Hanging out with the kids in the game before it happens
By Adam Fleischer
The Jordan Brand All-American Classic doesn’t tip off until tomorrow (Saturday, April 19), but that doesn’t mean that the kids on the team haven’t had their plates full all week. From an autograph signing at Foot Locker in Harlem to a trip to BET’s 106 & Park, these future stars have been staying busy. On Thursday, it was SLAM’s turn for some time with players, as we had a dinner with the team and photo shoot with our All-Americans (Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe, Jrue Holiday, and Samardo Samuels) at the Grand Hyatt. The dinner lasted from 5-6 and then it was time for the guys to head over to the Long Island University gym in Brooklyn for the Boost Mobile Celebrity Jamfest, which was basically an NBA All-Star Saturday Nightesqe event. Konate and I decided to check it out, so we hopped on the subway and headed to BK.
The Jamfest was supposed to start at 7:00, so I figured that we would have missed at least some of the night’s festivities by the time we actually arrived at the LIU gym at around 7:30. Instead, we walked in right on time, as the 22 players on this year’s team were being announced. After each name was called, the players jogged off the bench and out onto the court to form a line spanning most of the court’s length—each decked out in sick Jordan Brand shorts, sweats, and kicks. The relatively packed house showed some much deserved love for the fellas as each name was called.
The team then took a seat, and it was time for us to find out why this was being called the Celebrity Jamfest. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of big names, but it turned out that we had some nice New York Talent in the house. Entering to the cheers of fans and rocking jerseys and shorts in anticipation of participating later in the night were Jadakiss and Styles P (two thirds of the LOX), R&B singer Tiffany Evans, Grammy nominated Emily King, and The World Famous DJ Clue. The crowd, especially the kids, were feeling the celebs, running up for pictures and asking for autographs.
It was about time for some actual basketball when, on cue, some props were being set up on the hardwood for a Skills Challenge type of event. I checked out the bench to see who was gonna be lacing ‘em up for the opener, but soon realized it was none of the All-Americans. Three players from the LIU squad played to the home crowd and had their hand at the event, which entailed making a couple lay ups, doing some weaving while dribbling, bounce passing into a bucket, and hitting a free throw. I’m not sure who won, but they all seemed like pretty nice players and one kid got down in jeans, so that was impressive.
There was a little bit of down time as the staff got prepped for the next event, so Konate and I thought it was the right occasion to hand out the abundance of Dwight SLAMs that we had brought with us. Well, proving both how ill the mag is and how much people like free stuff, that abundance withered down to zero in a matter of two minutes, with those left out shouting for more; sorry, people, gotta pick it up on the newsstands, I guess.
As we sat back down, the team challenge featuring one celebrity, one All-American, and one fan was about to pop off. The winner would be the team who scored the most points in one minute by hitting lay ups, free throws, threes, or half court heaves. Four teams were in the mix, but the finals ended up being Delvon Roe (Michigan State), Emily King, and a fan, taking on Wesley Witherspoon (Undecided), Kiss, and another spectator turned participant. Jada was able to knock down a bucket or two off the glass from long range, but Witherspoon and company ended up taking it home. Daps and hugs were exchanged all around as we anticipated the dunk contest, primed to be the night’s main attraction.
Future Buckeye B.J. Mullins was the first of the five participants, and he kicked things off with a solid through the legs jam that, for some reason, got hardly any love from the crowd. My theory is that people didn’t realize the contest had actually started and were busy reading their SLAMs, but Konate thought it was Mullins’ 7-foot frame that hurt him. Whatever the case, he was met with pretty good scores by judges Jadakiss, SP the Ghost, Evans, and rapper Wale (Saturday’s halftime entertainment).
Iman Shumpert was next, and the Georgia Tech signee got people on their feet with his 360 capped by a little pump for good measure. Shumpert definitely looked like he had his eyes on victory, but my pick was the next man: Brandon Jennings. Poised to be a great Arizona Wildcat PG and soon to be favorite player in college ball (see you in the NBA, D Rose), Jennings spent most of warm ups laughing it up and dancing, but he seemed ready now that it was his time. To my chagrin and his, though, he had a tough time putting down his first idea which involved him tossing the ball from the 3pt line and finishing up with a windmill. After going 0/3 on that one, he settled for a bounce off the glass and one handed catch, cock back, and throw down, which got a good response considering his early troubles.
Devin Ebanks followed Jennings and completed a pretty toss and catch into two handed tomahawk, which left us with only one dunker left in the first round. Enter Drew Gordon, one of three UCLA committees on this year’s team. Wearing a backpack and backwards fitted, Gordon tossed the rock, caught it, and brought it down to his ankles before beautifully throwing it down with his back to the basket, sort of like one J-Rich did some years ago.
One of the sickest parts of the night came in between the two rounds, as SLAM Diary keeper and recent Memphis signee Tyreke Evans silently knocked down three of four from his seat on the end of the bench; it looked like he had been practicing the shot for years and that the one miss, rather than the three makes, was the fluke. It was then time for Mullins, Shumpert, and Gordon to move onto the finals, where Shumpert stole the show. Mullins’ off the glass 360 was exciting, and Gordon’s foot just in front of the free throw line dunk was also nothing to scoff at, but it was the future Yellow Jacket who brought the house down. Wasting no time, Shumpert threw home a 360 windmill that left fans jumping, had Konate and I falling out of our seats, and brought the entire roster off the bench to congratulate. Needless to say, he took it home.
All in all, the Boost Mobile Celebrity Jamfest was definitely a fun time for both players and fans, and only whet my appetite for watching these kids’ games. If you’re in the same boat, then don’t forget to check out the Jordan Brand All-American Classic this Saturday, April 19 at Madison Square Garden and on ESPN2, where you’ll be able to see the guys showcase even more of their talents.