In 1973, the Drew League was created. Back then, it consisted of six teams and competitions played out at Charles Drew Middle school. The then small league, founded by Alvin Wills, has blossomed into an exponentially popular pro-am league and has attracted the best and most talented basketball players in the nation.
The Drew League turned 45 years old this year and has a unique style of it’s own, from the team names to the charismatic play-by-play commentary, to the flashy foot ware of the players. The games are nothing short of competitive, the players are nothing short of passionate.
“It’s a blessing that we’re still able to keep this tradition alive and be a staple here on the east side of Los Angeles for so long,” said Drew League Commissioner Chaniel Smiley. “Most of our pro players are from L.A. and been playing since they were teenagers and then they just give back by coming through and showcasing their talent.”
The Drew has a strong appeal to NBA players; Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Nick Young have all donned Drew League jerseys and competed. This season, young Lakers star Kyle Kuzma and Atlanta Hawks stand out Taurean Prince competed on the Drew hardwood.
Prince was featured on the team ‘Reapers,’ aiding them with 30 points and 12 rebounds in his Drew League debut. This gave ‘Reapers’ a 108-66 win over the ‘Hometown Favorites.’
“We tried to get out on them early, make it hard for them and give them a little challenge to get back into the game,” Prince said. “I think we did a good job of that.”
He hopes to compete in the Drew League in the future, calling it “a fun atmosphere.”
Other competitors have strong backgrounds in overseas gameplay. Charles “Chuck” Garcia is an eight-year pro who has played professionally in eight different countries. Competing in the Drew helps him stay in shape before leaving the U.S. in late August. This is his fifth year participating at the Drew.
“I just came from Taiwan before that, I just came from the Philippines,” Garcia said. “Seeing my guys come back every summer, that’s always a memorable moment.”
Sango Niang is a three-year pro who was born in Paris, France. He competed in Sweden last year. The Drew League helps him learn toughness and “being able to play under pressure.”
“It changed my game from this street ball game to a more professional and more smart game,” Niang said about playing overseas. “My IQ got higher.”
The hodgepodge of skills and talents from NBA, International and college players make the Drew a high performing league. Kevin Matthews evolved from a player to a coach in the pro-am league and ultimately participated for 14 years. The playing style of basketball has changed since his first year as a player.
“When I first got here, the way they played basketball was kinda slow,” he said, “You got to be strong, pounding it down low, it was more of a big man game.”
Among the college competitors Matt Mitchell who just finished his freshmen season at San Diego State. He averaged 10.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game and started in all except one game for the Aztecs.
“You learn a lot, especially on the defensive end, just being that the players are a lot better,” Mitchell said about Drew League competition. “You just have to know where to be, you just got to learn from it.”