Introducing Basketball Legends of California's Famous 'Drew League'

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2013

Introducing Basketball Legends of California's Famous 'Drew League'

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    It's tempting to believe Kevin Durant cameos and James Harden heroics are the stuff Drew League legends are made of. Those are usually the things that get the most press, namely because they're names we know.

    But it's some of the names we may not know that have been most instrumental in making the Drew League what it is today. What they've lacked in fame, they've more than made up for with demonstrative skill—and plenty of highlights. Since 1973, the Drew's been connecting players of all stripes, from established stars to kids looking to get noticed. It's been as much about building community in Los Angeles as it has anything career-driven.

    In short, the Drew League has been the ideal respite from a high-stakes NBA season. It's there that classic and cutting-edge ballers alike have forged cross-generational bonds, forming a local identity even as the game's popularity has exploded globally.

    Icons like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James may be the reasons we originally heard about the league, but guys like Raymond Lewis and Casper Ware Sr. were defining street ball in Southern California before most of today's stars were born.

    Even legends fly under the radar sometimes.

Raymond Lewis

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    It's hard listening to someone talking about Raymond Lewis's glory days without thinking every last bit of it has been made up. It's the kind of legend that really sounds like a legend. But by all accounts, this guy was on another planet.

    ESPNHS's Ronnie Flores contends that Lewis, "in all likelihood is best player to never play in the NBA." 

    He was named Player of the Year in both his Junior and Senior years of high school, eventually signing on to attend Cal State Los Angeles, where he scored 73 points in a game his freshman year. Despite being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1973, Lewis never played in the NBA. Apparently, Lewis wanted to renegotiate his contract after embarrassing first-overall pick Doug Collins in camp.

    Lewis passed away in 2001, leaving behind a mind-boggling legacy. He may have fallen through the NBA's cracks, but he wowed onlookers at the Drew League as much as any pro has.

Casper Ware Jr. and Casper Ware Sr.

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    While it may still be too soon to declare Casper Ware Jr. an official Drew League legend, he's well on his way after winning the league's MVP award in 2011. It doesn't hurt that his dad was a Drew League champion and MVP back in the early days, becoming one of Southern California's original street-ball icons.

    The younger Ware wasn't selected in the 2012 NBA Draft after starring for Long Beach State, but he's already made a name for himself in Italy. The 5'10" floor general was named the Legadue league's MVP after a breakout rookie campaign.

    Ware spent this summer playing for the Houston Rockets' Orlando Summer League team. Last season, he did the same for the Detroit Pistons. Though he doesn't have ideal size, there's still plenty of time left for him to convince the NBA that doesn't matter.

Dane Suttle Sr.

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    Dane Suttle Sr.'s NBA career fizzled after just two seasons in the early 80s, but he'd already begun making a name for himself in four years at Pepperdine University, where he became the school's all-time leading scorer.

    After making a few other non-NBA stops, Suttle started tutoring other young players in the true spirit of the Drew. Like so many of the league's participants, Suttle grew up in Los Angeles. He attended Fremont High School and developed into a versatile 6'3" guard who played hard on both ends of the floor.

    In 2012, Suttle was inducted to the Pepperdine Hall of Fame. The press release included a couple of especially sterling reviews: 

    An outstanding shooter who excelled in pressure situations, Suttle earned raves from opponents' coaches, including Loyola Marymount's Ed Goorjian ("I don't think I've seen a better shooter than him this year") and Cal State Fullerton's George McQuarn ("You always have to be concerned with Suttle. He can hurt you at anytime, anywhere.").

    Suttle's son, Dane Jr., graduated from Pepperdine in 2012.

Kenny "Bad Santa" Brunner

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    Kenny Brunner is best known for playing with the And1 Live Tour since 2007, but the Compton native is no stranger to the Drew League. According to the Buffalo Silverbacks (who signed him in 2007) he was selected to the All Century Drew League team, ranking him as one of the 50 best participants ever.

    The 5'9" point guard is renowned for his quickness and ability to set teammates up. ESPNHS's Ronnie Flores describes 'Bad Santa' as, "one of the most feared and respected street-ball players in California," going on to cite a long list of impressive achievements.

    Before all that, Brunner's college career was unconventional. He played for two different college programs starting at Georgetown in 1997-98 and ending up at College of Southern Idaho in 1999-2000 (per NBA.com).

    As proven by the above clip, the man also knows how to make an entrance.

John Williams

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    Not to be confused with John "Hot Rod" Williams, Hot Plate enjoyed some professional success after the Washington Bullets drafted him in 1986. He ultimately played eight seasons in the NBA before a combination of injury trouble and weight problems took him out of commission.

    Chris Baker writes for the Los Angeles Times that, "during the years I covered preps for The Times (1979-84), swingman John Williams of Crenshaw made his mark as perhaps the best high school basketball player in City Section history."

    Williams returned to his roots after his NBA career, taking home some Drew League titles in the process.

Allen 'Houdini' Caveness

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    Allen Caveness is a Drew League lifer. A former Drew League MVP and champion, Caveness now uses his experience with the program to coach Hank’s A1 All Stars according to DrewLeague.com's Lauren Jones.

    His record coaching at the junior-college level has been exceptional, and the Drew League allows the mentor another opportunity to work with players looking to make something of their talent (via Jones):

    A lot of them have had to be tough and for me it’s just finding a way to tap into that toughness. Some of the guys on my team I coached officially six or seven years ago, but since we still maintain a relationship they are ready to play for me when the summer rolls around.

    Caveness is an important reminder that some of the biggest difference made in the Drew League have nothing to do with basketball. As one of his players put it to Jones, "he taught me right from wrong on the court and just in life."

    How's that for some perspective?

Bobby Brown

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    No, not that Bobby Brown.

    Though the hoops sensation saw some NBA action on four different teams from 2008-2010, he's best known for everything else. At the moment, the native of Southern Cali is lighting it up for Italian squad Montepaschi Siena.

    The 28-year-old point guard was MVP of the Drew League in 2012, adding to the stretch of impressive performances that originally put him on NBA maps. Before that, he played for L.A.'s Westchester High School and attended Cal-State Fullerton.

    His ability to score off the dribble makes him a headache for defenders, especially given will willingness to pull up from anywhere. NBA pedigree or not, Brown scores like a pro.

Robin "Syk Wit It" Kennedy

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    Los Angeles was already Lob City long before Chris Paul showed up. You can thank Robin Kennedy for that. 

    The speedy 5'10" guard can throw it downcourt with the best of 'em, and he's got a handle to match. You can probably guess where the clever alias comes from. According to Streetball.com, "Kennedy’s good friend, Reggie Cotton, gave him the nickname "Sik Wit It" because he Cotton says 'his moves were sick, on and off the court'."

    We'll just have to trust him about those "off the court" moves, but there's no question about what Kennedy can do with a ball in his hands.