By Lauren Jones, DrewLeague.com
LA Loop, owned by Ryosuke Nozawa (Yo) the CEO of Loop Sports Management, was the team that took everyone by surprise this season. Yo and the rest of his coaching staff are all from Japan. Three years ago he decided to form a team to compete in the premiere summer pro-am league in Los Angeles, the Drew League. Formerly known as the worst team in the League winning only three games total in the past two years, LA Loop commanded the attention of the entire League this season earning the best record of the Sam Sullivan Division (10-2).
The question on everyone’s mind is what changed within a year?
“We had a great experience last year, we played in the SBL [Super Basketball League], a premier summer league in Taiwan and went to the finals,” said Yo. He thinks it was this experience that led to the complete 180-degree turn around. “It was just a step-by-step process, growing as a team.” This upward swing came to a crashing halt Friday night in the first round of the 2013 Drew League playoffs.
LA Loop fell apart without the heart and soul of their team, Billy Knight, who left to return overseas. Knight has spent the last 5 years playing in Japan. LA Loop is mainly comprised of players similar to Knight who play overseas and are originally from Los Angeles.
The 34-year-old Knight is a seasoned veteran of the Drew, who began playing back in the 1996 season. “Baron Davis was my college roommate at UCLA and he drove me down to the Drew League back at the old gym,” remembers Knight. “Some small gym filled with a bunch of street ballers, some overseas guys and mostly neighborhood dudes.” At that time, Knight recalls Davis being the only NBA player participating. The Drew League in its 40th season looks a lot different with a not so small gym, celebrities, and everything from street ballers to elite NBA players.
Yo’s vision is what the Drew League is all about: providing a vehicle for as many aspiring basketball players as possible to realize their dreams. Dino Smiley, Commissioner of the Drew League said it best quoting Drake, “They started from the bottom…” well you know the rest.
In April 2012, Yo founded Loop Sports Management in hopes of developing and grooming American players who are seeking an opportunity to compete overseas. “I want to make the best player from any country,” said Yo about his company’s mission. “Next year, when I get my agent license then I will be able to help more players get overseas and give back to my country.”
Although going into the first night of the Drew League playoffs LA Loop was a clear favorite to win over Hank’s Blazers, the eighth ranked team in the Sam Sullivan Division, LA Loop’s fire was extinguished by Hank’s Blazers marking the first upset of the playoffs (77-72). Let this be a cautionary tale to the remaining teams; anything can happen, that’s the beauty of basketball.
Lauren Jones is entering her senior year at USC majoring in Broadcast Journalism with a minor in Sports Media Studies. This is her second summer interning for the Drew League. Her career aspirations are to work as an esteemed sports journalist and eventually as a consultant for athletes in financial literacy, public relations and brand management. Her past experiences include interning for Yahoo! Sports, the Los Angeles Clippers, BET Network, EAG Sports Management, and Nike EYBL.