BELLFLOWER, CA (News4usonline) – A couple of weeks in, and the Drew League is back in full effect. But this summer is a little bit different than in years past.
For one, the renowned summer pro-am basketball league is holding its games at St. John Bosco High School instead of its regular gathering spot at King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science in Compton/Watts.
The second big adjustment is that after not playing games in 2020 because of COVID-19, the league and its staff have to get back to the business of meeting and greeting fans as well as players back into the fold.
On June 19, the league’s first official day back in action, the Saturday morning crowd was modest in size, but there were plenty of people arriving early to get a share of their basketball fix with a full slate of games to be played.
Security, staff and other Drew League employees greeted each other with warm hugs. Face coverings and masks were replaced with joyous smiles. The Drew League has always strived to its environment something akin to a family affair.
Watching the players, referees and fans chat it up with back-in-time news and gossip, the Drew League felt like the family atmosphere it has always been. Now that’s progress. It is also a testament to just how far Los Angeles County, the state of California as well as rest of the nation has come from over a year ago.
For most of 2020 and six months into 2021, operations of businesses were shut down. Family gatherings and celebrations became ghost as COVID-19 put a halt on life as Americans knew it.
Millions became unemployed. Thousands lost their lives. The pandemic ravaged local and national economies. The way we did things was a thing of the past. But then a couple of miracles happened.
In came a new president. Science came through at breakneck speed to come up with a vaccine to offset the virus. After a while, pieces of normalcy began to wind themselves back into the red, white and blue slice of American life.
For 48 years, the Drew League has been a part of that slice of the pie. When you think about the Drew League, the alumni is rich and thick.
NBA stars such as Kevin Durant, James Harden (Artesia High School), LaMelo Ball, Chris Paul, Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks), the late Kobe Bryant, and former Compton High standout DeMar DeRozan are all part of the Drew League family.
The list goes on and on when it comes to a “who’s who” is playing at the Drew League. The one day that you pop in to catch a couple of basketball games, it just might be your lucky day.
You never know when Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George or Baron Davis or Los Angeles Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell might be in the gym working on their game.
That thrill was taken away last summer when the COVID-19 pandemic put everything and everyone on lockdown, forcing the famous pro-am summer basketball league to close its doors.
But the good news is that after being shut down due to the pandemic last year, the No Excuse, Just Produce pro-am summer basketball is back in full swing again this summer.
“We’re super excited,” said Chaniel Smiley, …… “I’m just excited to see everyone. It’s a family environment.”
Founded by Alvin Willis in 1973 and operated under the steady hand of Dino Smiley for years, the Drew League got its start at Charles Drew Junior High School.
But because of COVID-19 restrictions from the Los Angeles Unified School District which governs the King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science, the Drew League was forced to look for a replacement home this summer.
Los Angeles Southwest Community College, a South Los Angeles backyard venue, was considered to be a viable option as a backup for holding games since the school annually hosts the Drew League’s playoff games.
That option went sideways and St. John Bosco became the winner in the Drew League hosting sweepstakes. Fans of the Drew League don’t have to worry, however, about a possible fee at the door because of the change of venue.
They can expect to keep their wallets and pocketbooks tucked away unless they are purchasing items from the Drew League merchandise store or at the concession stands.
Like it has been for years, anyone attending games at the Drew League can come and watch good basketball free.
And with the knowledge that people will be traveling outside of the normal scope of heading to King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Sciences for their usual summer basketball appetite, Chaniel Smiley said the Drew League will be offering shuttle services during the playing of games on Saturday and on Sunday.
Shuttle services offered to those attending the Drew League will take place at the Metro Lakewood Green Line Station on Lakewood Boulevard in Downey. Service is expected to start roughly around 10:30 a.m. when the first game at the Drew League typically starts and ends around 5 p.m. when the last contest is in play.
The one caveat to attending the Drew League this summer is that the seating, at least for now, will be limited to 50 to 75 percent capacity because of Covid-19 restrictions. Another note attendees should know about play at the Drew League is that on Saturday six games will be featured.
On Sunday, there will be five games played. And an even bigger treat for youngsters and their parents is the summer basketball league will host the Junior Drew Clinic on weekends throughout the month of July.
The Junior Drew Clinic is basically a free basketball clinic that will take place in the morning before any of the Drew League contests begin. Before fans get too happy, games will not be played on the Fourth of July weekend and the league will be dark on July 10.
Other than that, the summer session at the Drew League is expected to play through August 29.
Besides closing its doors to eager basketball fans, one of the main downside to the effects of COVID-19 has been the economic impact. Volunteers as well as devoted Drew League staff members were not able to do what they enjoy doing, and that is serving the community.
On top of that, the Drew League Foundation, which awards scholarships to as many as 10 students every year, did not have the funds to give to possible recipients, Chaniel Smiley said.
“It [Covid-19] hurt everybody,” she said. “It hurt even our staff.”
Featured Image Caption: Photo credit: Concentration at the free-throw line. Mark Hammond/News4usonline