It's a Wednesday morning at the Capital Christian High
School gym, and an intense basketball game is under way. The
mix of talented players represents all levels of the
basketball world: some high schoolers, players recently out of
college, overseas veterans, NBA players and a few playground
legends still chasing that dream.
Most players say they come to Capital Christian in search
of a good game, but the man who organizes these impromptu
contests is the main attraction.
When Albert "Guss" Armstead, then an assistant coach at
Sacramento State in 1986, beganng the gym on campus for
pickup games featuring the likes of Kenny Smith, Otis Thorpe
and LaSalle Thompson, he didn't envision becoming one of the
more influential figures in Sacramento basketball.
Armstead, 40, said the Sacramento Pro Development Summer
Basketball League he runs at Capital Christian was born out of
the need to give some structure to that high-caliber
"I was still playing when I realized you can't play
unorganized," Armstead said.
Capital Christian High School sophomore-to-be Darius
Logan, right, receives a few pointers from the Kings'
Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer
Former Del Campo High School and
UCLA standout Matt Barnes
hopes to make an NBA roster.
Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer
Things have changed since then. Agents send their clients to him.
High school players line up to tap his basketball knowledge. Foreign
teams supplement Armstead's income when they call to see if he knows
a player who might fill a need on their rosters. "I act more like a
consultant," Armstead said. "If a team needs a guy, they know I have
access to guys."
That's especially true among players from the Sacramento
area, many of whom Armstead has known for years. He has
connections around the globe that began by developing
relationships while at Sac State in the late 1980s.
He also is a renowned trainer through his business, To The Hoop.
He has built a reputation as someone who can push even the most
successful athletes to their physical limits. The pros pay as much
as $500 a month for Armstead's services, while preps get a discount
"He makes you run a lot," said Kings guard Bobby Jackson. "Guss
knows what he's doing. He's the Sacramento guru of basketball."
Armstead's reputation has players from across the country coming
to the Sacramento in hopes of moving on to play professionally. Mike
Wilks, a reserve guard with the Minnesota Timberwolves and a
Milwaukee native, first heard about Armstead and his twice-a-day
workouts while playing at Rice. He was told of Armstead's work with
Kevin Ollie and Troy Hudson, undrafted players who are now on NBA
After not being selected in the 2001 NBA draft, Wilks spent time
in the National Basketball Development League. Wilks went to camp
with the Kings in 2001, then Milwaukee in 2002. The Atlanta Hawks
picked him from the Huntsville Flight of the NBDL last December.
After a series of 10-day contracts, Wilks landed with the
Timberwolves, who signed him through the rest of the season.
Wilks credits Armstead's workouts and skills training with
improving his game to the point he could stick with a playoff team.
"While other people are out vacationing, I'm getting up early,
working out twice a day, getting out on the track," Wilks said.
Wilks said he shares a spiritual kinship with Armstead, whose
encouraging words motivated the player during the failed pro
tryouts. That Armstead knows how to whip players into form is a
bonus. "Where I'm from in Milwaukee, there aren't a lot of places to
work out or people who know what they're doing," Wilks said.
Armstead, a native of Lompoc, moved to Sacramento in 1984 to play
basketball at Sac State. He was an assistant coach for the Hornets
from 1986 to 1988. What began as organized pickup games evolved into
the development league around 1990. For 10 years, games were played
at the Salvation Army gym in Oak Park before the league moved to
bigger quarters at Natomas High, then Capital Christian. Each team
has a sponsor that kicks in about $1,500 to field a team. The Kings
usually donate about $2,500. Armstead said he usually loses money on
the summer league after paying for the gym and officials. With six
teams this summer, the league was self-supporting.
This year's pro-am version, which started June 9 and concluded
Wednesday night, featured an eclectic mix of players. Jackson is an
NBA star, having graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. Former
Christian Brothers High and Cal standout Monty Buckley, a 1991
graduate, is one of several players who have known Armstead since
they were in high school. Buckley has established a successful
career abroad, playing in England last season.
"Guss, he's amazing," Buckley said. "Whatever you put in, you get
better." Armstead can challenge athletes, no matter the level of
their games. He also emphasizes a family atmosphere in his training
"Every day the routine is different," said former Center High
star Renee Wright, who just finished her freshman season at Cal.
"But it's the most rigorous routine he can think of."
Armstead said when Del Campo's Krista Foster committed to Cal,
the happiness went beyond him and her family. Several players he
works with called to pass along congratulations to Foster, one of
But when things go badly, Armstead and those he works with also
are there, as Wright learned after tearing her anterior cruciate
knee ligament before her senior year. Armstead was pivotal in
helping Wright recover by developing drills she could do while not
standing, such as dribbling drills in a chair.
"We're all definitely a family," Wright said. "He really has a
family atmosphere, and everyone's so close. You have so many people
who you can share you're experiences with."
When players happen to be in town, agents and friends direct them
to Armstead if they're interested in keeping their skills sharp.
Tremaine Fowlkes of the Los Angeles Clippers initially learned about
Armstead some three years ago. He now splits time between his family
in Sacramento and Los Angeles.
"Everybody was up at the Salvation Army, and I just worked out
there," Fowlkes said. "I only work out with Guss in Sacramento.
That's all I really need is him (in Sacramento)." Fowlkes is such a
believer that the only time he doesn't work with Armstead is when he
is in Los Angeles at the Clippers' facilities.
Capital Christian sophomore-to-be Darius Logan is the latest of
many young preps to learn under Armstead. Logan was matched against
Jackson in his second Pro-Am game and was schooled at the
point-guard position like no Golden Empire League rival could.
"I didn't think he was quick, but he was quick," Logan said.
"He's very strong and fast." Logan said it was a good experience,
which he will carry with him into next season. "It'll make you more
aggressive," Logan said
Former Del Campo and UCLA standout Matt Barnes is back this
summer, trying to realize his NBA dream, and he thinks Armstead can
help him get to that point. While the Pro-Am games were fun,
workouts with the demanding Armstead are more challenging.
"Guss is a real good guy," Barnes said. "He'll have anybody in
and work with him. He knows a lot of people in the NBA."
For his part, Armstead wouldn't want things any other way. He has
been able to make a living through basketball.
"I haven't worked a day in my life," Armstead said, reclining
while sitting in the bleachers. "And my wife is a professional
shopper at Nordstrom." .
Some of the players who have sought advice and/or trained with
Anthony Brown -- Capital Christian High School
Monty Buckley -- Christian Brothers High School
Cal Isaac Fontaine -- Jesuit High School, Washington State
DeMarcus Nelson -- Sheldon High School
Phil Ricci -- Galt High School, Oregon State
Jerome James -- Seattle Supersonics
Matt Barnes -- Del Campo High School, UCLA
Bobby Jackson -- Sacramento Kings
Troy Hudson -- Minnesota Timberwolves
Mike Wilks -- Minnesota Timerbwolves
Kevin Ollie -- Seattle Supersonics
About the Writer ---------------------------
The Bee's Jason Jones can be reached at or jejones