There are no excuses at the Drew League. The talent level is so great that everybody has to show up and play hard or get embarrassed. Photo by Jason Lewis
The Drew League attracts some of the best high school, college, and overseas professional players. After July 1, they will have an influx of NBA players. Photo by Jason Lewis
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Forty years ago, Alvin Willis established the Drew League in a small gym at Drew Middle School on the corner of Firestone and Compton Ave. He had the goal of bringing back some of the school's alumni for a summer basketball league.
Years later, under the guidance of Dino Smiley, who has run the league for the past 30 years, it is much bigger than a league for alumni of the school, this is a league for the stars.
It has become routine to see professional basketball players compete amongst some of the top college and high school players. Recently there has been a major talent upgrade, with the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant making unannounced visits to South Los Angeles to play in the nation's top Summer League games.
Last year Durant shocked a packed house as he just jumped into a game, and Smiley was not about to stop him.
"He came over to me and asked if I was the director," Smiley said. "He then asked if he could play a second game, and I told him that he's top three in the world, so he could play in every game."
Not too long after that, Baron Davis, who has been the face of the Drew League for years, called in and told Smiley that he was bringing a surprise. That surprise was James, who did not plan on playing, but when he saw the crowd rocking he had to join in. And he lit up the court.
Up next was Bryant.
"Kobe's people gave me a call, and they said that Kobe wants to play in the same gym that Durant and LeBron played in, but that he did not want to play a practice game, he wanted to play in a real game," Smiley said.
Bryant was looking for a challenge, so Smiley asked the players on the opposing team if any of them wanted to take a shot at him. James Harden happened to be on that team, and he was more than ready to take on Bryant.
The two NBA All-Stars put on a show, and it came down to the final play of the game. With 15 seconds to play, Harden had 44 points and Bryant had 43, with Harden's team up by one point but Bryant's team had the ball.
"The crowd was shouting 'Kobe, Kobe.' He backed down Harden, turned and did his pivot, faded to the back corner of the free throw line, took the shot," Smiley said. "The buzzer sounded as the ball hit nothing but the bottom of the net. They won the game and Kobe raised his hands up like Rocky."
With stars like that, the Drew League has come a long way.
"Back then it was basically community guys," Smiley said. "But now in today's Drew League, we have Division I players out of UCLA, USC, Kentucky. We also have overseas players. But mainly we have NBA players. The NBA players, a lot of them grew up as kids watching the Drew League. Now we have about 30 NBA players who participate."
The games, which are now held at King Drew Medical Magnet High School, are free to the public and are played on Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. The talent level is so great that several NBA and college scouts attend the games, but the best part of this league is that fans can see big time players right in their community.
"As we know, tickets at Staples Center for the Lakers and the Clippers are pretty high for kids in the community," Smiley said. "So for them to see these stars walk onto the floor in their own community, it's huge for those kids."
The Drew League has partnered with Nike, with the Swoosh adding a coolness factor, and Durant will unveil his new Nike shoe there during the season.
The Drew League also has a foundation which supports at risk youth. They mentor local children, and they give $500 scholarships to college students.
For more information on the Drew League, visit their website at www.drewleague.com