BALTIMORE -- "Basketball never stops."
Those three words have become the rallying cry of NBA players this summer, as many of them take to the streets and small gyms around the country, playing wherever they can during the lockout. And they were reiterated Friday night by Brandon Jennings, who was a surprise participant in the Melo League vs. Rucker Park All-Star Game at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore.
"They just asked me to come through, get a little run in, so I just wanted to come out here and get some run in for tomorrow,” Jennings said in advance of Saturday’s Drew League vs. Goodman League showdown, in which he’ll be playing for the west coast based Drew League.
Jennings helped a team of Baltimore all-stars, including NBA players Donte Greene and Gary Neal, and incoming rookie Josh Selby, edge the Rucker Park team, 124-123. The game itself was sloppy at times, as many of these summer league games have been, but there were enough high-flying highlight reel plays to keep both the players and fans excited.
“The fun thing about it is I’m just able to go around the world and play in different places,” Jennings said of his summer league cameos.
For Neal, who played his high school and college ball in nearby Towson, Maryland, the game was a chance to be a part of a New York-Baltimore basketball rivalry that many casual fans may not be familiar with.
“For a long time, Baltimore and New York have been going back and forth about who got the best basketball players,” he said, “so this was just an opportunity to represent Baltimore.”
The irony of a Baltimore league named “Melo” playing against a New York-based team -- where Carmelo Anthony currently plays professionally for the Knicks -- wasn’t lost on Neal.
“’Melo is still considered a Baltimore guy to all the Baltimore guys who played AAU with him,” he said. “’Melo is a fan favorite down here, so the Melo League is Baltimore’s league and ‘Melo is a part of Baltimore.”
While many players have been taking part in these summer league games, the summer schedule is drawing to a close, which has locked-out NBA players eyeing Europe. Both Neal and Jennings played in Europe prior to their NBA careers, and Jennings said players should weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.
“Going overseas, it’s a different ballgame,” he said. “Not in a bad way, just in the way they live and the way they go about things. At the end of the day, it’s going to work out for itself. For me, I’m just going to keep playing basketball and staying in shape, because when the lockout’s over, I’m going to be ready.”