It seems shameful to admit that I had never been to the Deveroes Summer Basketball League until yesterday, but it’s true.
All I’d been missing every summer at Woodward High School, is a three-dollar sneak-peek at Cincinnati’s best hoopsters playing on different teams with different coaches, learning to adjust to new roles and new referees, and, perhaps more importantly, trying not to get dunked on.
The level of competition is slightly better than I suspected. The big names playing at the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University obviously showcase the event, but it’s the obscure players that climb out of the woodwork and light up the scoreboard that make the league legitimate.
I was also surprised at the extent of the season; 10 teams play a nine-game season, and the top eight teams play in a single-loss tournament. College coaches are not allowed to attend the games, so players like Yancy Gates can fire up three-pointers all they want without worrying about being benched and screamed at for a week.
Yancy spent the day hovering around the outside, testing his range without success. No one said a word about it.
Former Xavier legend, Jamal Walker is the MC for the event, and although he at times nearly damages his microphone from his vocal enthusiasm on breakaway dunks and big three-pointers, the man is pure comedy who could eventually make Dick Cheney crack a smile.
He was fantastic with his nicknames (Steven Toyloy was “Muscles”, Jamal Warren was “Grimey”, Sean Kilpatrick was “Killa”) and impressed me with his anecdotal tidbits about each player. He called the game well, and would at times do something else entirely, leaving the spectator to silently take in the moving poetry of the game on their own.
However, when he did eventually return to his post as public announcer, he began with, “Live action” every time, and resumed his play-by-play hilarity. The basketball makes the event, but laughing at Jamal all day is worth the three bucks to get in.
Teams are named after their sponsor which results in intriguing match-ups like Superior Cars.com versus S.I. Pool Care. Each team wears a different color of the same t-shirt which features Wolverine brandishing his metallic claws and has a dialogue bubble that reads, “Come get some Bud!”.
It seems the designer of the shirt overlooked the facts that Wolverine typically refers to his villains as “Bub”, and that a comma is necessary to indicate that he is calling someone Bud. Luckily, the confusion did not cause hordes of shaggy people to turn up hoping to procure available Wolverine bud.
New Xavier sensation, Jordan Crawford, showed up for the season finale and dropped an effortless 31 points in 28 minutes, including a ferocious dunk on another XU newcomer, Jeff Robinson. Crawford’s style is mellow and controlled, but freakishly athletic and all-in-all deadly; players like Glen Robinson and James Harden spring to mind as comparisons.
He doesn’t appear to have a smooth, natural shooting stroke, but at the same time, he went three for six from three, highlighted by a deep fade-away as the shot-clock ran out.
Crawford’s a long-strider, getting into the lane easily and he likes to cup the ball as he swoops in for finger-rolls and runners. He showed enough handles and court awareness to use as a point guard if needed; similar to the role that Harden played at Arizona State last year. And yet, after all of that praise, Crawford’s most impressive facet is his leaping ability. It’s scary.
His team, OHC, had the best record of the regular season (8-1) and features other Xavier players, like incoming freshman guard Mark Lyons, and the freshly graduated yet still visibly sleepy, C.J. Anderson.
Lyons appeared super-quick, having no problem getting to the paint and eventually the line, but still looked very young, demonstrating freshman symptoms like poor shot selection, not finishing around the rim, and dribbling too much. With time and coaching, Lyons should become a legitimate starting point guard someday, but from the little I’ve seen, I wouldn’t trust him with the keys just yet.
For size, the squad has former Dayton Flyer forward Norm Plummer, banging around his 6'7'’, wide-bodied frame. Plummer posted season totals of 16 points and nine rebounds a game, and kept smiling the whole time—who couldn’t root for a guy like that?
At one point during the game, OHC head coach Ozie Davis III, was moved enough to cry out chants of MVP. Jamal Walker stopped his play-by-play and asked Ozie who he was referring to. Ozie emphatically announced “Norm Plummer”, and everyone laughed. That’s just the kind of place it was.
SLATS is the other team that gets most of the attention. Its roster is composed of all UC players and is led by the bruiser, Yancy Gates. Gates is a wide and beefy 6'9"; a person that seems rooted to where he stands. It must be like boxing out an Oak tree for opponents. He certainly has an NBA body, but has only shown flashes of an NBA game thus far in his career.
In the match-up against SuperiorCars.com, Gates made defender Biggie McLean’s day easier by lurking outside and hoisting three's and long two's instead of working his college teammate in the post. Gates could dominate a league like this if he wanted to, but that may be why it doesn’t happen.
One player on SLATS who seems comfortable in his role, is UC freshman guard Sean Kilpatrick. Killa put up over 20 points a game on the season and was third in field goals. He showed a nice shooting stroke and seemed to be one of the only SLATS players to let the game come to him.
He plays with a quiet sneakiness and looks dangerous from the outside. I see enough swagger in his game to picture him in the league at some point.
One of the most impressive players of the day was Miami sophomore Vince “Captain” Cook, who helped SuperiorCars.com beat SLATS on that day. Cook was extremely active defensively and had stretches where he seemed unguardable. A bonus of Captain Cook is his very genuine pirate beard, which, in my book, makes him an immediate fan favorite.
The other game of the day featured Eddie Gray; a man I know nothing about, but in around an hour, showed me that there’s something legendary about him. Imagine a mini Chauncy Billups; an older, veteran player, who gets fired up and drops backbreaking three's each time down the floor.
Eddie Gray had 27 points, including five three-pointers in 25 minutes and he taught the youngsters playing for the Cincinnati State team (S.I. Pool Care) how to properly respect their elders.
Unlike the high-profile, Division I characters around the gym, the older guys like Eddie Gray live for these moments and take it all very seriously. It’s players like these that usually play a key role in determining who wins the whole thing.
His team, John H. Flessa Law Office, is made up of a handful of veterans, including perennial leading scorer, Paul McMillan, and a young guy; a high-flying UC swingman named Darnell Wilkes. It wouldn’t be a long shot to pick Flessa as a championship team. Their first test will be against Yancy Gates and SLATS on Wednesday.