LOS ANGELES — After Golden State Warriors center Kevon Looney scored a career-high 21 points in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals against the Dallas Mavericks, he was asked in the postgame press conference when the last time he recorded 20 points in a game was .
“Probably college,” Looney answered with a wry smile. “Drew League! Count that!”
Looney’s shout out to the Drew League came two weeks before the 49th opening weekend of the South-Central Los Angeles-based pro-am basketball league. Looney dominated the league last summer, culminating with his team, the I-Can All-Stars, winning their first overtime game in the league’s 48-year history.
“I remember when Baron Davis out of UCLA struggled, played in the Drew, and went back and killed in the league. The Drew League does things to people,” Rocchead Johnson, coach of the I-Can All-Stars said. “Having Loon play for me — and he was already good — but was he having fun? Get what I’m saying? He had fun! He went back to the Warriors, ‘I won a championship at Drew League with Rocc Johnson, I-Can All-Stars!’ Now, look at his year. His year is ridiculous. It’s great. Now you get a chance to win two chips in the same year. It makes me really feel good when he mentioned the Drew League.”
The I-Can All-Stars’ title defense is one of the many items to watch as the Drew League season gets underway. Last year, the league played games at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif. The Drew League returned to King Drew High School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, where the games took place for the eight summers prior to the coronavirus pandemic outbreak. The return of the main site of games has energized the league led by commissioner Chaniel Smiley and her father Dino Smiley, the CEO and previous long-time commissioner of the Drew League.
“This is a location where everybody loves to be at,” Chaniel Smiley says. “They love to bring their families, their kids. And it’s just, the atmosphere, the energy around King Drew, is always awesome.”
“Everybody says the same thing: We’re back home,” Dino Smiley added. “Feels good. We missed everything here.”
The court at the Drew League features the skyline of Watts, with the names of the Smiley family on the floor. The refreshed Drew League logo features the location of “South Central” for the first time in several years.
“This is where we’re from, and we’re very proud of where we come from, and that’s very important to resemble that,” Chaniel Smiley said. “Bringing back the South-Central LA in our logo just meant that, as far as ownership, just being able to show love to our community and not being ashamed of South Central. We’re proud of where we’re from.”
The theme of home was further emphasized by the Smiley family when discussing the move in primary sponsorship from Nike to Adidas. In addition to the summer Drew League, Adidas is sponsoring the Women’s Drew League as well as a high school basketball showcase presented by the Drew League and a Jr. Drew League in the spring.
The change from Nike to Adidas has energized a couple of NBA players, most notably Philadelphia 76ers shooting guard James Harden, who competed in the Drew League against Kobe Bryant during the 2011 summer lockout and won a championship at the Drew in 2015 in a matchup against DeMar DeRozan. Harden used to tear out the Nike logo or otherwise cover up his jersey for years due to his status as an Adidas athlete. Now, it appears Harden is ready to return to the Drew as a face of the new era for the league.
truly honored to officially unveil the partnership between @adidasHoops and @DrewLeague. King Drew continues to be the center of the LA community and I’m excited for this next gen under the Three Stripes.
—James Harden (@JHarden13) May 31, 2022
Another development for the Drew League this summer is the ability to stream games live for the first time. The removal of NCAA restrictions that prevented athletes from being compensated cleared one hurdle toward streaming pro-am games. The Drew League has also developed a partnership with the National Basketball Players Association over the last few years, clearing another barrier to streaming games. The Drew League partnered with Caffeine, a social broadcasting platform, to stream two games a weekend in June. Caffeine will also feature the Drew League in a pregame and postgame show on Sundays, as well as a weekly recap on Tuesdays.
“Starting in July, the NBA app will take over,” Amanda Lac, Caffeine content and marketing coordinator said. “The NBA and Caffeine will kind of co-produce those streamed games. Games will air exclusively on the NBA app, and Caffeine will continue to do that pre- and post-show to kind of talk about predictions, talk to the people in the audience and kind of break down the game.”
One of the games that Caffeine broadcast live to start the Drew League season featured Public Enemy. Charlotte Hornets center Montrezl Harrell suited up for Public Enemy on Sunday alongside three-time Drew League MVP Franklin Session.
“A lot of people don’t like change, but I look at it as growth,” said Session, who won a Drew League championship in 2017. “Because growth, at the end of the day man, we were never able to stream games. We can stream games now. Unlimited product for everybody, that’s what it feels like to me. It’s a great environment again. We’re back at King Drew. I feel like this is how it should be.”
Caffeine will also broadcast the Pro-Am Basketball Challenge (PABC) Tournament on June 24-26 which will bring six pro-am leagues from across the nation together in Los Angeles. The Drew League will host, and leagues from New York (Dyckman), Baltimore (Brunson League), Atlanta (Atlanta Entertainment Basketball League), Miami (Miami Pro League) and Philadelphia (Rumph Classic) will all descend upon South Central LA, with each team playing at least two games. The two teams with the best records and point differentials will face off on the final day of the event.
THE TIME HAS COME🔥🔥
This summer, we are bringing together the Top 6 pro-am basketball leagues for a new event, the tournament will feature:
(@BrunsonLeague ) (@AEBLHOOPS )
(@MiamiProLeague_ ) (@IamDyckman )
(@RumphClassic )#TheDrew pic.twitter.com/kbnmh3iB6u
— Drew League (@DrewLeague) April 8, 2022
“If we’re shorthanded, we’ve got the whole city to grab some players,” quipped Dino Smiley about the Drew League hosting the PABC Tournament this month. “The other summer pro leagues, they wanted that Drew League atmosphere … Just pack it in, whoever can get in can get in, and let’s just battle.”
Overall, this will be one of the most competitive summers at the Drew, in large part because this is the smallest roster of teams in at least a decade. Only 20 teams were invited to compete this season, including new teams led by former Warriors champion Jordan Bell (CHPT562) and former Clipper and current broadcaster Corey Maggette (GHOST). There are 10 teams in two divisions, named for recently deceased Los Angeles natives referee Booker Turner and former Clipper Freeman Williams. Sixteen teams will make the playoffs with the championship set for Aug. 21 at Los Angeles Southwest College. As usual, the motto remains the same: “No Excuse, Just Produce.”
“We’re excited to be back, and we’re kind of getting out of the pandemic, so just happy that everyone else is feeling good as well,” Chaniel Smiley said during the first weekend of games. “We’re going to keep rocking this thing out. Year 49. I feel like it’s going to be one of our best ones. I say that almost every year. But I just have really, really good vibes about this.”
(Photo: Law Murray)