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Adam Dantus probably has a better chance to make it to the NBA than anybody else on the Maryland Nighthawks. He’s already proven he can do everything a pro basketball team needs.

Except play.

Dantus is in his second year with the Nighthawks, the local American Basketball Association squad, and now holds the title of director of sales and marketing. That’s part of his role, for sure. He oversees ticket sales and is the team’s top seller. He oversees advertising sales, too, and is the team’s top ad salesman. The fact that about 500 fans came to the Montgomery College gym on a dark and stormy night to see Sunday’s home opener—with a tipoff time during both Washington Wizards and Maryland Terrapins home games—showed something’s going right with the team’s sales and marketing efforts.

But there’s so much more to Dantus’ duties.

Dantus, for example, is also a Nighthawks sponsor: An ad for Dantus Lawns, his 4-year-old lawn-care business, graces the team’s Web site. And during games, he compiles the stats that are posted on that site. And he manages the site.

Dantus is also the guy who came up with the idea to have Nighthawks games broadcast over the Internet last season. After getting approval from management, he set up the necessary technology and software. Then, when the guy he hired to handle microphone duties didn’t show up, Dantus took the play-by-play job and kept it.

He coordinates appearances for Dunkin’, the Nighthawks’ mascot. And if the guy who usually plays Dunkin’ can’t make a date, then Dantus will put on a black bird suit and entertain kids at bar mitzvahs and birthday parties and the like.

Dantus is 19 years old.

“I wrote a letter to his mother and father last year,” says Nighthawks’ co-owner and ABA President Tom Doyle, “just to thank them for Adam.”

Doyle probably didn’t have trouble tracking down the address of his star employee’s parents to send that letter.

“I’m still living at home,” says Dantus, “except when I’m on the road with the team.”

Whatever cachet the ABA has with pro-basketball fans comes from its image as a farm league for the NBA. The original ABA, the league of the red-white-and-blue ball that ran between 1967 and 1976, launched the careers of all-timers like Julius Erving, David Thompson, and Moses Malone before merging with the NBA. But since the ABA was resurrected in 2000, only a handful of its players have even gotten a taste of the Show, and none have stuck around for more than the proverbial cup of coffee. (Brian Chase, a former Nighthawk guard, got a tryout with the NBA’s Utah Jazz this off-season but has yet to play in a real game.)

The new ABA, which will field 50 teams this season, has gotten a lot more press in recent years for its bizarro ownership snafus than for its players’ prowess. Just last year, for example, the Nashville Rhythm’s proprietor, a failed pop singer named Sally Anthony, ran onto the court in the third quarter of a game and fired the coach, Ashley McElhiney, because Anthony didn’t approve of the players getting court time. The first woman ever hired to head a pro men’s team, McElhiney got the job as a publicity stunt (“Dream Job,” Cheap Seats, 3/18/2005).

And a previous owner of the Nighthawks dumped the team’s home court in the middle of the 2004–2005 season to save rent money, then watched the replacement venue go out of business just before a scheduled playoff appearance there. That same season, failed Wizards center Ike Austin—who owned the ABA’s best squad, the Utah Snowbears—folded his team rather than show up for an ABA semifinal playoff game.

The spotlight is likely to remain on the owners this season: The Hollywood Fame, an expansion team, is owned by a group that includes ex–Mrs. Jessica Simpson Nick Lachey and ex–Orioles slugger Brady Anderson.

Yet the ABA sure seems like a great grooming ground for the sort of front-office talent that could eventually find a place in the sporting realm’s top confederations.

“I’ve heard about guys with sports-management degrees getting coffee for Dan Snyder,” says the Nighthawks’ other co-owner, Jeanette McCool. “This is a great opportunity for people who want a career in pro sports.” (Nighthawks General Manager Marco Fernandes, in fact, earned a sports-management degree from George Washington University and, before coming to the ABA team, handled game-day catering at FedExField.)

Dantus, a Rockville resident and Wootton High graduate now in his second year in Montgomery College’s sports-management program, hadn’t been thinking about the ABA as a gateway to a sports career when he answered an ad for a sales position that ran in the Montgomery Gazette, but he knew where he wanted the job to take him.

“I knew what I wanted to do even before entering high school,” says Dantus. “I always wanted to be in the front office in sports. I have a passion for sales and sports, so I put two and two together. Someday, I want to own a sports team.”

His bosses think that goal might be too low for his talents.

“Adam’s going to own the league someday,” says McCool. “If he wants to.”

At the same time he interviewed for the Nighthawks job, Dantus applied for a sales job with the Wizards. But he put the leap to the NBA on hold.

“The base salary would have been more with the Wizards, but the commission was more here,” Dantus says. “I thought I could definitely make more money in the ABA than I could with the Wizards.”

Doyle, who also has a law practice in Rockville and teaches at Montgomery College, was so impressed with Dantus’ skills and moxie that he awarded him a scholarship to the school named in honor of Joseph Thomas Doyle, his father and a former dean of students there.

Dantus delegated some of his lawn-care duties—his company, which he started as a high-school sophomore, now handles the landscaping chores for about 50 customers, he says—and he’s glad he stuck with the minor-league team. He admits being a little in awe of Tim Hardaway and Darryl Dawkins and some of the other former-NBA-stars-turned-ABA-owners that he dealt with during his inaugural season.

And this season, Dantus is looking forward to finding big-name talents, or at least big names, to invite to Nighthawks home games to drum up interest in the team. Roster rules in the ABA are lax, specifically so teams can boost the box office by dressing out ink-magnets regardless of their court skills. The Nighthawks brain trust is currently drafting plans to put local tallboys Gheorge Muresan and Manute Bol and 7-foot-9 Chinese player Sun Ming Ming in uniform to form the tallest team in basketball history.

If Dantus’ wish comes true, Ming Ming will stick with the team even after the record-breaking game.

“He’s going to be good for the ABA,” says Dantus. “I don’t know about talentwise, but that’s going to be great publicity.”

—Dave McKenna