The Drew | Summer League in South Los Angeles

Demar DeRozan standing on the basketball court wearing a number eleven basketball jersey.
The Drew League

“They know I’m ballin ‘in the city like DeRozan’ is one of the stand-out lines in the classic Roddy Ricch tune “Die Young” which holds more and more truth every year Demar DeRozan decides to pop out to come play in the popular Los Angeles pro am Drew League. The Drew has gotten increasingly more popular over the years as more and more professional NBA players have passed through the summer league to play with upcoming talent or players that are not in the NBA but still have the talent to play at a professional level and want to put their skills to the test.

Drew League is exciting because it is the Los Angeles version of summer street ball and is similar to New York’s legendary Rucker Park and Dyckman Courts. Drew League was founded in 1973 by Alvin Willis with the intent to be a safe haven for young Black men to learn life lessons through basketball. After Willis, the direction of the Drew was under the guidance of Dino Smiley and currently is overseen by the Drew’s first lady Stephanie Smiley who was recently named “Woman of the Year” by the city of Los Angeles. NBA players such as Baron Davis, Kobe Bryant, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Lebron James and Compton’s own Demar DeRozan have all taken part in the Drew.

The difference between the Drew League and New York’s summer leagues is the Drew League is held in an indoor court at the Charles Drew Middle School gym in South Central Los Angeles. One of the most important aspects of the Drew League is that it’s completely… free. The cost for NBA game tickets are very pricey, let alone trying to see your favorite NBA player up close with floor seats. Attending a Drew League game is like witnessing those intense cross-town high school rivalry games where everyone would show up with excitement and energy to see some of the best talent in the area on full display, except in this league underdogs can make a name for themselves by meeting NBA players at the rim.

Demar DeRozan standing on the basketball court wearing a number eleven basketball jersey.

Demar DeRozan photo by NY photographer Edsel Pena

A basketball player with a number thirteen basketball jersey on in the midst of doing a layup.

photo by NY photographer Edsel Pena 

NBA Legend Baron Davis talking with someone

NBA Legend Baron Davis photo by NY photographer Edsel Pena 

One of the most important aspects about The Drew is their commitment to the community. The Drew being Black-owned and founded by Black men is already speaking volumes in itself, but the Drew league was created to be a mentorship program in inner city Los Angeles as well as providing a safe space for at-risk youth by helping them defy odds and stereotypes that have impacted the community for decades. Over the last decade The Drew league has been more of an incubator for talent and players that probably didn’t get the opportunity to be seen like other professional players.

Aside from basketball, The Drew league brings the community together because all of the games for the Drew league are absolutely FREE, and kids and families that may not have the means to see a NBA game during the regular season can get a chance to see their favorite NBA player for free. For example, LeBron James debuted in his first Drew League game over a decade ago and this summer he decided to come out and play again, which brought many NBA fans from all over to witness the King drop 42 points on the opposing Black Pearl Team.

During the game Drew League staff members walk around throwing out free t-shirts and other merchandise that is provided by their largest sponsorship deal. Previously NIKE used to hold that title but recently the Drew has now partnered with Adidas. During the games free shoes are also being given out to fans and this not only creates excitement but it shows how much the league cares about its surrounding community. The Drew is actively participating throughout the year to be a resource in the community with their Drew League foundation by hosting back to school, toy, and Thanksgiving turkey drives. Lastly, Drew has created a scholarship program in which they select certain students to provide some additional funding for collegiate level academics. It’s important to understand the bigger picture other than just basketball on the impact the Drew league has within its community, establishing itself as a pillar of the community,

USC Guard  Boogie Ellis in the middle of trying to score a basket.

USC Guard  Boogie Ellis photo by NY photographer Edsel Pena 

Two basketball players mid jump in the air. One is trying to stop the other from scoring while members of both teams stand around them waiting to see if the basketball makes it in the hoop.

photo by NY photographer Edsel Pena 

Basketball player throws a shot while a basketball player from the other side with the jersey number four tries to stop his shot.

photo by NY photographer Edsel Pena 

The basketball community isn’t just limited to Los Angeles. As an ex-hooper myself you begin to understand at a young age that there are many hoop-stars across the country that you may encounter in a tournament on your traveling team because as big as the basketball community may seem it’s actually small. The Drew takes place in Los Angeles, and I wanted to very briefly highlight and shed light on how spread out the basketball community is and how they all intersect. The photos for this article were shot by two good friends from New York, Edsel Pena & Jimmy Mueses. I asked them to show some of this year’s photos for the Drew league and to provide some images from the NY vs NY tournament to connect Los Angeles and NY hoops and how basketball brings the community together across the globe. For those of you who don’t know, they say New York’s  the mecca for the basketball community. The reason they call it the mecca is because many basketball legends and streetball tournaments held in New York have heavily impacted the game. The famous Rucker Park, Dyckman, and “The Cage” courts all have summertime tournaments where players who are either streetball legends or underdogs who want to make a name for themselves can show up and put their talent on display.

Basketball player in the middle of performing a slam dunk while members of the other team run forward in a pointless atempt to stop him.

photo by NY photographer Jimmy Mueses

New Orleans Pelicans Guard Jose Alvarado smiles for a photo and gives a peace sign.

New Orleans Pelicans Guard Jose Alvarado photo by NY photographer Jimmy Mueses

New York Musician Rowdy Rebel

New York Musician Rowdy Rebel photo by NY photographer Jimmy Mueses
Two basketball players on opposing teams try to win the tip off.

photo by NY photographer Jimmy Mueses

Members from both teams stand in position while waiting for the player to use their penalty shot.

photo by NY photographer Jimmy Mueses

NIKE lost the Drew and Dyckman League this year to Adidas, however, the brand still hosts the famous NY vs NY tournament every summer in New York City. In these three different leagues you will see some of the most talented ball players come out to showcase they can play with the professional guys. Which leads me to mention the most popular NY vs NY tournament. Attending the NY vs NY tournament you will get the same intensity as you would out here at the Drew and then some extra excitement. The difference is these games are played on outdoor courts in the humid summer weather of NYC. Celebrities and influencers still come out to catch a glimpse of the intense tournament to not only see pro NBA ballers but to also catch a glimpse of any upcoming talent from the city. Once again, another league that provides engagement and cultural building amongst the community. It is beautiful to see how large the basketball community is and no matter what walks of life we are from we can always find common interest in connecting at a summer pro-am league for our love of basketball.

Basketball player with a number ten jersey on jumps up to perform a shot.

photo by NY photographer Edsel Pena 

Basketball player with a number nine jersey on in the midst of a slam dunk.

photo by NY photographer Edsel Pena 

All of these leagues have the intention of bringing the basketball community together to share the love of the sport. It’s a great feeling to see fans showing up in their best outfits to support their favorite players. My very first time attending the Drew back in 2014 was to see my brothers Horace Wormely and Dominique Johnson. Wormely was nicknamed the “Gingerbread Man ” because he was a smaller guard but was extremely quick, and the creativity of the nickname isn’t something everyone just receives, it’s a nickname that is earned by the people by being a part of the basketball community and performing at a high level.

A basketball player works on his pivot while a player from the Reapers guards him and tries to get the ball.

photo by NY photographer Edsel Pena 

Tra Holder prepares to take a shot.

Tra Holder photo by NY photographer Edsel Pena 

A basketball swushing through the net of the hoop.

photo by NY photographer Edsel Pena 

Frank Nitty takes a shot while people on the bleachers watch in the background.

Frank Nitty photo by Edsel Pena

Basketball player with a Drew League jersey with the number twenty two doing a intricate layup.

photo by NY photographer Edsel Pena 

Basketball player with a drew league jersey with the number eighteen performs a lay up.

photo by NY photographer Edsel Pena 

Horace and Dominique have both won championships at the Drew League with their respective teams the City Blazers and Redemption, but more importantly Drew has been a catalyst to help them further their basketball careers. Dominique Johnson was recently playing in Ice Cube’s Big 3 Tournament alongside his teammate Frank Nitty who is the unofficial face of the Drew League. Horace has gone off to start his own organization titled the DSTRKT Foundation with his running mate Frank Robinson who is also another Drew League student. The stories and journey these guys are telling are just a few success stories of players that have come through the Drew League and how the league has helped elevate their careers in the basketball realm, and I am sure there are many, many others who have similar stories of success. Everyone thinks that going to the NBA is the only way to be successful through basketball but the DREW is just one example of how you can create something to uplift the community and still find success in the basketball world.

For more information on how to get involved with the Drew League check out their website here!