Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League is one of the best ways for hoops fans to spot talented players on the rise. However, unlike the Drew League, its players are not finished products or illustrious pros. Rather, the EYBL takes up-and-coming high school players and showcases their prospects for the future. Sometimes, though, the two leagues intersect, and the results can be both entertaining and illuminating.
On Saturday of Drew League’s Week 6, one EYBL team, Why Not—named for their benefactor Russell Westbrook’s iconic motto—took over the roster of the Drew’s Hometown Favorites for a friendly match against Spider Webb. However, with the game going on Hometown’s record, the youngsters who made up the team—top local prospects such as Sierra Canyon’s Cassius Stanley, rising guard Iverson Molinar, and Chicago’s Nimari Burnett—still had plenty of motivation to take it to the older, more experienced team.
That’s exactly what they did, despite trailing for the better part of the game. While the teens were able to keep the lead tight through three quarters, for the most part, it looked like Spider Webb would be adding a digit to their record’s win column. Then, in the fourth quarter, with only four minutes left to play, Team Why Not was able to tie the score at 64 after a burst of scoring from their inspiring young guards. As Burnett charged up the court in transition after a beautiful defensive possession, the crowd held their breath. He pulled up just short of the free throw line and leaned into a smooth jumper that snaked its way through the net, and suddenly, Why Not were up two. They never trailed for the rest of the game, taking home a hard-earned 79-72 win.
After the game, Molinar and Bennett talked about the experience, noting that while “basketball is basketball” may be a cliche, it’s an old adage for a reason.
“We’ve played together through the Spring and Summer so it was easy to adjust,” says Bennett. “It was just fun getting out there and being back with our team.”
Iverson, meanwhile, noted that there are still some differences in playing style between the EYBL game and Drew League.
“It’s more like a one-on-one game,” he says. “There’s no help. In the EYBL, you get a lot of help. (At Drew League) it’s not easier, but you get to trust more in your skills.”
Of their come-from-behind victory over Spider Webb’s more experienced players, Molinar explained that Team Why Not did have a learning curve when it came to playing with adults.
“At the beginning, it was kind of tough because this game is more physical than the EYBL,” he says. “We adjusted at the end, played together, and we got to show out.”
Nimari agreed, but relished the challenge: “I’m a skinny guy, but I still like to get physical.”
In the end, he says that his team’s tight-knit closeness and chemistry is what made the difference.
“We got better throughout the game and we started to be more comfortable out there, playing hard and having fun,” Nimari says. “That’s how we got the win.”
After their hard-fought Drew League debut, the team went on to win their first three Nike Peach Jam games this week, the third by a handy 30 points. It looks safe to say the lessons they learned in the Drew have served them well at the noted tournament, but they aren’t done yet.
They have two more games on the schedule this Friday before they find out their playoff schedule for the weekend. However, if there’s one thing they know now, it’s the saying that makes Drew League one of the most renowned basketball leagues in the world: “No Excuse, Just Produce.”