Founder Dino Smiley reunites community through hoops
It’s a steamy summer afternoon in Bellflower, the St. John Bosco parking is filled to capacity and fans of the iconic Drew League are coming and going amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
After a year pause due to the pandemic The Drew League is back in business and fulfilling its
prophecy of reuniting basketball players, family and friends that span generations.
On this particular day it is as if the league never stopped producing without excuses as its moniker implies, although 2020 became yet another COVID-19 casualty, a mere hiccup on its glorified history of revealing stars, stalwarts and foundational pieces to a league that has become as much of a tradition in the Southern California as low riders and hip hop.
The frequent voice of affable George Preciado echoes throughout the gymnasium at Bosco piercing the roars of the crowd after a posterizing dunk, but the man responsible for it all Dino Smiley is too busy to see or notice.
Smiley has committed his life and for the most part his family of son Desmond, daughter Chaniel, who serves as commissioner of league, wife Stephanie and brother Butch to The Drew League, and since 1971 Smiley has seen more than his share those electrifying moments.
This year has been particularly more rejoiceful than others because for a while it was not a sure bet to happen due to the looming and stagnant coronavirus which has altered life as we’ve all become accustomed to.
“Just seeing people reunite has been the most important,” Smiley explained to Inglewood Today. “People always come back to hang out and see old friends and of course hoop. Players are happy to get back on the court and compete at the highest level, so it has been fun.”
From a fans perspective there is no telling what you might experience at The Drew, it’s like a box of Cracker Jacks you never know what you are going to get inside.
Whether it’s the gray bearded long time coach Wally Moore who lays claim to three Drew crowns, famous Ball Brothers, NBA standout Montrezl Harrell, former Compton and USC now NBA standout DeMar DeRozan, the comeback NBA kid Isiah Thomas or Dodgers star outfielder Mookie Betts just stopping by.
In years gone by there was the late Kobe Bryant taking court, James Harden, rapper The Game and The King, LeBron James has made cameo appearances at The Drew.
There is never a dull moment at The Drew no matter where its being played, but the first and only hosting by St. John Bosco it is relishing the bustling spectators on this storied high school campus to fill the enduring COVID-19 void. St. John Bosco was a last resort because COVID-19 regulations prevented participation at other gymnasiums in Los Angeles County.
With all that has happened and the tremendous growth The Drew has made throughout the years, it has not outgrown its core purpose of generating entertainment while making the participants accessible to the fans who support them.
Before the Nike sponsorship that came along to provide the fancy uniforms, studs like Casper Ware was a mere high jumping, hot shooting star from Fremont High, Baron Davis was a prodigy and the players paid the referee fees out of their own pockets.
Back then the championship award was anything Smiley could afford, such as when the title team received miniature black and white televisions.
Today, The Drew League symbol is emblazoned on Nike dry fits T-shirts, sweat shirts, caps and yes face masks and even has its own signature Nike kicks. Sales from the merch benefits The Drew Foundation which offers scholarships to kids in underserved communities.
Davis was among the headliners at the inaugural Drew All Star game at Southwest College this summer that also featured former Laker Metta World Peace. It marked the first time the NBA Players Association sanctioned a pro-am event.
Casper, since retired as a player, coaches his son Casper Jr. on the long standing Cheaters squad that will be an 8th seed when the playoffs tip on August 19th.
The Cititeam Blazers (6-2) is among the top seeds, having won the Tamar Hamilton Division, named for Smiley’s late sister who died in 2020.
All In (6-2), coached by the boastful and colorful Moore is the other top seed led by Stephaun Branch and Wally’s son Marquis Moore. Then there is the last team to win it all, the Most Hated Players led by former NBA journeyman Nick Young.
This year another team will crowned at The Drew, but the true winners countless be the spectators who don’t want the fun to end and can’t wait for it to start again.
For more information go to drewleague.com
Inglewood Today coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.