Drew League championship weekend: Final four teams, top players and more

Last summer at the Drew League, considered by many to be the best pro-am summer basketball league, Public Enemy appeared to have a championship won with a double-digit fourth-quarter lead.

Public Enemy was led by three-time league MVP Franklin Session and 2020 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell. But an I-Can All-Stars team, led by brothers Daniel Hamilton and Isaac Hamilton and bolstered by NBA champion Kevon Looney, forced the first overtime in the 48 seasons of the league championship and secured a title, leaving Public Enemy crestfallen.

This year at El Camino College in Torrance, Calif., as the Drew League prepares for its 49th championship weekend to end the 2022 summer season, Public Enemy is back with Session and Harrell. Under head coach and fashion designer Tracey Mills, the brother of former NBA player Chris Mills, Public Enemy had the best record of any team in the Drew at 9-1.

As the No. 1-seeded team in the Booker Turner Division, Public Enemy outlasted No. 8-seeded YoungCiti and No. 5-seeded Citi Team Blazers to advance to the division championship Saturday against Black Pearl Elite.

This time around, Public Enemy is taking nothing for granted.

“We know we left food on the table last year,” said Session, a Drew participant over the past decade. “And we’re not trying to have that happen again this year.”

Session believes his team is in the best position to advance past the division and win Sunday’s championship game. He has done it before, completing an undefeated 2017 season with a championship against a Hometown Favorites team that featured NBA veteran brothers Dorell Wright and Delon Wright and a then-future pro in USC guard De’Anthony Melton.

This time, instead of trying to win a title with rapper The Game, Session is trying to win alongside Drew League MVP candidate Harrell.

“I feel like me and him, we just click a lot,” Session said of his connection with Harrell. “He trusts what I’ve got going on, I trust what he’s got going. We rock with that.”

Public Enemy’s group could have been even better this year. LA Clippers shooting guard Paul George told The Athletic that if he played in the Drew this season, he would have played with Public Enemy because longtime friend Mills was the first to reach out to him.

George’s schedule did not align for him to play at the Drew for the first time since 2014 before the regular season ended, keeping him ineligible for the playoffs. But that last weekend of the regular season allowed for former Arizona State guard Tra Holder to break out for a Drew League season-high 63 points with Session and Harrell out.

“As our three-headed monster — Tra, Trezz, and me — it’s a tough team to beat, man,” Session told The Athletic. “I feel like we all kind of just know that. We know that, we lock in on that and we make sure down the stretch that we hone in on it.”

It will be a rematch between Public Enemy and Black Pearl Elite in the division championship. So far, rematches have served Black Pearl Elite well. After dispatching the remains of the defending champion No. 6-seeded I-Can All-Stars in the division quarterfinals, Black Pearl Elite had a rematch with No. 2-seeded MMV Cheaters. During the regular season last month, Black Pearl Elite narrowly lost to a Cheaters team that featured four-time NBA MVP LeBron James and first-team All-NBA forward DeMar DeRozan in what was the highlight of the Drew League season.

DeRozan, long motivated to win a championship at the Drew after falling just short in 2015 to a LAUNFD team led by James Harden, needed all of his 35 points to help the Cheaters beat No. 7-seed Undisputed and advance to the division semifinals. But DeRozan was unavailable for the Cheaters’ playoff game against Black Pearl Elite while attending Draymond Green’s wedding, leaving former Drew League MVP Casper Ware II and USC guard Boogie Ellis to lead the team against former Drew League MVP Vince Camper and former St. Bonaventure forward Dion Wright.

“I knew they wouldn’t have LeBron again, but this might sound crazy, they’re a tougher team without those two pros,” Camper said. “Obviously, those dudes are deadly. But today, we had to worry about everybody.”

In a heated game that saw Wright draw a double technical from the bench for yelling “child abuse” repeatedly at Ellis after Camper scored through Ellis’ contact, Black Pearl Elite outlasted Cheaters after Ware’s potential go-ahead 3 fell short. Now, Camper gets to lead a team that he feels is better suited for tougher moments with him on the team.

“From my understanding — I wasn’t on this team last year — during times of adversity, we would implode,” Camper said of Black Pearl Elite, named after former Drew League champion and current coach Lemar “Black Pearl” Gayle. “Today, we stuck together. we got in the huddle. Even when guys yelled, nobody took it personally.”

Another new addition to Black Pearl Elite, former Texas A&M guard Quenton Jackson, is playing his first summer at the Drew after playing on the Washington Wizards summer-league team. Jackson is expected to get a training camp deal with Washington, but for now, he is embracing a chance to do something special in the Drew.

“Now that I’m kind of a free agent right now, I’m able to move around how I want to, so I had to come down here and mess with the family one time,” Jackson said. “It’s been a cool little experience. I love it. The energy in here is cool. You know, I’m just trying to see where I can go with it.”

The winner of the Public Enemy-Black Pearl Elite game will face the winner of the Freeman Williams division championship between top-seeded Nationwide Souljas and No. 2 Hometown Favorites.

When Nationwide Souljas beat N0. 8 Problems and No. 4 Reapers Black Ops, it meant that three of the four teams that made it to the final weekend of the season last year made it back this summer.

Last year, Nationwide lost to eventual champions I-Can All-Stars in the division championship. And in 2018, a day after Glen “Big Baby” Davis helped demolish an M.H.P. team led by Nick Young and DeRozan, Nationwide lost the Drew League championship to Redemption when Davis was unable to attend.

Even if Davis shows up this weekend, Nationwide has been led by MVP candidate and former Michigan State and Iowa State product Chris Allen. While Allen struggled to score against Problems, he helped his teammates score efficiently from the double-teams he drew. And then Allen bounced back in a blowout win against the Reapers with 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

“It’s very tough right now, especially during playoffs, because a lot of guys are thinking, ‘well shoot, as long as we stop him, we’re good,’ ” Allen says of teams throwing the kitchen sink at him. “But the way that we’re moving right now, you stop me, now you got to worry about Chris Copeland. Darnell Jackson. Mike Bethea. Marcus Williams. Everybody’s grooving right now. So it’s like, that plan is not going to necessarily work, no matter what if you all stop me or not.

“If that’s your game plan, that’s fine. But now y’all got to worry about everybody else. Because if y’all don’t …”

Williams, who played four seasons in the NBA and has won four Drew League championships, has long been an advocate for Allen. But Williams also praised his team’s coaching staff, led by Old Dominion University women’s basketball assistant Roland Jones, for putting Nationwide in a position to succeed.

“I keep saying it’s a pro-am, but I think our staff is a little underrated,” Williams said. “They’ve been really helpful this summer. We’ve been playing like three times a week as a team. They’ve been constructing that. Since the first week, they’ve been kind of locked in.”

When Harrell and Copeland were talking with the Hamilton brothers this week at the Rico Hines pro runs at UCLA, Harrell made it clear that he felt like Nationwide had a tough matchup with Hometown Favorites due to the presence of Delon Wright of the Wizards and Melton of the Sixers.

“They have two pros!” Harrell bellowed at Copeland.

Wright and Melton played together with Norman Powell of the Clippers on the last weekend of the Drew League regular season, and while Powell did not join them for the first weekend of the playoffs, Wright and Melton were a force together. The duo combined for 40 points in a blowout win over Corey Maggette’s No. 7-seeded GHOST in the divisional quarterfinals and then combined for 39 points a day later to beat No. 6 Redemption in the division semifinals. Melton in particular has been on a tear, making five 3s in each game.

“I think it’s special,” Melton said of playing with Wright this summer at the Drew. “It’s the best competition outside of obviously the league and stuff like that in the summer. So coming out here and getting to work on your game and play hard. Everybody’s coming to play, everybody wants to win.

“I think it’s a special thing that (Wright) is coming back too and we’re getting our work in and it’s going to be guys out there that’s going to push us to be the best. As we should do for them.”

While Melton was on the Hometown Favorites team that lost to Birdie’s Revenge in 2017, Wright was on that team as well as the 2013 Kings of LA team that lost in Drew League championship games. Wright first played in the Drew League 12 years ago and has usually been with teams led by Fairfax high school basketball coach Reggie Morris Jr., NBA player development coach AJ Diggs and former Drew League champion Chris “Ghetto Bird” Young. This year, Wright is trying to have his team be the last standing.

“We’re playing it to win it,” Wright said. “I want to continue to finally try to win a championship. I lost two championships, so I want to win one.”

Saturday’s games will start at 1 p.m. PT with Hometown Favorites against Nationwide Souljas and then followed by Black Pearl Elite against Public Enemy. Before Sunday’s championship at 3 p.m. PT, the Drew League will have showcases for the Jr. Drew League and Women’s Drew League as well as an award ceremony. And this will be the first Drew League championship that will be streamed live by the NBA.

“We got a tall task,” Camper said of his Black Pearl Elite team. “We just got to come with it, and the chips are going to fall where they may. I’m betting the house on me, though. I’m going to either be homeless or I’m going to live in a mansion when that game is over.”

(Photo of Chris Allen: Courtesy of bellikemike/IG)


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