Drew League playoffs get intense

LOS ANGELES – DeMar DeRozan dominated a first-round playoff game at the Drew League Saturday and nearly single-handedly brought his team, ‘Go H.A.M.,’ back from a double-digit deficit with a commanding fourth quarter, but the former Compton High and USC star came up just a bit short when he was called for a charging foul while attempting the would-be game-winner with under five seconds to play.

DeRozan, who had 35 points in his team’s loss to ‘Problems,’ converted a huge 3-pointer with 33 seconds to go to bring Go H.A.M’s deficit to just one at 85-84, but missed his only attempt on the next possession when he attempted to shoot over the opposing center, Iowa product Doug Thomas.

As soon as the whistle blew, DeRozan and his teammates erupted in complaints, but the real outbursts came a minute or so later, after Problems’ Mike Efevberha sealed the game by converting two free throws. After the final whistle, DeRozan stripped off his jersey, threw the ball all the way off the opposite-side wall of the gym and then threw the jersey in the direction of the referee. An unidentified DeRozan teammate also pushed the referee who made the call.

DeRozan declined an interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com following the game, but he did address the incident on his verified Twitter account shortly afterward.

“I want to apologize for my actions at the Drew League today,” he wrote. “I got caught up in the heat of the moment, but should've handled it better.”

NBA players Matt Barnes and Michael Beasley have also lost their tempers at pro-am games in the last week, Barnes in San Francisco and Beasley in New York. DeRozan certainly did as well, although he didn’t shove or punch a fan or opponent, as the other two reportedly did. The crowd at Colonel Leon H. Washington Park responded with an audible ‘ooh’ when the 22-year-old Raptors guard threw the ball off the wall.

“I’ve never been in a game with an atmosphere like that,” said Efevberha, who’s played in the Big West, NBDL and EuroLeague in recent years. “Even when I play in Switzerland, in our biggest games, the atmosphere doesn’t get like that.”

It was the most dramatic ending yet at the Drew League this summer. There have been other big moments -- like Kevin Durant and LeBron James’ guest appearances in June and July -- but the fierceness of the final moments hasn’t been rivaled yet this season.

“I’ve been coaching in this league for nine years and that was probably the most intense I’ve ever felt in a gym,” said Problems coach Mark Caudillo, who stepped in between DeRozan and the referee during the postgame fracas. “But we take it as a respect thing, you know? Because it shows that they want to win bad too. We’re all going to war against each other.”

Caudillo’s star player, Efevberha, 26, played for Go H.A.M. until three weeks ago, when he made the switch to Problems, a high-profile move within Drew League circles. Buzz around that switch-up surrounded Saturday’s game between the two teams, and the play-by-play announcer at Washington Park, George Preciado, mentioned it multiple times mid-game.

“I’m used to it,” Efevberha said of going against his old team. “In college, I was at U.C. Irvine and left and went to Cal State Northridge, and I had to go back and play against them. It happened in the D-League, too, when I was playing for the Iowa Energy and got traded to Anaheim and had to come back the following week and play in Iowa, so it wasn’t nothing new to me.

“But, yeah, it was personal for me today, you know?”

Not only for him -- the normally mild-mannered DeRozan seemed to take the call and corresponding loss quite personally, at least in the immediate aftermath of the game. Even experienced NBA veterans playing for Go H.A.M. like 35-year-old Cuttino Mobley and 36-year-old Joe Smith were visibly upset exiting the gym.

The boisterous crowd, measuring an estimated 600 people, contributed to the commotion. Fans were yelling left and right and just about every person in the gym was standing for the duration of the game after DeRozan’s 3-pointer.

“You feel the crowd lift up and sort of hover over you,” Caudillo said. “It’s like, ‘Wow.’ That was a big-impact game.”

Problems played again Sunday in a rematch of the regular-season finale against K&E Bulls, which the Bulls won. Neither team had any NBA players suited up for the second straight week, but the action was again one of the more intense games of the weekend.

Last week, Problems led by four at the end of the third quarter, 65-61. Sunday they led by seven, 68-61 -- the difference was in the fourth quarters, as it often is in the Drew League. Former Nebraska guard Sek ‘Viper’ Henry led Problems with double-digit points in the eight-minute final period and helped his team to a 90-77 win, securing a semifinal slot for next weekend.

“The chemistry’s all coming together for us,” Henry said. “As a team, we didn’t force things like we did before, and that helped us out a lot.”


In the other first-round games, No. 1-seeded squads K&E Bulls and ‘Hank’s Blazers’ held court and ‘Pro Training’ and ‘Da Fam’ upset higher-seeded teams to earn a ticket to the second round.

Highlight games from the second round of action Sunday included a win by defending champion L.A. Unified over a team featuring Denver’s Jordan Hamilton and a five-point victory by a team featuring Detroit’s Austin Daye and Denver’s Kenneth Faried over a team with Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans and Pooh Jeter and Cleveland’s Samardo Samuels. New Orleans’ Marcus Banks and Craig Smith of the L.A. Clippers, playing for team C.O.A., also knocked off the ‘Cheaters II’ squad that was buoyed by LeBron James’ surprise appearance last month. C.O.A. and Daye and Faried’s Blazers squads will match up at 6:30 p.m. Friday in one semifinal, with L.A. Unified and Problems tipping off at 7:45 in the other.

Cavaliers center Ryan Hollins attempted to suit up alongside Banks and Smith for C.O.A. on Sunday but was not allowed per Drew League playoff rules. The same thing happened to 2010 No. 1 overall selection John Wall a day earlier, when he tried to play with DeRozan on team Go H.A.M.

Brought to South L.A. by DeRozan after the two played in the Dyckman League in New York the previous day, Wall and Go H.A.M. representatives approached Caudillo and Drew League commissioner Dino Smiley with a special request to grant their permission for him to play, as players normally have to have participated in at least two of 11 regular-season games to be eligible for the playoffs.

Caudillo said no, citing two factors: (1) He didn’t want his team’s chances of winning to be aversely affected by having to face Wall and (2) Wall is scheduled to compete against the Drew League later this month in the inaugural Drew vs. Goodman game anyway.

“I told them, ‘Out of respect to my team, play with what you’ve got,’” Caudillo said. “You can’t just add somebody all of the sudden because of his name.”

One late addition to a roster over the weekend was Toronto Raptors forward Julian Wright, who did not appear in any regular-season games. He played alongside Washington Wizards teammates JaVale McGee and Nick Young for team ‘Young Grangers’ in one of the early first-round games Saturday but lost 81-65.

“I was glad to see the atmosphere in there,” Wright said. “The crowd gets behind both teams -- whoever’s doing work at the time.

“Whether it’s in front of 10,000 people or 400 or 500 people, it’s basketball, and I’m glad everybody’s competing.”