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It’s a new ‘fantasy league’ during summer games at King-Drew High

Every weekend throughout June, July and August, basketball fans across Southern California swarm to King-Drew High in Compton to watch the Drew League.

For 44 years, the annual summer tournament has been known around South Central as the spot to catch the best local talent. This Sunday, however, might have been the day the Drew League was officially christened as part of mainstream basketball culture. With the news that Chris Paul, James Harden and Russell Westbrook were planning to suit up, fans lined up as early as 8:45 a.m. on 120th Street and Compton Avenue to guarantee their spot in the gymnasium bleachers.

Throughout its storied history, NBA stars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant have made appearances at the Drew. But unlike most weekends at the Drew League, the list of NBA special guests leaked almost a week in advance, giving fans the chance to prepare to try and catch a glimpse of the league MVP face off against the Houston Rockets’ superstar tandem in their first appearance together on the hardwood.

By 11 a.m., King Drew High was already at capacity. With hours until the game’s 6 p.m. tipoff, the hundreds of fans standing outside desperately sought contingency plans.

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Some tried to masquerade as players, attempting to sneak in behind some of the actual athletes as they headed to get dressed to play. Others tried to bribe members of the media, offering as much as $60 to journalists and photographers willing to pass along their press passes. And a few of the most ambitious fans even tried to climb a gate into the gym’s back entrance, though their efforts were quickly snuffed out by security.

Amateur photographer John Fox said that he’s been traveling from San Bernardino every weekend to shoot the Drew League for his Instagram account. He says he hoped that his faithful attendance would help him find a way into the gym on a day it was over capacity. But with three hours until tipoff, he found himself stuck just a few yards outside of the front door, with almost no chance of getting inside.

“I’ve been coming faithfully so I could come to these type of games and look,” he said, glancing toward the dozens of people trying to talk their way past security. “But it’s cool, though.”

For those who made it inside, though, it was a basketball fantasy, even though Westbrook never showed. Nick Young, DeMar DeRozan and Julius Randle played alongside each other earlier in the afternoon.

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ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne was at the top of a row of bleachers filming a segment while the crowd watched in amazement at the action below. And George Preciado, the Drew League announcer in his 20th year, provided hilarious in-game commentary.

The man behind it all is Dino Smiley, a South Central native who says he first got involved with the Drew League when he was 13.

“When I grew up, as 13-year-old, I was keeping score on a 10-foot ladder with a chalk and everything,” he said. “So I was just helping out like that. And then 10 years later at 23, I took over the league and I’ve had it ever since.”

At its start, Smiley says the Drew League was just a six-team neighborhood tournament that people played in for fun. The scene at the league on Sunday though, was something beyond his wildest dreams.

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The Drew League has seen an uptick in professional players over the last couple summers, but Smiley says that nothing has compared to this year.

Harden and Paul led LAUNFD to an 83-81 win over Hometown Favorites. The score though, was meaningless.

For Smiley, the real value is what his league means to the community.


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