NBA players stay sharp in Drew League
Consider it a pickup game for the NBA’s unemployed.
On weekends this summer at the Col. Leon H. Washington Park gym in South Los Angeles, the Drew Summer League offered pros a competitive outlet during the NBA’s work stoppage.
The gym feels cramped and is hardly glamorous. Yet, the electric energy that surrounds each dunk, three-point shot and controversial call suggests otherwise.
Washington Wizards guard Nick Young scored 60 points for his Drew League team, the Young Grangers, two weekends ago.
Young, a former Reseda Cleveland High and USC standout, is a restricted free agent. “I’m from L.A.,” Young said, “so I feel like I have to represent here and get my name buzzing.”
LeBron James arrived in a surprise visit July 23, put on a uniform and threw down a few dunks in a Drew League game that immediately hit YouTube. Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant also played in a June game.
“There’s more pros playing this summer,” said Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan.
Drew League Commissioner Oris “Dino” Smiley said the NBA work stoppage lured additional players this summer and helped increase attendance to about 800 per game. The Lakers’ Ron Artest, Steve Blake, Shannon Brown and Joe Smith and the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Michael Beasley all played this summer, he said.
The Drew League started in 1973, and it has long featured NBA players, plus overseas pros and local players. The 24-team league plays games with four eight-minute quarters.
“This is all about having fun,” said Clippers forward Craig Smith, whose team, COA, will play in the league semifinals Friday at 6:30 p.m. against the Blazers, who feature Detroit Pistons forward Austin Daye.
DeRozan’s team, G.O. Ham, lost last Saturday to Problems, which will play L.A. Unified in the other Drew League semifinal Friday at 7:45 p.m at the Washington Park gym.
The championship game is set to 5 p.m. Saturday at Washington Park.
DeRozan is a longtime Drew League fan. The former USC star began watching summer games in his freshman year at Compton High, and has played in the league since joining the pros.
Last Saturday, DeRozan scored 35 points in his team’s loss. With five seconds left, he drove for a possible game-winner but was called for charging, prompting DeRozan to throw the ball across the gym and his jersey toward the official after time expired.
“It’s tough calls and sometimes things happen,” said DeRozan. “It’s just going out there and playing and wanting to win a championship. It would’ve definitely been cool if I had gotten that chance to. Unfortunately, it didn’t go that way, but hopefully I’ll get back next year.”
Smiley said some players representing the Drew League will travel to Washington, D.C., to play the Goodman summer league at Trinity University on Aug. 20.
Young, DeRozan, the Thunder’s James Harden, Wright, Smith, Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings, Wizards forward JaVale McGee and Sacramento Kings guard Pooh Jeter will play for the Drew League. The Goodman league will have Durant, Wizards guard John Wall, Denver Nuggets guard Ty Lawson, Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal and Memphis Grizzlies forward Sam Young.
The summer leagues plan to offset some of the costs by launching a website, TheBasketballChannel.net, and charging $4.95 pay per view to watch the game online.
Young plans to play in the Aug. 20 game, but exactly who will pay for his trip wasn’t clear.
“There’s a lockout right now and I have to save every penny,” Young said.
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