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New rules, same old game for the players

The Tampa Bay ThunderDawgs, who open at home Sunday, aren't getting caught up in blue lights.

There are a lot of differences between playing in the American Basketball Association 2000 and playing well, anywhere else.

Tampa Bay ThunderDawgs point guard Kerry Thompson is learning that the hard way.

Whether it's assistant coach Eric Rashard yelling, "This one is worth more! This one is worth more!" after a steal during practice or whether it's trying to picture a blue light behind the backboard, Thompson finds himself picking up a different ABA nuance every day.

That's the price you pay when you play for a professional basketball league that will employ some unique rules.

One of those rules promotes the full-court press by rewarding bonus points for baskets scored off a backcourt steal. Others include a 30-second shot clock (the NBA uses 24) and two referees (the NBA uses three). There will be unlimited fouls, but any player with six or more, known as "shirted players," will be assessed a technical. The opposing team will get two shots and possession of the ball.

Because most teams have only recently set their rosters, adapting to the new rules is something some players say will take getting used to.

"Whenever you play professional basketball you're going to have to make adjustments," said Thompson, a Florida State graduate who has played in the IBL, USBL and CBA. "You kind of think about it like, "If I get a steal in the backcourt then it's worth three or four points.'

"Then there's going to be a blue light behind the basket, kind of like a police light when we get a steal in the backcourt, so people will know it's worth more if you make it. Once it gets going and we get into the flow, people will see what it's about."

Thompson and the rest of the ThunderDawgs will continue to hone their skills as Tampa Bay travels to Memphis to take on the Houn'Dawgs in their second game at 8:15 tonight. Tampa Bay lost its season opener Tuesday in Chicago 120-100. It opens at home Sunday against Chicago.

Most players, however, say the different rules won't affect them. Basketball is basketball; it doesn't matter whether the ball is red, white and blue or if the next shot is worth four pointso or fewer.

"They said there's gonna be a blue or a green light or something like that. It seems kinda crazy," ThunderDawgs forward John Strickland said. "As long as we go by the professional rules and play man-to-man defense, I'm all right with it."

Strickland is typical of most of the players in the league. A 1996 graduate of Hawaii-Pacific, the 6-foot-8, 260-pounder is from a small college and has played in several other professional leagues, including the USBL and IBL.

Many of the players in the ABA have played overseas but chose to stay home, hoping to catch some NBA scout's attention and make extra money. Both of those factors lead many to believe the ABA could be the best-stocked professional league this side of the NBA.

"As far as money, this league has the highest salaries in the States," Strickland said. "That's why there are a lot of the same guys here who used to play overseas _ you get overseas pay and you get to stay in the States. Because of that we have a lot of talent. (The ThunderDawgs) have three or four players who can put up 30 or more points a night."

Someone who got to stay in the States and in his hometown is forward Dametri Hill.

Hill graduated from Dixie Hollins in 1992 and attended Florida, leading the Gators to the Final Four in 1994. After graduation in 1996 he began his professional career in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Hill also played briefly in France and for the CBA before joining the ThunderDawgs.

"Hopefully it'll be a wonderful experience. I'm looking forward to it," Hill said. "When the opportunity came along it just made a lot of sense to me. It's a little different playing in my hometown. I know where to go when I need something and I know my way around and I don't have any trouble with the language barrier. But it's still basketball."