Blatche hosts league in hometown Syracuse

Nets center Andray Blatche with fans at a children's giveaway initiative at Kirk Park in Syracuse, N.Y. Angela Oliver

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony might have put his stamp on Syracuse when he won a national championship there in 2003, but his cross-river rival, Andray Blatche, has a deeper-rooted connection to the city.

That was evident this past weekend in Blatche's hometown of Syracuse where last year he received a key to the city. This year he hosted a charity drive and 40-and-over basketball showcase at the local Rescue Mission Kiesewetter, featuring players that helped him become a star at Henninger High School. Some of those included were his HS coaches, Tom Atkins and Erik Saroney, and former local standouts, such as Pop Anderson, Roosevelt “Pony” Bullock, Scott McCarthy, Eddie Mitchell and Howie Trisha.

"It's for the whole Syracuse. That's where I was born and raised," Blatche told ESPNNewYork.com. "I do the 40-and-over league for the older heads that showed me the way when I was growing up -- that were taking care of me and making sure I wasn't in trouble. That's for them."

The event kicked off Friday with a children's giveaway initiative, where school supplies were handed out to several organizations and six different churches in Syracuse. Blatche also made a donation to the local rescue mission, where he played growing up, and was honored for his generosity. That evening, Blatche and his family organized a cookout at a relative's house for locals to stop by and enjoy.

On Saturday, Blatche put on a special hoops event for about 100 players who make up 10 teams in a local 40-and-over league. Blatche reffed some of the games while mingling with the players, signing autographs and posing for pictures.

"They're guys Andray watched play when he was younger, so now he's supporting them to stay fit and healthy," said his mother, Angela, who heads up his outreach work. "It's to encourage them to continue playing, and that's going to help with the diabetes. He has an uncle who's a diabetic and my sister passed away of cancer, so he always likes to try to keep the health going. He loves giving back. He doesn't do it for the notoriety; he does it because it comes from his heart."

Blatche has now been giving back to the Syracuse community for six years, and he's especially glad to make his second-annual basketball event a bigger part of his foundation. "It means a lot," he said. "That's where I'm from and that's the people that taught me everything I know. There's no place like going back home."

Now that Blatche is in Brooklyn, his hometown couldn't be happier.

"Oh my god, let me tell you. When Andray went to Brooklyn [in 2012], Syracuse was so happy because they got to see him on television more," Angela said. "They got to see the games more, so during the games, they text me, 'Did you see that?' They're just really, really excited to see the games."

FOCUSED ON THE FINALS: With the Nets having arguably the best offseason of any team -- especially landing Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko -- Blatche feels something big is coming in 2013-14.

"I'm most excited about having a lot of veteran players," he said. "We actually have a great team. I'm excited about having a great season and going to the championship. I really believe that we can make [the Finals]."

Blatche, who has been training with the team, envisions his role being the same as last season. "Coming off the bench being an offensive threat and bringing energy," he said.

Blatche also talked about playing with Garnett, who has been on the other end of a lot trash talking in recent years. "That's going to be a little different from our past history," he said. "He's a grown man, I'm a grown man, we're teammates now and I'm quite sure he has the same mindset as me -- just winning and getting that ring."

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