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Local players stay sharp with Buford WBA team

BUFORD - About 30 minutes after Wednesday night's practice, B.J. Puckett and Reggie Anderson II lingered on the basketball court at the Bogan Park gym.

The former Gwinnett high school players, Puckett at Dacula and Anderson at Norcross, dueled in a friendly game of one-on-one, laughing when either scored on an acrobatic shot.

They've only known each other for a few weeks, but already they're close thanks to the bond they share as teammates with the Buford Majic, a WBA Exposure League team. It's not a bad summer gig for the players, who represent the spectrum of the team's roster.

Puckett, though just 25, is already a veteran of overseas basketball. Anderson, only 22, wants to follow his teammate's path to pro basketball in another country.

"I'm trying to get overseas and get some exposure (with the Majic)," said Anderson, who graduated in May after four seasons at Carver Bible College. "I went to a small college but didn't get much exposure. We played some big schools, but we got blown out bad. So it's like a dream come true for me to start my career here and get that exposure. I'm very appreciative of the opportunity."

Anderson represents the majority of the Majic players in that he's looking for an opportunity, a chance to advance his basketball career. New Majic owner Brandon Williams, a former player at Tucker, takes video of each game so that the players have a resume of sorts for pro scouts.

Every player on the roster would love a shot at the NBA, but most realistically just want to follow the path of former Berkmar star and Georgia Tech point guard Tony Akins, who has traveled the world as a pro basketball player since 2002. While wearing out his passport, Akins also has made a nice chunk of money over the years.

That's the carrot that lures these Buford players, like Berkmar grad Adrien Borders, to seek careers overseas. Borders started on Berkmar's back-to-back state title teams in 2000 and 2001, then was a four-year basketball and track athlete at Wofford.

He stayed a fifth year to play football at Wofford, then got NFL tryouts, because of his speed and track ability, which put his basketball career on hold. He missed an opportunity that Akins set up for him in Croatia because of a passport delay, and since then he's played in U.S. leagues like the ABA and WBA.

Now 26, Borders still wants to pursue a playing career. He has a business and economics degree from Wofford, but he doesn't want to put that to use just yet.

"Hopefully by doing what we do here, it will get us overseas," Borders said. "Just the exposure we get gives us a shot. And it's good for the community, too, to have a team like this."

Even players who weren't necessarily seeking overseas careers are now considering it. Another Berkmar grad, Mike Konanec, owns a successful roofing company, but the 28-year-old can't stay out of the gym.

The 6-foot-9, 232-pounder (up from his high school weight of 180) has to weigh overseas basketball against leaving his company.

"All my family's in Europe, I'm a second generation (European), from Poland and Germany," Konanec said. "So I'm thinking about going over there."

Other Majic players, like Puckett and Wayne Arnold, have already been there.

Puckett has played in Mexican, Chilean and Portuguese leagues, in addition to tours of China and Finland. Unlike many of his teammates, he has signed a contract to play next season - with Monterrey in Mexico's top league.

But he still plays in the summer with the Majic because he gets to play at home, as well as stay sharp for the upcoming season. He doesn't see his pursuit of overseas basketball stopping any time soon.

"I've always told myself that I'd play until my body doesn't let me anymore, or until it feels like a job," said Puckett, now 6-9 and 230, 45 pounds lighter than his high school weight. "Right now that's not the case, so I'll keep lacing them up."

The same goes for Arnold.

The most accomplished prep player of the bunch, he started on Berkmar's repeat title teams as an underclassman, then was named Mr. Georgia Basketball as a senior. He signed with Georgia, then went to a junior college in California before finishing at Tennessee State.

Now 25, he still thinks he has the game to play in the NBA. He has played in the NBA's D-League and in Iceland, but was a standout player last season in Austria.

He hasn't decided where he will play overseas for the upcoming season, but he's tuning up with the Majic.

"It's nice to be able to help out with a local team," Arnold said. "I've got a fairly good name here in Gwinnett, so hopefully it helps them out. And it's good for me to be able to stay in shape and play good, competitive basketball."

SideBar: Basketball

· What: Buford Majic vs. Cartersville Warriors

· When: Today, 7 p.m.

· Where: Bogan Park Gym

· Local interest: Gwinnett grads Reggie Anderson II (Norcross), Wayne Arnold (Berkmar), Adrien Borders (Berkmar), Mike Konanec (Berkmar) and B.J. Puckett (Dacula) play for the team, which is coached by Berkmar grad David Akin