Q+A: Eric Williams

The Drew League may be legendary for its ESPN Top 10 dunks and professional athlete drop-ins, but it’s the local players—and arguably, Mrs. Smiley’s Drew-Aid—that draw the crowds from the beaches of L.A. to the benches of King Drew.

Originally hailing from Long Beach, CA, Eric Williams of LA Loop has been in the Drew since 2006. With a few minutes to spare, we chatted about everything from his athletic start on the gridiron and his transition to the hard top, to the family culture of the league and its notorious slogan.

What would you say is the biggest difference from the first time you walked into a Drew League game, as compared to recent years?

The biggest change is how many people, nationwide, that want to come and play. I get guys hitting me up, hitting everybody up from different states, even different countries, saying, ‘Yo, you think I can get in the Drew?’ That’s a big difference. Back in the day, you wouldn’t hear people reach out from different states and all around the country, and different countries reaching out. But now you see guys from Australia, Europe, China and Japan.

It’s just a totally different experience now. Playing with a bunch of pro guys and top college guys, future pros and overseas guys. Paul George, Kobe Bryant, they definitely help your game get to another level. If you’re not coming ready, you’re going to be the laughingstock. People are going to be like, ‘Hey dude, what is he doing playing?’ Even if your just team isn’t good enough, they will cut your team.

What was your first time at the Drew like?

I started back in like 2006, when I was like 19 or 20, when it was at Charles Drew Middle School. We had a team out of Long Beach, California, and that was when I first started really getting a feel of the Drew League. It was tough, you know, coming in as a younger kid. Going in there with some beasts. There weren’t as many as pro guys but it was tough. It was like, way tougher then, than now. Growing up, that made me into a better player, playing in the Drew.

What is it about the Drew that keeps you coming back?

I just love the Drew. The experience, the culture, just getting to hang out, seeing guys you haven’t seen in a while every summer. Definitely a great experience every summer. The whole Smiley family putting it together is definitely something that the community needs locally. It’s something big for the community, they give back every year. Even us local players, we give back as well because we play in the local park, Washington Park, where we work out and run open gym, and we give back to the community as far as charity drives and toys during holidays. It’s just really exciting to know that we have a family of people to push the community and bring it up.

You’ve been in this league for a decade, and you’ve seen a lot of changes. Has the culture of the Drew League remained the same?

The culture still remains the same. No Excuse, Just Produce. That’s what it is. You come in here, you better bring it. Don’t make no excuses. ‘Awe, my back is hurting,’ ‘I have a bum leg…’ no excuses. If you get 40 dropped on you, that’s on you. Don’t make any excuses. Even when there weren’t as many pros or celebrities coming through, the Drew was just as big. It went from Charles Drew Middle School to Washington Park, to here [King Drew High School] now, and it’s just as big.

Walking into Drew Middle School at just 19 years old—what was that like?

I grew up loving football, so around 19, 20, is when I first started having a love for basketball. Just being athletic and being able to dunk on guys and rebound and play defense, that was my thing. But walking in and seeing some big bodies, I’m like, ‘I never feared anybody, but this is gonna be tough.’ I’m not the strongest on the court, I’m only 19, but I still held my own, nobody bulled me over, nobody pushed me around. I always played strong, and played football coming into it so it was definitely like, an eye opener, for what I had to bring for the next part of the season.

I’m 31, and I started [at the Drew] when I was 19. Now people are really starting to recognize my name as far as me being home, because I was going to college and was overseas so much. One of my best friends, he used to tell guys, ‘My boy Eric, will do good in the Drew,’ and people were like, ‘No he won’t, he won’t average 12,’ because they didn’t really know about me. I come home and I average 21, 22 points in the Drew, and then everybody like, ‘Oh oh, oh yeah he cool.’ You still have to come here and get that respect.