Nite Court

Can the Phoenix Suns' experimental basketball program really turn cons into straight shooters?

Eighty percent of the funding for Nite Hoops -- which has a three-month season every spring and fall -- comes from fund-raising special events, corporate donations and personal donations, with the Suns organization kicking in the remaining 20 percent. The team also contributes to the program through summer workshops hosted by ex-Suns such as Connie Hawkins and John Shumate.

But if basketball is merely the bait to attract participants to Nite Hoops, moments like the halftime game at America West can take on an emotional power that transcends sports for these players.

"They'll never forget that as long as they live," Stodola says.

Long, who works a warehouse job at Bank One Ballpark, looks upon his seven minutes of hardwood celebrity as the defining experience of a program that has given him a sense of identity.

"That was beautiful," he says. "It was exciting to see 19,000 people cheering. You get kind of nervous. But to hit a bucket and see the crowd go wild, that's an overwhelming feeling. The camaraderie with the players, being in the classes, it's been a total blessing."

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