NBA's brightest stars come home for the Drew League

LOS ANGELES -- City legend Nick Young’s team was down 30 points with two minutes left in a Drew League Sunday matinee in South Los Angeles, but no fans were leaving their seats -- or their spots, rather.

The ultra-small gymnasium at Colonel Leon H. Washington Park in Florence, near the intersection of Compton and Firestone Boulevards, was still over-filled to the fourth or fifth degree, more people standing than seated and fans literally watching from outside the doors and climbing on top of each other in the corners to get a glimpse of the action.

What happened next was the stuff of inner-city urban myths.

Young's cousin, Adrian Pascascio, measuring in at no more than 5-6 and no less than 250 pounds, was brought into the game, much to the boisterous crowd’s consent.

He proceeded to knock down back-to-back long-range shots, nearly falling into his own bench on one of them. The second shot he made, a 3-pointer with just seconds to go, sparked the crowd into a louder frenzy than other player or celebrity's on-court actions would on this day, even though NBA'ers Derrick Williams, DeMar DeRozan, Baron Davis and Matt Barnes all showed up, as well as local rapper The Game.

“That’s what this is all about,” said the opposing coach, Rodrick Shannon. “That’s the Drew League right there.”

Asked to describe the length and exploits of his basketball career, Pascascio calls himself an L.A. Fitness legend. He didn’t play college basketball at all, and he never played a full season in high school. Going back several years, he was instrumental to getting Young into college at the University of Southern California as a positive influence at Cleveland High, and he’s followed Young as a personal assistant for much of his four-year career with the NBA’s Washington Wizards.

He’s also been a Drew League fixture of late.

“We call him the mascot,” says Shannon, who two years ago coached a team with Jeremy Tyler that won the Drew League summer title. “That’s his nickname: the mascot, because he gets in and he’s the crowd favorite. But he made some great shots today.”

Great shots that were rewarded with great support from the crowd, per the usual from Drew League attendees. The m.o. at Washington Park is to cheer on what’s worthy -- no matter the team, no matter the player.

“It’s like a different feeling when you do something here,” said Casper Ware Jr., a Saturday star at the Drew League who didn’t play Sunday but sat courtside for all of the day’s action -- six games worth. “Everybody’s excited. Everybody – on both sides. If you do something good, you’re gonna get your props in here.

“That’s what makes this so good."

Said Pascascio, who jokingly compared his output to Tracy McGrady’s 13 points in 35 seconds in a 2004 NBA game: “There’s a lot of competition here, so when you get out there, you gotta give it your absolute best.”

Competition was the name of the game Sunday at the Drew League. One team, ‘Go H.A.M.’, with the No. 2 overall pick in Williams, Ed Davis and DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets’ Terrence Williams, lost on a buzzer-beater, and the defending champions, led by former NBA point guards Bobby Brown and Marcus Williams lost in the final seconds, too, when Williams missed a 20-footer at the buzzer.

“It doesn’t matter what your name is here,” said Davis, a former North Carolina Tar Heel who has also played in the North Carolina Pro-Am, considered a competitor of the Drew for the title of best summer leagues in the country. “We had what, three or four NBA guys, and we lost today.”

Davis, playing his second Drew game Sunday, said the league is easily among the top three he’s played in nationally. The four that are generally considered the best include both of those, the EBC at Rucker Park in New York and the Goodman League in Washington D.C.

In general, summer pro-am leagues are getting more play than normal this summer, because of labor uncertainty with the NBA. But L.A.’s league is experiencing something else altogether -- a twice-weekly reunion of sorts of a host of local players who’ve all made it to the NBA.

They’re coming back in droves.

“Here, in L.A., all our young players really grew up together,” says Dino Smiley, the commissioner of the Drew League and a full-time L.A. parks and recreation staffer. “From ages 20 to 26, you’ve got DeMar DeRozan, James Harden, JaVale McGee, Nick Young, Brandon Jennings, Dorell Wright, Trevor Ariza. We have, in this era of basketball, some of the best young talent in the NBA.

“And they’re all prominent players, and they’re all here.”

They’re not the only ones there. The amount of attendees -- undoubtedly boosted by a tweet from Ron Artest that said he’d be there shortly, although he never did show -- at Sunday’s later-afternoon games was unbelievable for such a small venue, and it held up well even when non-NBA’ers were on the court.

Groups of fans stayed seated throughout the day, trading trips to the bathroom and snack shop with their buddies. Getting up meant possibly losing your chair permanently and relegating yourself to a behind-the-doors spot.

The topic of a new venue is a hot one, and Drew League developers are considering one as soon as next month for the final. If it continues to grow at the pace it’s been at this summer, they might need it even sooner than that -- but, again, that’s part of what the league’s all about to the locals who’ve seen it through its 38 years.

“That’s the fun of it,” said Smiley, laughing. “You gotta get here early and find your seat.

“But once you find your seat, it’s magical.”