BallisLife All-American Game
Mixtape giant gives West Coast stars chance to shine.
by Stephanie Mejia / @Humble_Hungry
Annually, the top high school seniors across the nation are invited to participate in the McDonald’s All American game or the Jordan Brand Classic. This year, there’s an addition to the list out West: the BallisLife All-American game.
Among hoopers, BallisLife has become a common household brand, providing exclusive footage and mixtapes at all levels of basketball. If you haven’t visited their site, check it out for yourself. There’s no doubt that if you’re a basketball aficionado, you will not leave their site disappointed. Behind the name, BallisLife consists of Matt Rodriguez, Arek Kissoyan, Marcus Gradney, Webb Wellman and Fred Tafoya. You will spot them wearing the popular BallisLife t-shirt at events from coast to coast.
A few weeks ago, the official rosters for the McDonald’s All-American game and Jordan Brand Classic were released. Much respect and recognition is given to each of the chosen invitees for they have worked hard over their high school career to achieve the success they have. Although, across the board on paper, it was evident that the West Coast had been silenced and forgotten. Players such as Nick Johnson from Gilbert, AZ and Jabari Brown repping Oakland are highly ranked in the 2011 class — 22 and 23, respectively.
Many were left baffled, including Matt and Arek from BallisLife. “The main reason that made us finalize the game was when we saw the roster for the McDonald’s and noticed how East Coast biased it was. We thought it was unfair for the West Coast guys,” Kissoyan explains.
For quite some time, the idea of putting together a game had been planted, but the perfect time had yet to arise until this year. This was the perfect opportunity for the idea to flourish. “If we were going to do it, this was the perfect year to start putting a game on. We want our first impression to be lasting and strong with the people,” Arek says.
Being West Coast based, Matt, Arek and Marcus knew they could pull it off and not only push for forgotten players like Johnson and Brown but as well as others that represent the West. Arek says it best: “The big thing is that the event is giving the West Coast hoopers an opportunity to represent and display their well-deserved hard work not only to the fans of the game but to their families and friends as well.” BallisLife made it a priority to give the West coast a voice again.
Naturally, BallisLife sought out assistance from companies and individuals within the area to put together an All-American game in a matter of two months. Well known in the Los Angeles area, Etop Udo-Ema, Coach of Compton Magic, provided an immense amount of assistance by directing and guiding their path. In addition, BallUp, an L.A.-based streetball organization that’s prime focus is giving back to the community, is the main organization sponsoring the event. Young & Reckless, a clothing line created by Drama from MTV’s Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory, will be providing the jerseys for the event, Team Young and Team Reckless. Another prime sponsor, Under Armour, is providing products for the players such as shoes, backpacks, etc. Lastly, RUrepping, has also extended their assistance. Collectively, the first BallisLife All-American game has been able to come alive in the short amount of time.
The event will be having two games: a regional game followed by the national game. The roster for the regional game consists of players just in the SoCal area, while the national roster has players from California, Texas, Arizona and extending into North Carolina. Being that the members of BallisLife travel around the nation extensively and have developed relationships with them, the selection process and trust was not as difficult.
“We have developed a big enough name with the kids to ask them to believe in us, and they do,” Marcus Gradney says. Being an All-Star game, there selection was driven by the athlete’s position and making the game as entertaining to the audience. The day before the games, there will be a skills challenge that consists of a three-point contest and dunk contest. The participants have not been finalized but with players such as Nick Johnson, Amir Garrett, Jahii Carson and Ike Nwamu, one can only imagine the potential of dunks that will be exhibited. Throughout the event, there will be a suite with a few televisions and Xbox’s open to the players for some friendly competition. Who will take claim the crown?
As much as those involved are amped for the event, the players are right up there brewing as well. Nick Johnson excitingly states, “I can’t wait for it. Most of my family lives in California so it will be great for them to see me but mainly, I just want to go out, have fun and give the people a show.”
Jabari Brown adds, “I’m looking forward to playing with a lot of top West Coast guys in the first BallisLife game.” Amir Garrett feels the same way, “I am excited about it because I get to play back at home in front of my family. To me, I think this is better than the McDonald’s All-American game. It’s going to be fun playing with the top players from the West Coast to show the world what the West Coast brings to the table.”
Will there be other future games? According to Matt, “We want this first game to be more about the players involved, not us, especially due to the East Coast bias that goes on with the other games. It’s finally going to give the West Coast players something that they have not had. We look forward to have the West Coast something to talk about, something to look forward to. If it goes well, we want to continue having a game but honestly this game was for the players more than anything. Our vision ultimately is to have a true East Coast versus West Coast game, something we will look toward to in the future.
Marcus is looking forward to the final outcome: “It’s going to be amazing. The buzz is brewing, and we have worked hard for this game.”
The BallisLife All-American game will take place April 6 and 7 with the skills challenge the 6th and the games the 7th at Cal State Fullerton. Being an L.A.-native and West coast rep, I anticipate many from the area coming out to represent. Ice Cube said it best, “When They Come To West coast It’s Such An Obsession,” BallisLife deserves all the credit and respect for making an idea into a reality. I salute @BallisLife.