Dimondale, Mich. — You never know who is going to show up at Moneyball.
Or, some nights, who will not show up.
On Thursday, Miles Bridges of the Charlotte Hornets dunked time after time during the summer run at the Aim High Sports complex southwest of Lansing, thrilling the pro-MIchigan State crowd for the Moneyball Pro-Am league.
On Tuesday, it was a pair of Michigan Wolverines highlighting the usual Michigan State event, which is free to fans and continues on Tuesdays and Thursdays though Aug. 1 — but not on this Thursday's holiday.
Wolverines and Spartans have not tangled yet, but Adrian Nunez of Michigan, who played Tuesday night, said he’s excited to compete.
“It’s going to be fun,” Nunez said. “This is a different atmosphere than the super-restricted Big Ten play, so you get to talk a little more trash, you get to push a little bit, sharp fouls, so I think it’ll be fun.”
There are six teams in the league, featuring high-major Division I players and overseas pros, and all the way down to NAIA level. Eleven current Michigan State players — everyone but the injured Kyle Ahrens and Joshua Langford — are on rosters, although none of them showed up Tuesday for games.
Nunez and Isaiah Livers were there Tuesday, delighting a stronger-than-usual maize and blue contingent in the decidedly pro-green and white event.
The event makes for strange bedfellows: Nunez is on Team Freeze with MSU's Aaron Henry. But there are also nice reunions: Spartans standout Cassius Winston is on Team Cosmic with his brother, Kay Winston of Albion, also a former U-D Jesuit standout.
The event was almost dead about six or seven years ago, organizer Desmond Ferguson said, but has found new life at Aim High — after shuffling from Lansing Everett, to Sexton, then Harry Hill, then Pattengill, and often playing on weekends before poor turnouts.
“When the players show up consistently and want to play, that’s when you have good games and good crowds,” Ferguson said.
It’s the first chance annually for Michigan State fans to get a look at the incoming freshman players, and possibly this year transfers such as Joey Hauser, who moved from Marquette but is sitting out this season for coach Tom Izzo's team.
Of course, the cameos help.
In addition to Bridges last week, former Michigan State players Draymond Green and Denzel Valentine have played after becoming pros. Former Duke star Jabari Parker came last year, and Jaren Jackson Jr. showed jealousy on Twitter last week when he saw highlights of Bridges throwing down a reverse 360-dunk after going between the legs on a jam.
“Bro what,” Jackson tweeted, with Bridges replying: “Should’ve slid with me.”
It’s the type of hype Ferguson has been going for since starting the Capital City Summer Pro League in 2004.
“Miles is the perfect pro-am type of player, pick-up type of player,” said Ferguson, who added the Moneyball moniker for publicity for his apparel company, Moneyball Sportswear, which launched in 2002. “There’s not a whole lot of defense, so high-flying dunks, excitement, All-Star type games, that’s where Miles is unbelievable.”
Michigan players are a relatively new thing at Moneyball, though Ferguson said a couple Wolverines stopped by a couple years ago, adding Derrick Walton Jr. played last summer.
Nunez, who is from Brooklyn but has family in Lansing, said members of new head coach Juwan Howard’s coaching staff told him about the event and that the sophomore should play.
Ferguson, a sharp-shooting former Everett star who played in college at Missouri and Detroit, played seven games with Portland in the 2003-04 season.
Growing up, Ferguson played in summer runs in Flint and at the famed pro-am at St. Cecilia in Detroit.
Ferguson, 41, said Moneyball's mid-Michigan location makes it accessible.
“We didn’t have anything here in Lansing,” Ferguson said. “We’re pretty much two hours max from anywhere in the state, talking about Grand Rapids, Detroit or Ann Arbor or so forth. It’s a great area to have a pro-am basketball league.”
On Tuesday, Mike Edwards drove up from Westland to get some run.
The 6-foot-9 recent Georgia graduate is working on his perimeter game as a path to a professional career in the NBA’s G League or overseas.
He’s using the summer runs to prepare for a pro showcase this month in Las Vegas.
During his playing days for the Bulldogs, Edwards used to play a summer pro-am at Get Skillz Basketball in Livonia. But his trainer, former Arkansas Tech player Denarryl Rice, alerted him to the Moneyball run.
“It’s a good little run, I like it,” said Edwards, a former John Glenn High School star. “It’s a lot of great competition over here. I’m working on just being more versatile.
“I’m obviously staying in shape for (the showcase). I’m just going to go there, be athletic, show them I can play.”
This year, Moneyball features current and former players from Dayton, Oakland, Olivet, Mercyhurst, Davenport, Wayne State, Siena Heights, Calvin, Purdue North Central, Northern Illinois, Monmouth, Mid-Michigan College, Lansing CC, Benedictine, Detroit Mercy, Walla Walla, Albion, Ferris State, Mott CC, Northwood, Duquesne, Western Michigan, Spring Arbor, Rochester College and others.
Ferguson also played in the event for many years but not last year.
“I might get out there and get a couple shots this year, get into a little bit of shape,” he said.
The lights went out briefly during Tuesday's third game, delaying it for a bit.
But after a brief flicker, they played on, in front of a capacity crowd of hoop-heads.
“We’ve got a lot of great local players that come out,” Ferguson said. “When you come out and watch, if you’re a Spartans fan, you notice that, man, there’s a lot of talent out here, outside the Michigan State guys.
“So even like (Tuesday), one of the few days that all the Michigan State guys aren’t here, in the past, we might not have been able to still have a pro-am, but we’ve got enough pros and other guys.
"Spartans are an attraction, but I think we have a lot of guys outside of the Spartans.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.