: Community Basketball League of Michiana.
Where: Elkhart Sports Center.
When: Opening night is tonight. All 12 teams are in action. First games are at 6 p.m., with two courts being used. All 12 teams return Friday, with first games again at 6. Matchups are posted weekly on cblhoops.net. Games are typically two days a week. The regular season runs through July 25, with playoffs to follow.
Game particulars: Quarters are 12 minutes. Running clock, except for 30-second timeouts every four minutes for substitutions. Teams must rotate players during these timeouts so that all players receive equal playing time. A 24-second shot clock is in effect. Dunks are worth 3 points. There is also an advertiser-sponsored spot, about 27 feet from the basket, where shots are worth 4 points. First overtime is two minutes. Subsequent OT is sudden death. Games are expected to conclude within an hour.
TV: SBT2 will tape-delay telecast a game of the week, typically at 5 and 11 p.m. on Sundays.
Atlanta: Eric Kie, Que Young, Antwan Cassell, Don Hill, Tommy Gillespie, Jeremy Gillespie, Chris Charles, Mark Cambell, Phil McCray, Brandon Arnold, Kevin Sindle, Rich Gawthrop.
Boston: Brian Pearison, Ben Werner, Josh Stoops, Dillion Morris, Dan Kunde, Terry Hill, Quinn Brooks, Jaraan Cornell,Shane Sayler, Timmy Davis, Dave Clore, Mark Compertio.
Charlotte: Reggie Knighten, Wesley Lewis, Dwayne Hunter, Antiony Hardin, Christ Butler, Kivvon Jackson, Pierre Abrams, Kimon Holt, Chester Higgins Jr., Vernell Wilson, Herb Furlow, Anthony Kyle.
Chicago: Billy McClendon, David Knight, Ryan Vest, Steve Browser, Travis Carrington, Brian Landis, Vernard Malone, Toby McGraw, Tony McKee, Sean Farver, Josh Shoetzow, Brian Smith.
Detroit: Ben Johnson, Corey Hadley, Jamar Johnson Jr., Luke Maher, Darmetreis Kilgore, Big Slim, Marvin Gates, Crystal Knafel, Eugene McGregor, Freddie McCarey, Bryan Ivy, Sean Cooper Jr.
Indiana: Hassan Abdulah, Quinton Ruffin, Eric Brouwer, Albert White, Dvarius Johnson, Darquell Pulliam, Akeem Peters, Dennis Jackson, Brandon Taylor, Tasha Kyle, Quintin Hines, Andreas Gray.
Dallas: Damond Smart, Demont Payton, Dwayne Sanders, Demetrius Payton, Quinton Clarkson, Josh McBride, Sean Bowsher, Daniel Ward, Dee Peters, Brandon Wilson, Lamont Larkin, Donny Williams.
Denver: Ben Pope, Jared Price, Darrel Neal, Larry Smith, Bio Greer, Anthony Moore, Tommy Suggs, Larry Hines, Tony Gomez, Jovon Crockerham, Uliss Crockerham, Wesley Smith.
Golden State: Ronisha Beal, Joshua Lowe, Donald Jackson, Henry Davis Jr., Tim Johnson, James Smith, Karvel Anderson, Phillip Pettis, Jeremy Massey, Clifton Hammock, John Stahl, David Carr.
Houston: Bryan Burnett, Robert Brown, Richard Brown, Theron Bonds, Brandon G. Wilson, Rickey Miller, Jeigh Krupp, Leon Johnson, Andre Ondra, Timothy Beard, Micah Williams, Patrick Reed Sr.
LA South: Will Edwards, Keith Snider, Camareas Langon, Levon Karl Parker, Steven Newson, Darnell Cassell, Michael Smith Jr., Danny Taylor, David Goodman, Rodney Lee, Dustin Goshorn, Brian Carter.
Minnesota: Cecil Mourning, Ross Elias, Kim McGuire, Delray Brooks, Lantz Kulp, Hubert Gentry, Greg Horvath, Brandon Prince, Martin Johnson, Yul Lee, Jeermal Sylvester, Lincoln Glass.
Note: Team names were inspired by the NBA, but there are no official ties to the NBA or to the cities mentioned.