The Drew League’s “Just Do It” series will highlight how members of the extended Drew League family use the Drew as a platform for making their craziest dreams happen through the game of basketball and life.
There aren’t many coaches who can say they won back-to-back titles in the Drew League, ripped off one of the greatest winning streaks the league has ever seen, and still have unfinished business.
But for Problems head coach Mark Caudillo, he wants to raise another banner, which would give him one in each of the Drew League’s three locations.
“I don’t think anyone’s done that – from the small gym [Drew Middle School], to Washington (Park), to Southwest (College) or here [King Drew High School], ” Caudillo said. “Nobody’s ever done that.”
Caudillo will have to wait another year for that third Drew League championship. His Problems squad finished 8-3 in the regular season and blew out Pandas in the Christopher Baxter Division Quarterfinals, but they were upended in the Division Semifinals by Nation Wide Souljas. Still, Caudillo offered some long-term perspective even before the playoffs started.
“You would think that this is for fun, but it was really almost like a second job for me, because I had to keep everybody motivated,” said Caudillo of his 2007-2008 teams that set a Drew League record with 26 wins in a row. “We kept that cohesiveness together as a family unit. That’s why I credit (2017 champion Birdie’s Revenge) to what they’re doing, because it’s almost what I feel like the identity of Problems back in 07-08.
“It’s really tough to win in here,” Caudillo said. “You almost have to play a perfect game to win a title.”
Even when Caudillo entered the Drew League in 2000, his standards of excellence were high. He describes the teams he coached in recreation leagues as “loaded.” But Caudillo didn’t know what to expect at the Drew.
“I honestly didn’t even know what was going to happen,” said Caudillo, who was introduced to the Drew by John “Smitty” Smith and Zack Fray. “At first, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m Latino. I see everything; it’s African-American in here. I’m coming in here with … the best players in L.A.,’ and I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t think I was going to be where I’m at today, with the success that I’ve had at the Drew.
“You would think that maybe your dream is to be a coach somewhere else, or overseas or something,” added Caudillo. “For me, working a 9 to 5 every day, this is my hobby. This is what I love to do on the side, other than provide for my family. I love it, I look forward to it every year.”
While winning and building a program at the Drew is important to Caudillo, he values the family culture that he feels Problems and the league represents.
“My goal is to continue to win, build a program, win more titles, but also let people see … I treat my players like if they were my family, even though the race is different,” Caudillo said. “My door is always open to my guys, and I try to keep it that way. I want them to know that I love them, I respect them.”
Caudillo keeps coming back to coach due to his passion for the game, but he also marvels at how the Drew League has elevated in status. He gets recognized with his Problems t-shirt on whether he’s at his son’s soccer game or the mall, and Caudillo even says his wife recognizes the increase of Drew League coverage from 2000. And for Caudillo, it may be a hobby, but it’s a great hobby to have.
“At the end of the day, this is my sanctuary,” Caudillo said. “I love coming here, because I can have a negative outside, but coming in here gives me that positive attitude and I can spark myself up again, and get motivated, and keep pushing in life.”