Drew League draws top talent
The weekend hoops league is rewriting the book on L.A. basketball
LOS ANGELES -- With the score tied 91-91 and seconds left in the third game of Drew League action Sunday at Colonel Leon H. Washington Park in the Florence neighborhood, point guard Moses Marbury caught the ball steps past half court and held it in the triple-threat position as he waited to ensure that his team, Hard Times, would have the final shot in regulation.
He'd already made a number of big shots, including on the previous possession, when he hit an isolation 15-footer from the right side to give his team a temporary two-point lead. But with five seconds left in the game and much of the crowd standing in the already-crammed gymnasium, Marbury did something his well-known older brother, Stephon, rarely did in these types of situations in his 13 seasons in the NBA.
Marbury delivered an on-target dish to a teammate for the winning shot with a second left on the clock, beating DeMar DeRozan and team Go HAM in perhaps the most surprising outcome of the day at the Drew.
"It was tough, but that's all this is about," said DeRozan, the only NBA player who showed up for his squad Sunday. "The competition level brings out the best in everybody. We were down by 14 or 15, came back to tie it up, and then they hit the game-winning shot at the end."
For players in Marbury's position, there's no better summer battleground than the Drew League -- especially this summer, with dozens of current NBA players in and out of the gym. He hopes to make the NBA this season, he says, after the lockout is lifted.
"This is really my year to be able to play and to be able to get an opportunity to excel on this level, with all these NBA guys and all these high-level overseas guys and show that I'm a peer of them -- I'm just like one of them," says Marbury, 31. "I don't look at it as coming to any park or anything. I look at basketball as basketball whether it's in the NBA, overseas or in the Drew League.
"At the end of the day, it's all about making plays, being a teammate and just playing basketball -- period."
Marbury made his 2011 Drew debut three weeks ago, and he makes a point of noting that his team -- struggling at the time of his arrival -- hasn't lost since. The PA announcer at Washington Park also makes a point of noting that the quick, leathery point guard knocking down runners is, in fact, a Marbury as well. He might be the most noticed non-NBAer at Drew -- on days where local rapper The Game isn't present, at least.
"The spotlight is heavy, man," says Marbury, who previously went by his middle name, Zach. "Stephon Marbury is my brother, and at the end of the day, I can't hide it.
"But I love the fact that the spotlight's on me, because I love the pressure and I love the last shot. I feel like I'm building myself up to be able to be that guy: the Stephon Marbury, the DeMar DeRozan, the guy on a very, very high level."
A bit on the younger Marbury's story: He left the University of Rhode Island after his sophomore season to declare for the NBA draft but wasn't picked and couldn't stick on a team, although he had a couple of chances in summer leagues and training camps.
He ventured abroad in 2009, signing with Los Guaros de Lara of the Venezuelan pro league, but that was a short-lived, one-year deal. Marbury was back in the States before the year's end and living in L.A., with Stephon joining him in the summers to train before heading to China, where he's played to some fanfare the past two seasons.
Most of the NBA players who regularly appear at the Drew League hail from L.A. or its surrounding areas, from Detroit's Austin Daye to Golden State's Dorell Wright. There is the occasional nonlocal -- Sacramento's Tyreke Evans and Washington's JaVale McGee have stopped by, among others -- but in general, the Drew brings together top players from the area in a classic pro-am format, pitting those NBA players against many who play overseas and even local collegians.
Although the Angelenos wouldn't mind hosting more nonlocals and allowing them to get a feel for what they say is a tough brand of basketball, they like it that way.
"We don't get that much respect, being from California," says Wizards guard Nick Young, an L.A. native and graduate of Cleveland High in Reseda who wore socks printed with the California logo during his game Sunday. "You hear about the Rucker and all these East Coast players and stuff. It's good to have something known out here and everybody coming down to play in the league.
"All the young talent is coming from L.A."
Young, who hosted a children's skills camp last week at Oaks Christian in Westlake Village, is quick to mention a number of NBA players who grew up with or near him in the L.A. area such as Los Angeles Clippers forward Craig Smith (Fairfax High) and former USC teammate Gabe Pruitt (Westchester).
Together, the young natives are attempting to reverse what they consider a false stereotype of L.A. basketball: a lack of toughness.
Action at the Drew League could convince some, surely. Even with more than a few questionable calls going in the NBA players' favors, as is normal for pro-ams nationwide, the games go at a fast, uneven pace.
Smith had to break up a near fight on the court during his game Sunday, and both delivered and received NBA-caliber blows in the low block.
"Everybody considers the West Coast soft," said Smith, who referenced his time at Boston College as evidence that the rest of the U.S. looks down on L.A. in basketball terms. "Maybe it's because we've got nice weather.
"But it's hard out here, and guys work hard. You got myself, James Harden, Nick Young -- we grew up in tough areas, and we bring that out there on the court. There's nothing soft about us, and I think we need the respect we deserve."