By JOHN BASSETTI
The connotations of drive-by and drive-in are very different, for sure.
For Dave Stambul, both were advantageous.
When the 1993 Mohawk High graduate was looking around for a more permanent site to conduct his indoor adult basketball league games, he spotted a for-lease sign on lower Mahoning Avenue.
“I drove by [the Calvin Center] because I knew it was there, so I drove in and sat down with the owner and told him what I wanted to do,” Stambul said of a 2011 encounter. “I’ve been leasing it ever since.”
Earlier this month, Stambul’s Local Competitive Athletic Association kicked off its spring/summer season for approximately 70 teams at the Calvin Center.
The current floor doesn’t look anything like it did when Stambul signed on.
“It didn’t look anything like it does now,” Stambul said of the gym floor. “A friend [T.J. Repp] and I put in a lot of hours sanding, painting new lines and recoating.
“I replaced and updated the baskets, too,” he said of other improvements made inside the former church building that also houses a theater company’s productions. Down the hallway from the gym is a small yoga studio.
Stambul, 43, affectionately refers to his gym as the Steeple Center, in part because the ceiling is peaked and also as a parody of the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
LCAA games are played four days a week, including Sundays, when gym users are requested to park in the back of the building when religious services are held in the church next door from 9-11 a.m.
But, aside from the center, it’s the players who are the centerpiece of the league.
“Not to pat myself on the back, but, yeah, I have 70 teams for a reason,” Stambul said. “I think the league is well-organized.”
It’s his full-time job.
“I put every hour of my day into this to get it to where it is.”
During games, Stambul sits next to a scorekeeper, who relays the player’s jersey number for points, rebounds or fouls and other action.
Immediately, Stambul streams the live play-by-play data.
“I love stats and I still wanted to play after college [Youngstown State University], so it motivated me to form a league [in 2000] and track all this stuff and run it like a mini-NBA,” he said of starting the LCAA in New Castle, Pa., where he rented the Sankey Center as it was called at the time.
“Every player has dreams of playing in the NBA, but, when reality sets in, we’re not going to be in that .1 percentile that has a chance to make it, so I wanted to run something as close as we can like it,” he said of his league, now in its 19th year.
Stambul’s LCAA played in various gyms before 2011.
“I use money from [players’] fees to pay for what I do,” Stambul said of collections from a per-game arrangement. “I don’t charge an up-front fee, only for what they play.
“If they play a whole season, they pay as they go. If they’re only playing a couple games here and there as emergency player, then they pay for that percentage.”
Some players use an on-line app that Stambul made available.
The league’s talent levels are Gold, Silver, Bronze and Copper divisions with Gold being the most skilled.
“There’s a lot of good players who play down here,” Stambul said of teams from Pittsburgh, as well as Columbus and Akron.
The LCAA has had those who played professionally, including former Warren Harding standout RaShid Gaston, who played overseas [in Italy] following his career at Xavier.
“When he’s not under contract, he plays [at Calvin],” Stambul said of Gaston.
Another former college player is IUPUI’s Darryl Webb, who is on the Wildcats team.
Some LCAA teams comprise high school-aged players.
“Actually, we have a few teams during the spring/summer season who get their friends and play,” Stambul said. “It does them well because, when you’re playing against adult competition, it’s going to make you better for when you play kids your own age.
“You’re never going to see anything like that. Those kids aren’t going to play anybody [in high school] with our talent level.”
The LCAA has been a recruiting tool for guys who didn’t take the traditional high school-to-college path.
“They didn’t get a lot of looks out of high school and have gone on to play college after coming out here,” the LCAA’s organizer said. “I have a lot of contacts with college coaches [mostly Division II and III] and I’ve gotten some kids into college [from exposure at Calvin].
“Coaches came in and looked at players here and could see their stats and it gives them an idea what they player’s like and they go on to play.”
Jake Bullen played at Austintown Fitch under Brian Beany, but never went to college. He has been in the LCAA for three years.
Through Stambul’s intercession, Penn State-Shenango scouted Bullen and took an interest in him. However, the now-21-year-old preferred to stay with his job instead.
“I don’t want to give it up right now,” Bullen said of his work as a truck driver/delivery person for Superior Beverage.”
The 6-0 Bullen is a point guard for the Lucky Charms in the Gold division.
“I like it a lot and look forward to playing up there every week,” Bullen said. “You wish you could get three or four [games] down there a week.”
He said it’s more fast-paced than high school.
“There’s not much in the way of schemes or sets or diagrammed plays, but, regardless, we’re all on the same page — it’s pretty much all open, pass and movement,” Bullen said.
“Defensively, we’ll play man or zone, depending on the opponent. If they can’t shoot well, you’ll play zone; if they’re good shooters, you’ll probably play more man.”
The games have a social aspect, too.
“When you go to bars and stuff like that, that’s all they talk about,” Stambul said of the carryover of competition. “It becomes bar and barbershop talk for sure.”
Aside from the talent and technology, the LCAA provides a less-visible therapeutic benefit.
“There is a team that has been playing the last couple years and they were in the gym warming up,” Stambul said. “I started talking to one guy who said, ‘We all met in drug rehab and that’s how we got around to playing together. This league has saved our lives because we’re thinking about our next game instead of getting high. I just wanted to tell you that it means a lot to us because, otherwise, we don’t know what would happen. It has totally kept us on the straight and narrow path.’”
Stambul relayed another story of the league’s spin-off effect.
“A player who is a paramedic was riding in the back of the medic truck with an overdose patient,” Stambul said. “The paramedic later said to me, ‘You’re doing good things down here. We saved a person’s life and he talked about how he wanted to get back down to the Calvin to play basketball again, so he could have some structure in his life.’”