It was a weekend marked by high-scoring shootouts and tactical chess-like matches of coaching and stylistic dexterity at the Drew League as elite teams clashed and struggling squads scrapped to earn both bragging rights and one of the many wide-open playoff berths still currently available just past the halfway point of the season. This weekend had it all: Late-game heroics, defensive urgency warring with scoring virtuosity, superstar struggles and underdog victories.
Friday night saw Juglife finally throw away the goose egg they’d been sitting on through the first half of their season, spurred to victory over Spider-Webb by the towering presence of Keith Closs aka “Tall Can” and all-around game of guard Jordan Burris.
Next, Citi Team Blazers put together an all-around effort to put down a surging Legacy late in their contest, as Legacy’s Brandon Towns, Garrett Jefferson and Shoney Brown turned in one of their best games of the season. Fortunately for the Blazers, big man Deion McClenton gave their hotshot point guard Derryck Thornton the physical edge, dumping in 20 on top of Thornton’s 17 to carry the day.
Finally, Hometown Favorites started off their weekend in difficult fashion, dropping their contest with Optimus when only six players showed up. LMU bigs Jordan Bell and Eli Scott did all they could but eventually ran out of gas, worn down inside by Brandon Jamar and James “Big Body” Boyd. Without their first-string guards Delon Wright and Gerry Blakes, they had no recourse for Mike Bethea’s shooting.
That doesn’t explain the egg Hometown Favorites laid on Saturday though. Despite the return of both Wright and Blakes to their starting lineup, they somehow let the Reapers run roughshod over their non-existent defense on the way to a 42-point blowout. The addition of Taurean Prince to Reapers’ lineup definitely makes a difference but he scored 30, which means Hometown Favorites lost by 12 even without Prince’s contribution. They have gotten too comfortable, which is dangerous in the Drew League.
Case in point, Birdie’s Revenge ran into their opposite number in Hank’s Panthers later on Saturday, but held firm to their game plan and their gritty, no-nonsense approach to defense, overcoming the loss of their big man Marcus Bell in the first half. The Panthers are a lot like Birdie’s Revenge, only more lowkey; they’ve quietly had a solid season on the strength of their physical play on the defensive end, and only stand to improve with the late-season return of Pascal Siakam, who earned Player Of The Week honors in the Panthers’ Sunday victory over Foot Print.
Speaking of teams with a tendency to coast late in the season, Problems got the better of MHP yet again on Sunday, a streak that goes back to when half of Problems’ players were on Houdini’s All-Stars. Since then, MHP has actually played under the Problems moniker as well, yet no matter what color the jerseys or the team names on the front, Antonio Biglow and Garrett Nevels have consistently gotten the better of DeMar Derozan and Nick Young. While Nick didn’t play in Sunday’s game, his buddy Jordan Clarkson did suit up, but it still wasn’t enough to tilt the match in the Most Hated Players’ favor, as Problems’ diminutive guards locked down on defense, turning MHP’s end of the floor into a torture chamber of swiping hands, nimble feet and impossible shots. DeMar being DeMar, he was still able to score 32 but was outscored by G-Money Nevels, who racked up five more points on six fewer shots.
Clarkson turned in 25 but was nearly matched by Jaylen Bland, who hit seven of 17 shots from three. The difference between the two teams? Only one other player for MHP scored in double digits: Shannin Sharpe, who had 10. By contrast, Jordan Sweeney poured in 16, Taylor Johns contributed 13, and Biglow, the “Swagg Champ,” had as many assists by himself as MHP had as a team with 10. Along with Garrett’s five, Problems’ game was a prime demonstration of the value of chemistry, consistency, and most of all, defensive intensity.
But before anyone could blow release the tension from that game, Birdie’s Revenge and the veteran Young Legends put on an absolute nailbiter that came down to the final seconds and a display of basketball savvy from MVP Franklin “Nitty” Session that may have Drew followers rewriting the narrative on the hotshot, trash-talking point guard.
Before the game, it looked like Birdie’s Revenge would have to do it without him, but not only did he show the dedication to show up just before tip-off despite having just played in a TBT (The Basketball Tournament) game, he somehow still had the energy and wherewithal to turn in a double-double with 16 points and 11 assists. Mike James was the lead scorer for Birdie’s instead, but after Kejuan Johnson, Eric Williams, Keith Smith and Dejon Prejean of Young Legends combined for 62 points, it was a group effort, orchestrated by Frank Nitty that helped them overtake the Legends late in the game.
Even then it was a last-second shot by game day addition Sheldon Wright coordinated by Nitty that sealed the deal after a triple team at the top of the key prompted him to make the smart pass to find Wright open in the corner for a triple. The poise and development he’s shown in tight games justifies his MVP status and shows how much his time in Canada has matured his game. It’s only right that his Island Storm coaches were in attendance to see him defend Birdie’s now-24-game lead.