Q+A: Van Girard

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.

We caught up with Teen Wolf, AKA Van Girard, a 2016 Drew League Champion with BB4L and 2016 Drew League MVP finalist. A Culver City native and former Drew League Cheater, Girard has played pro ball overseas in both Mexico and Japan. But every year when summer rolls around, he always finds himself back in his hometown for some classic LA-style basketball.

Why do you keep coming back to the Drew League?

It’s definitely one of the top leagues in the world. You have pros coming out here to play, and they know the competition is the best—which is, of course, why they come and play. Then you have those guys who are either top college players or overseas players that are trying to make it into the pros, and they get to test themselves against those who come play. Plus, I like it because of the community. The games are free and anybody can come see them. I like bringing the kids that I coach and work with. I love bringing them to see this atmosphere because they don’t [normally] get to see it. You don’t normally get to see pros for free!

What do you hope to get out of the Drew? You can play competitive basketball anywhere.

It’s a pride thing, to be honest. You come out here to compete, and you want to win. You get a lot of exposure. A lot of scouts come to the games. So, if they see there’s a scout that’s from Europe or even from the D-league, or anything like that, it’s, “Who’s this kid out there playing?” Or, “Oh, l get my opportunity. Oh, James Harden is on the court? I want to guard him.” Just to show what you have. It’s literally a pride thing, you want to show that you can play, you want to show that you’re out here. It’s not going be easy, and that’s it. It brings everyone back here.

What is it like to be on the same court as pros?

When they come in the gym, they know that everyone is going after them. They know automatically. They know there’s a target on their back when they come here to play, because guys are going to go after them. So of course, same thing for me. When I come to play, I feel like I’m just as good as them. When you get on the court, you want show that. So yeah, it’s amazing, it’s fun to hang out with them but, once everyone’s on the court, you’re out to play. Everybody’s the same on the court.

You mentioned that you bring the kids you coach to the Drew. What are the differences between bringing them to a local pro game as opposed to a Drew game?

Bringing them here, number one, makes me feel good because I tell them, “Hey, I need you to do this on the court, I need you to play defense, I need you to rebound.” All this stuff I’m telling you to do, now you get to come see your coach do that, not even in an adult league game or just at the park. You get to see them do it against pro players like Baron Davis. They see their coach doing all the same stuff that I’m telling them to do but at the Drew, it just makes it so much easier. After the game is over, I say, “Hey look, I told you to do that in the game, so next week when you play, you need to be doing that.” It’s a good experience for me, but it’s also a really good experience for them.

And it’s not just the games, it’s this whole family environment.

Absolutely. Everybody—everybody—is family here. It’s a great experience for everyone. They said it in the documentary, the Drew is like a neutral territory. So, there are teams with guys that BB4L has come up against in the past that they aren’t cool with. Then you meet on the court and it’s like, listen, we’re here to play basketball, let’s do it.

There are teams that have little beefs here and there, but once you get on the court, it’s basketball. There’s hardly ever any fights. Definitely the aggression and fire that we play with, it’s basketball. Once the game is over, everything is fine, we shake hands. Definitely while we’re on the court, nobody is friends. I’m not laughing with you, I’m not playing with you. We’re here to win. That’s what keeps the competitive nature alive. That’s what keeps the fans involved, to know that this isn’t just a celebrity league or a fun league that guys come and play in. You’re going to see pro-level games. That’s great.

What have you seen as the biggest differences between LA basketball, with this whole culture of a different style, than anywhere else?

To me, what I see as far as LA as compared to other places, is that the players that are here play as if it’s their last game. They play hard like, if we don’t win this game, we can’t eat tonight. If we don’t win this game, if I don’t play hard or do well, my family can’t eat. We play for our families. You can see it on the court with the fire that everyone plays with. We don’t get paid for this. We don’t get anything, but it’s that fire of how we play out here. It’s LA.

It’s not just LA, but since I’m from here, it’s what I know. Back to me coaching and teaching kids, I want them to play like that when they get on the court. Not just, “Oh, my parents paid this amount of money for me to play, I’m just going to have fun.” No, you have to play if you want to be successful, you have to play as if this is all you have. That’s how it is if you’re from LA.

That’s a big part of it, the fact that the games are free, and that the players aren’t paid. How do you think that overall effects the culture of the league?

Big time. I mean, like I said, even though we aren’t getting paid, we still play as if we’re trying to be. There are scouts in the gym, the games are all recorded. Think about it, if I’m out here and I’m playing against a pro and I score 30, I’m going to go online and see, “Hey man, this kid Van is scoring 30 on a pro, let’s go see what Van has.” It’s not just me. It’s anybody, and since everybody knows that this is one of the top leagues and that the only players that are playing here are the top players, and it’s free, why not? Saturday night, or Saturday afternoon, or Sunday afternoon, come by here, come watch. It’s big time here.