By Otha Nevels
Origin is forever. Common good is forever. God’s memory is forever. LAUNFD is forever.
LAUNFD is one of the elite franchises in the Drew. After a brief hiatus last year they’ve returned and now are one game away from reaching the championship. A familiar site for a franchise that has 3 to date. With a core group that according them have been playing over 20 years together and to some feels like “forever”. That group includes Brandon “Bottoms” Heath, Bobby “LB” Brown, Brandon “BoBo” Bowman, and Eugene “Pooh” Jeter.
According to Heath, it all began with himself and Brown forging a bond around 8 or 9 years old on their AAU squad the Westside Blazers’ and later as teammates for national powerhouse Westchester High School. Along with Brown and Heath, former McDonald’s All-American Hassan Adams and Brandon Bowman were all teammates at Westchester. A program put on the local map by the likes of former Trojans David Bluthenthal and Brandon Granville. As well as Trojan assistant coach Tony Bland. All due respect to those players, but it was Heath’s squad that took the program to another level. A squad that also included Trevor Ariza, Ashanti Cook, Scott “Red” Cutely and saw the entire starting 5 get D1 scholarships. To put it modestly, Westchester was loaded and probably would’ve gave a few colleges a nice game back in the day.
“We have to tip our hats to coach (ED) Azzam. He prepared us for everything we’ve witnessed on this basketball journey that we’ve been on the last 14 years.” Said Heath. Bowman also added “Those were the toughest practices I’ve ever been through. Ever!” Yet this isn’t about arguably one of the best programs out the state of California ever! For that I say “Google” them. No this is about a team looking to take back its throne amongst Drew loyalty. This is about a family doubling as a basketball team.
Often times you here “family” thrown around loosely in team locker rooms. It’s rather cliché and doesn’t necessarily ring true. However, with this team you tend to believe them. “We’re all friends on and off the court. This goes farther than basketball. We do business together. Were brothers. We push one another on a everyday basis in everything. We love to see each other doing well.” Said Heath.
Make no mistake about it, amongst this bromance are players that like to compete. “We’re all competitive. We all hate to lose and we push one another. Were going to continue to push each other in the right direction.”said Heath.
On this day, Heath serves as the unofficial spokesman; and understandably so. Brandon Heath was a California high school legend. He has been in this position for a long time. He was the best player on the court and was the face of those Westchester teams. In his younger days, his game was similar to that guy in the Bay, Riley’s dad. How else does one get a nickname like “Bottoms”, as in nothing but the bottom of the net. But as the saying goes, to whom much is given…
“It’s cool, but it also puts a bulls eye on your back. Anybody up and coming can definitely make a name off me or any of my homies.” Said Heath.
Those homies include his heir apparent in high school and Drew all world player Bobby “LB” Brown. Watching those two together in the locker room, you get a feeling of what Jay and Kanye might be like in the studio. You get a sense of a proud big brother who’s happy to see his little brother finally shinning. In high school, while Bottoms was racking up awards and city titles, it was LB patiently playing the background until it was his time to take the torch. When he took it, he started torching defenders.
“He taught me to play hard every single night. Don’t take any games for granted and play every game like it’s my last.” Said LB.
And like a big brother, Bottoms couldn’t be any prouder of LB. “Hard work pays off. He kept working and it’s paying off for him in big dividends. I’m just glad to see my bro doing good. I love to see that.” Said Heath.
On top of the chemistry and family vibe that LAUNFD has, they also have talent. Talent that includes Dijon Thompson, James Harden, Jerome Jordan, Dorell Wright, and newcomer Cuttino Mobley. Talent alone can get you but so far, and Heath knows it.
“We got a lot of guys who play at high levels and know how to play. When it comes down to winning games , the execution is easy. We all know what it takes to win and we’ve all won at every level.” Said Heath.
No stranger to winning titles himself, Wright added: “It’s fun playing with these guys. Back in the day, we would play open gym and it would just be four of us and we would have whoever for the fifth and just run cats off the court and that was like 9th or 10th grade. So at this point, it’s like second nature. We all know how each other plays. Were all happy for each others success. We’re like the old guys now. People respect our games and respect what we can do, so now we just gotta go out there and do it.”
Like any family, there have been moments of sibling rivalry, but the love these players profess for one another helps to dead any minor situation before it becomes major. Those moments of distinction have lead them to where they are today.
“We’ve fought each other on and off the court. But you see where we are today. All successful,” said Bowman. I guess the old proverb “Iron sharpens iron” is true within LAUNFD.
“We have to continue to stay focused, to play together. We have the guys.We just have to take care of business, said Pooh Jeter.
Beyond hoop, what I really took away from these guys was love. I mean real genuine love. The love J.Cole spoke of on his “Note to Self” track off “Forest Hill Drive”. Love for the game and love for each other.
Apparently that love is contagious amongst the new guys like Cuttino “Old Money” Mobley. “I’ve been around these guys for about 10 years literally. These guys were in high school. Making me feel kind of old but I’m loving it. I love to play and I’ll play for free. It’s not about that or the hoopla. The camaraderie is what it’s all about,” said Mobley.
LAUNFD, is now one game away from reaching the championship. But win, lose, or draw, they’ve already won. They’ve taken players from Gardena, South Central, The Hundreds and Inglewood and put them together for the city. LAUNFD is what could be of Los Angeles if we were actually unified. In a city where much of the culture is the gang culture, one doesn’t necessarily think unification in terms of the City of Angles. As a matter of fact, it’s the complete opposite. LAUNFD shows one the possibilities if we as natives of the city were truly unified.
“Being where we come from, we all beat the odds and we’re all happy and blessed to see that,” said D-Wright.
Through basketball we can learn the importance of unity within our own community.
“We’re trying to do something special for the city,” added Pooh Jeter.
Through basketball we can learn what LA could be like forever instead of how it’s been forever.