The Game Changer
Local legends showed out at Nike Chi League Pro-Am this weekend.
by Krissy Harper / @CSNKrisHarper
“I think this is great. I think it’s something the city has long cried for and needed to really get involved with our youth. Give them something to stay busy with over the summer and just bring basketball back as a whole. I think it is something that will generate a lot of momentum here in the city,” said Scottie Pippen, on the return of the Nike Chi League Pro-Am.
Chicago summers bring more than just sunny skies and the smell of bar-b-que in the air. In recent years, an increase in violence has unfortunately plagued the youth. According to local media reports, Father’s Day weekend was the most violent weekend of 2013, but with the return of the Nike Chi League, there are hopes that this positive event will remove the youth from the city’s hard-ridden streets—allowing them to take part in the competition or cheer from the stands.
“I truly think that is the focus here—trying to keep these kids busy during the summer and give them something to do that they enjoy. And not just for the kids who are playing the game but for other kids to come and see the game too. So as a whole, hopefully it is a winning situation for the city,” Pippen continued.
Chicago native and the No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, Anthony Davis has proven there is a chance to succeed with hard work and dedication. Just three years ago Davis was an unknown athlete dreaming big on the south side of the city. And although he has realized his potential, he desires to bring more positivity to Chicago’s youth.
“It’s great to come back and do something for the city of Chicago—it’s where I’m from. It’s a blessing and I can’t wait for everything to get started and see what awesome talent we have here in Chicago. Like I said I’m just excited; ready to get the ball rolling,” Davis said.
Prior to the tip off of opening day this past Saturday, Pippen, Davis and his former Kentucky teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hosted a group of young student athletes. They gave them advice and “coached them up” on the dos and don’ts of successfully moving through life despite unwanted circumstances.
“Then for guys like me and Mike who had a chance to talk to the younger guys, I wish I was able to do anything like that to motivate them even more and help pursue their dream to play in the League,” Davis said.
While Davis is—for lack of better words—a hometown hero, Kidd-Gilchrist, who’s from New Jersey, might not have grown up in the windy city but has battled through obstacles in his own right. And when asked why he was partaking in the opening ceremony of the summer league, he jokingly pointed to Davis saying “him,” but then with a reassuring smile said, “It’s something new in the city. I wanted to be a part of something new here and have some fun while I’m at it.”
Fun was definitely an understatement for what transpired during the highly anticipated opening weekend at Whitney Young High School on the West Side of Chicago. Pure jubilation and thrill took over the crowd as well as the participants in the league, as there were a number of notable players who filled the rosters. And while their performances on the court had the fan’s full and undivided attention, there were a few recognizable players who immediately caught the eye.
One player who is no stranger to the Nike Chi League Pro-Am had the crowd roaring with oohs and ahhs at his rocket speed getting to the rim while handling the ball like it was on an invisible string. Former Hales High School standout point guard, 2010 Pac-10 Player of the Year (Cal Berkeley), and current professional in Belgium, Jerome Randle showcased his typical thrilling performance, posting 20-plus points in his opening day performance. Accompanying Randle is Houston Rockets emerging guard Patrick Beverley who Randle is familiar with as they both grew up in the city competing against each other since they were young.
Check out this one-on-one interview with Randle as he discusses his opening weekend performance and his struggles trying to make it to the NBA.
While Beverley’s path to the NBA was not the typical route, his performance during the second half of the 2013 season enabled him to earn the Rockets’ backup point guard position and with his steady improvement, Beverley got his first start against the Thunder during the Playoffs.
Beverley has always displayed an absolute passion and aggressiveness in his style of play. With Beverley’s and Randle’s skills practically mirroring each other, there was a lot of chatter in the crowd as the warm-up clock ticked down. Both guards are extremely quick with excellent ball-handling capabilities and when you combine them on one team, the reasoning for all the chatter makes sense. But as the game began, the backcourt duo found themselves down by double digits as their team chemistry fell short. After stringing together strong defensive plays, the team battled back in a late fourth-quarter effort. The defensive pressure Beverley applied to the opposing team’s point guard was essential in the win.
Beverley’s four-plus years of international professional experience and his newfound NBA Playoffs action, coupled with Randle’s international and D-League skill, this dynamic duo is sure to have the league jumping all summer long. And while Beverley is mostly training in Houston, he has made the commitment to fly back to Chicago every weekend to play in the Pro-Am, according to media reports.
Another favorite who graced his hometown with an another amazing performance was McDonald’s All-American and Duke-bound recruit Jabari Parker. After arriving late to the game, Parker put on a show. He displayed his unique abilities as a big man who can bring the ball up the court like a point guard. Parker, whose squad resembled that of his AAU team—Mac Irvin Fire—realized that the opportunity to play in this league gives him a chance to further develop his skills by going up against the likes of former NBA veterans in Antoine Walker and college standouts like Demetri McCamey.
“It’s great to play against older guys because they just know more about the game,” Parker said. “That team hurt us with their knowledge of the game, and that’s a great thing to have.”
Accompanying Parker was arguably the No. 1 prospect in the country, Cliff Alexander. On one play, Alexander received an exceptional pass from Parker and finished with an power-packed dunk that sent the crowd into instant cheers. And although Parker and Alexander battled back from a 13-point deficit, their efforts fell short resulting in a second consecutive opening day loss two years in a row. But as Parker previous stated, the experience is what matters most. This one-two punch is surely a duo to watch as the summer presses on.
Illinois State standout and international professional Osiris Eldridge is known for his acrobatic dunks and profound crowd-pleasing plays but in his day-one showcase, he seemed to be a shadow of his former self. While his effort was strong, his delivery was plagued with shortcomings. When questioned about his desire to fulfill his dream of playing in the NBA, Eldridge said, “At times you feel like you have a certain window of opportunity, and you have to be real with yourself and know when that window has closed. But I honestly feel like I still have a chance, but I just take it day-by-day. I can only control what I do.”
As Eldridge struggled throughout the game, teammate Mustapha Farrakhan—former Thornton High School shooting guard and University of Virginia Cavalier—showcased his ability to shoot the ball from both three-point land and the mid-range.
Although Farrakhan during his last season with the Cavaliers averaged just shy of 14 points per game, he was drafted directly to the D-League in 2011 and when asked if there were any mixed feelings, he agreed saying, “Everybody’s dream is to play at the highest level in the NBA but everyone’s road is different so when I heard it, I just wanted to continue to get better and work on my craft. If I do get the opportunity, I will put my best foot forward.”
A few others who made an appearance or are set to participate in the league are Tony Bennett, Sherron Collins, Jeremy Pargo, Will Bynum, Bobby Simmons, as well many others. The league will get even better come July 1 when current NBA players will be able to play. The Nike Pro-Am is gearing up to be one of the best events of the summer, and as long as fans continue to pack the house like they did this past weekend, the streets of the city will be able to rest easy.
See you back at Whitney Young this Saturday at 3 p.m.!