Walking through the double doors of King Drew Medical Magnet High School basketball courts, wearing his shirt unbuttoned, tattoo filled chest exposed, and vintage pieces to accommodate his vogue aura, Birdie’s Revenge coach and fashion designer Tracey Mills has been on a life-long mission to “reprogram the earth.”
He successfully defies every coaching wardrobe stereotype. Born in Los Angeles, Mills’ parents separated when he was one. His mother who was a Chicago native, packed their bags and moved them to her hometown. At the age of ten, Mills moved back to Los Angeles.
And it all came crashing down. The 26-0 Birdie’s Revenge, who needed only one more victory for the all-time Drew League record win, came up short.
“It took the Houston Rockets,” as Coach Tracey Mills said, to figure out how to take the Birdie’s Revenge empire down.
The game of the year was undoubtedly a matchup everyone had been anticipating all season, with circulating rumors that the reigning NBA MVP, James Harden, would make his Drew League season debut.
Spectators made it a priority to come early to secure a spot on the bleachers to survey the long-awaited matchup between Franklin “Nitty” Session and James Harden. A line wrapped around the corner of 120th Street outside King Drew High School showed the fanfare behind the dueling MVP’s.
Harden suited up for LAUNFD alongside his Rockets’ teammate PJ Tucker. The two joined forces with newly resigned Clippers’ center Montrezl Harrell and former Rocket, Bobby Brown.
All season long, Birdie’s has made the King Drew hardwoods their playground, and their opponents as toys to be played with, with week 8’s highlights of Franklin Session vs. Denzel Valentine attesting to that.
However, Birdie’s Revenge did not go down without a fight against LAUNFD. The first quarter of the match started off on a close run, as both teams exchanged equal energy. It was only a teaser of what to expect in the playoffs. However, Birdie’s found themselves in a second-quarter predicament as Marcus Bell got himself ejected from the game for the second time this season after things got heated up between him and PJ Tucker.
LAUNFD led 45-32 at the half, which had been the biggest deficit Birdie’s experienced all season.
Birdie’s Mike James and “Nitty” put in work, as they attempted to carry the team on their backs devoid of their big man. James ended the game with 32 points and was 7 for 10 from 3-point attempts. “Nitty” added 23 points, 6 assists, and 9 rebounds, but this wasn’t sufficient to stop Harden and Harrell.
With minutes remaining in the final quarter, Harden lobbed one to Harrell for the slam. It set the dynamism for the remaining minutes. Harrell’s showcase of dunks, Harden’s 26 points, and LAUNFD’s energy were unmatched. Undoubtedly, Harden was the X-factor in dethroning Birdie’s Revenge’s 26 game winning streak.
Sixteen teams remain, but only one will take home the coveted trophy. There will be no room for any slip-ups and excuses. Teams from here on out will have to produce to earn their respect.
No excuses will be tolerated in the next few weeks, as regular season begins to wind down and teams look to make a playoff run. Here is a recap of the top three matchups from week 7:
MHP vs. PROBLEMS
Two NBA stars that faced each other off in the 2018 NBA eastern conference playoffs made their surprising season debut at The Drew League on Sunday, but this time, playing on the same team. Toronto Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan and Cleveland Cavaliers’ Jordan Clarkson joined forces for Nick Young’s MHP.
A product of Compton, DeRozan has made the Drew League a part of his yearly ritual. Playing every summer on the hardwoods of King Drew Magnet Medical high school floors since the age of 14, he has created a household name for himself at the Drew League.
Both teams stepped into this match-up with a matching record, however, don’t be quick to underestimate the underdogs in this matchup just because they didn’t have any notable pros in their lineup.
Beware of all the fake news amid social media and highlights from that night, Problems’ did not let MHP down easy. Garrett Nevels, AKA G Money and Jayland Bland, gave the crowd a run for their money. The walking bucket, Nevels ended the night with 37 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, and went home as Player of The Game.
With a weather forecast of raining 3’s and a pressuring defense, Problems maintained consistent control each quarter.
MHP playing catch-up, caught up in the 4th quarter, trailing only 2 points, but Problems strong backcourt didn’t let up. Problems ended the night with a solid W, 97-85, sitting number one in their division.
Throwing in the NBA stars late in the season seemed to have created an imbalance within the prior MHP team chemistry. They will have to figure out a solution quickly before it’s too late in the season.
HOMETOWN FAVORITES vs REAPERS
Hometown favorites were feeling the absence of high school rising star, Kevin Porter Jr. on Saturday, losing by an inexcusable 42 Point margin.
Two NBA players, Atlanta Hawks’ Taurean Prince and Toronto Raptors’ Delon Wright made their Drew League season debut on Saturday.
However, even the mid season addition of Delon Wright couldn’t cover up for the players that were out on Saturday for Hometown Favorites. “A lot of these guys are kind of new to the team” said Wright. “Most of our team is out, so we kind of filled in…and played the best we can.”
Hometown Favorites started off on a slow run, heading into the second half trailing 66-35. Reapers implementing their strategic aggressive head start the first 5 minutes worked to their favor, stifling the desperate Hometown Favorites from being able to come back.
Prince seemed to be enjoying every second of his season debut as he cashed in a walk off 3-pointer to seal the Reapers lead heading into the second half. The addition of Prince adds versatility and depth for the Reapers, as he helped annihilate the Hometown Favorites with 30 points, 13 rebounds, and the deserving Player Of the Game honors.
HANK’S PANTHERS vs BIRDIE’S REVENGE
At week 7, it doesn’t need to be said that the 23-0 Birdie’s Revenge is arguably the best transition team in the league. Every team may know this, but no team has been able to overcome the barricade that Franklin (Nitty) Session and his team have built.
Hank’s Panthers, and their returning, Toronto Raptors’ Pascal Siakim, did not give up without a fight against Birdie’s entourage.
Hank’s Panthers started off on a 4-0 run this season, and have been one of the only teams to match up to Birdie’s level of competition. Panther’s smothering backcourt stifled Birdie’s game for the full 32 minutes. “We wanted to make them play a half court game” said DaShawn Gomez. “We told everybody when we shoot the ball, lets make sure we get back on defense, make sure we make them play our backcourt defense.”
This ping pong like match, going back and forth had the fans anxiety level going up by every basket. Panthers held a nine point lead going into the third quarter 62-53. However, Birdie’s took control and shifted gears in the last few minutes of the 4th quarter, and the defending champions did what they do best; win
Birdie’s Revenge remains the only undefeated team in the league.
Honorable mention goes go Player of the Week, Pascal Siakam, with a monstrous triple-double performance, 38 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists.
The Drew League experienced its first official lockdown of the season as Nick Young’s Most Hated Players (M.H.P.) battled against Baron Davis’ BB4L. It’s safe to say it was a wild and exciting week of action at the Drew League. Here is a recap of the top three matchups from week 5:
BB4L vs. MHP
When two Warriors and former champs go head to head, it tends to do things like shut down the entire gym. The Drew League experienced its first lockdown game of the season as the charismatic spectators flooded in to watch former Warrior Baron Davis’ undefeated BB4L team face off against current Warrior and reigning champion Nick Young’s undefeated M.H.P. team.
There were many heated moments as Swaggy P and Davis traded choice words. Davis remained standing at the head of the bench for the entire game. It appeared as though the player-coach was ready to suit up and play. The scene made for great entertainment for the capacity crowd.
BB4L’s Keith Shamburger got hot early. He nailed 5-5 from the field, a foreshadow of him ultimately being named Player of the Game. BB4L kept rolling and maintained a consistent lead heading into each quarter.
Both teams heading into second half played tight defense while the offense lagged. M.H.P. had an opportunity to tie the game in third quarter with a pair of free throws.
“Sped them up, made them shoot quick three’s and as soon as we got the ball it just run and get good layups and open shots,” said former league MVP and champion Casper Ware Jr. on their approach and strategy. They did just that and moved forward without a blemish to their perfect 6-0 record.
Pandas vs. Clozers
With only one decisive victory this season, the Clozers’ small-bodied team continued to scramble to find their missing puzzle pieces in hopes of becoming a more complete team. The Clozers’ size and lack of bodies remains a concern that will need to find a proper answer when facing teams with notable Drew League veterans, such as former league MVP Vince Camper and former NBA player Metta World Peace.
The Pandas approach against the Clozers was a simple yet effective strategy, match their energy.
“[The strategy] was to outplay them,” remarked Camper who scored 22 points in the victory on Sunday. “They’re a younger team, so match their energy, make them play.”
Clozers’ “run and gun” approach was a tactic that fell short against the Pandas. From Missed shots to simply failing to box out, and having an incomplete roster served as a major factor for the “L” they took.
“First of all we have to get some bodies out there, I mean I myself can’t be playing center and it’s putting me out my game,” said Clozers’ Corey Hill. “We gotta stay focused, box out, stay playing physical and make shots. We just wasn’t making shots.”
Hank’s Panthers vs. LAUNFD
LAUNFD and Hank’s Panthers, the battle between the two undefeated teams, went full throttle to dethrone one another’s winning streak. The beast mode was activated early, Montrezl Harrell (Trezz) went off for 37 points and nine rebounds, rightfully earning “Player of the Week” honors.
“We just look at it as another game and just went in and played the right way,” said Trezz. “We don’t go in matching records with nobody, we go in it playing one game at a time.”
Trezz and his teammates might not lose sleep over where their team ranks, but this win extended their record to 6-0.
Hank’s Panthers were missing one of their anchors on Saturday, Salem Mawugbe. The Panthers allowed LAUNFD to build a nine point lead against them, which shifted the momentum and extended to a 21-point deficit in the third quarter.
Although the Panthers may not have that one identifiable superstar that carries the team, their chemistry is what has been winning them games.
“Our team is really balanced,” Da’Shawn Gomez stated. “Everybody gets within 10-15 points, going forward I think we’ll be fine.”
Pat Rembert, the Drew League 2016 co-MVP and LA Loop star, adopted the “Mamba mentality” by studying and observing Kobe Bryant in the flesh every day for four years. Rembert applies that mentality when he steps on the court both at the Drew League and overseas.
“Kobe Bryant was one of my favorite players since I was little and I was able to see him every day for four years,” Rembert said.
Bryant and Rembert went to the same gym to train in Newport Beach, Calif. That is where Rembert was able to sit in on some of the Laker legends’ workouts.
“He would be on the track at 5 a.m., then he’d be on the [basketball] court, and then he’d lift at 12 p.m.,” recalled Rembert.
It was then that Rembert realized the work it took to achieve such greatness. Rembert, who has spent the past seven seasons playing professionally overseas, lifts weights at 6 in the morning. He then trains with Drew League coach Keion Kindred from 8-10 a.m., which is followed by yoga. He has a quick lunch break and gets right back to it for another basketball court workout.
“Training, training, training and enjoying life,” Rembert described his offseason. “I get everything done early, that’s another thing I learned from Kobe, get everything done early so you can have your days.”
Rembert has played overseas in several countries including, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Dubai, Egypt, Qatar, Lebanon, and Turkey. He always finds his way back home to the City of Angels just in time for the summer. The hardwood in the King Drew Magnet High school gym on 120th Street in Compton to compete every weekend at the Drew League, an opportunity every hooper dreams of.
“I’ve had friends I played overseas with that live in New York or Ohio, that say they just wanna be able to say they played in the Drew,” said Rembert. “The competition, the crowd. I love LA, this is home. It’s nothing like it to just compete, seeing your friends, guys you look up to that are coming from the NBA every summer, it’s what I truly love about it.”
Rembert has had a tight-knit relationship with Coach Kindred since college. Kindred, who trains several players at the Drew also coaches two Drew League teams, Redemption and L.A. Loop. When Rembert first started playing at the Drew, he was playing with Redemption. Rembert’s last season with Redemption came in 2016 when he earned co-MVP honors along with Franklin “Nitty” Sessions. Rembert led the league in scoring that year and became a household name.
“I was coming back from Qatar and Keion called me and he said ‘Listen, you’re gonna have your own team this summer, it’s up to you,’” Rembert recalled. “I was always on Redemption and we always had a stacked team, so many players that were good.”
Kindred put Rembert on LA Loop the following summer, a team to make his very own and told him his one responsibility was to lead his new team to the playoffs.
His first two seasons on the LA Loop, he helped lead his team to the 2016 and 2017 playoffs.
This summer, Rembert is focused on winning a Drew League championship. He also has his sights set on returning to the MVP conversation. With players like “Nitty” still competing at a high level, both a championship and MVP honors are never an easy feat at the Drew.
“I don’t want to say it’s difficult, it’s a challenge I like to embrace,” Rembert said of the competition. “I’ve known Frank “Nitty” and we actually train together, so it’s like something I embrace. I love competition.”
Competition is something Rembert is no stranger to having played overseas for so long. Players have different narratives on opting to play overseas, but coming from the man who has played in eight different countries, Rembert maintains that he has no regrets.
“It was a tough situation but I’m glad I did it,” said Rembert. “You’re gonna go to a place that’s not gonna have everything you want, no Chipotle or Jamba Juice you can run to. It’s gonna be the complete opposite of what you’re every day is like.”
Playing overseas was an eye-opening experience for Rembert that allowed him to delve into unfamiliar cultures and lifestyles.
“It helps you to grow up,” Rembert remarked. “We’re in America kind of sheltered. We see certain stuff on the news, but I’ve been to the Middle East and it is not what the news says, it’s safe. It’s not what everyone portrays it to be.”
Whether it is overseas or at the Drew League, no excuses, Rembert produces. This could be Rembert’s year once again, as he strives to lead LA Loop to a Drew League championship and add another MVP award to his mantle.