After announcing the launch of their 2014 National Streetball Tour and “Search for the Next” TV series set to air this Fall, Ball Up made its first stop of the tour in the City of Angels this past Saturday. Hoopers from all over Los Angeles participated in the open tryouts to be one of the 10 players selected to play the Ball Up team at L.A. Live and compete for a shot at a $100,000 contract and a spot on the Ball Up roster.
About 150 players showed up to the open tryouts on the blacktop of Helen Bernstein HS in Hollywood, CA at 11 a.m. to showcase their skills and prove they had what it took to be one of the lucky 10.
“This year, we anticipate some of the toughest competition that Ball Up has faced, especially with the first stop in Los Angeles,” said Demetrius Spencer, CEO of Ball Up. “The level of skill and talent we find each year grows exponentially and we always look forward to discovering new talent on the court.”
And some of the best competition was in the building—from quick and crafty guards, to lights out shooters and high-flying wings ready to put anyone who came in their way on a poster.
With the cameras rolling, members of the Ball Up squad sitting courtside and celebrity judges and coaches James Harden and Gilbert Areans getting ready to choose their squad, it was go time. Players’ skills were put to the test with various drills from 3-man weaves, 3-on-3, king of the court and even a dunk contest.
As the clock ticked and the temperature rose, so did the intensity. One player even collided with a camera guy shattering the lens while going for a loose ball. Players were getting shoved, scratched, held and you definitely needed to have the will as much as you had the skill to survive. And what’s streetball without some trash talking?
Unfortunately, some players’ dreams of becoming the next streetball superstar were shattered in the first few minutes of the tryout. But for those whose names were called for the next round, their dream of being on the big stage was one step closer to reality.
And if one person knows the feeling of turning his dream into a reality and seizing opportunities, it’s Ball Up’s own G. Smith. The 6-6 forward from Phoenix, AZ is known to put his defenders on highlight reels and was in the same exact position when he was on the other side of the fence trying out for Ball Up just two years ago.
“I’ve actually been on the other side and getting to see the process from a comfortable seat is a blessing,” said Smith. “A lot of exposure and a lot of opportunities outside of basketball open up for you. I’ve been involved in everything from commercials to hosting events and getting a great opportunity of making an impact in the community. I’m very fortunate.”
G. Smith also had some advice for the players trying out: “Always push yourself to the front of the line. Be the guy who’s going to take initiative. Being relentless and everything that you’re doing and not sitting back taking a break because those are the types of things that me and a lot of these guys are here to watch.”
As 1 p.m. came, and the last 15 were standing, Arenas and Harden made their choice on which players they wanted on their team.
“It was a lot of types—some athletic, some got handle,” Harden said. “It’s tough to play outside, you know, but you see the form and guys could shoot the basketball. A lot of good talent out here today. I’m going to have to put my Gregg Popovich stunt out and try to get the win today.”
Among one of the 10 selected was Glenn “The Bandit” Payne, who only lasted a few rounds before getting cut during his first tryout back in 2012.
“I’m just happy to be out here, man,” said Payne. “Hopefully I get farther this time around. Last time I didn’t get picked to go to Vegas, so this time I’m going to try and do my job out there.”
With the tryouts over and the team already made, Salman Chaudry, from Italy who was staying with a friend in Houston, TX, for the week and made the 22-hour drive to L.A., handed Arenas a crumbled $500 check and challenged him to a game of one-on-one in hopes of getting a spot on the team since he couldn’t make the tryouts due to a flat tire.
“I didn’t get a chance to tryout so I had to make statement somehow to see if he could play me and maybe I could make the team,” said Chaudry. “I thought he might do it ‘cause he’s a hooper so that’s what they do, right?”
After Arenas denied Chaudry, he made sure to tell Arenas he wasn’t about that life and walked off the court.
The players were then given a two-hour break and reported to L.A. Live at 4:30 p.m. to get ready for the big game.
Downtown L.A. was jumping. The venue was dead center at the Nokia Center at L.A. Live and was the only venue of the tour that featured an open court game.
“This is Los Angeles. We’re just now hitting the summer time and the outdoor area is great,” said Spencer. “I built the L.A. arena outside to almost give it that outdoor L.A. feel.”
Music was playing, seats started filling up and some local stars even came out. Cedric the Entertainer, Jordan McLaughlin, and Ray J were some on the notable faces sitting courtside.
And with Duke Tango ready to go with the mic in his hand, it was game time.
The Ball Up squad started the game off sloppy trying to embarrass Team LA that resulted in turnovers and Team LA capitalized to take an early lead.
But as the game went on, both teams kept battling and the Ball Up team took the momentum when G. Smith gathered up and put Team LA center Devon Phillip on a poster causing the place to erupt.
“I do the same thing everywhere I go,” said Smith.
Gary Rogers and Robbie Robinson were trying to keep Team LA alive, but there was no answer for the Ball Up squad. Team LA trailed going into halftime, 64-52.
After LMFAO’s RedFoo took the stage, the Ball Up team came back out in the second half to make a statement and prove it was just another day at the office.
Streetball veteran Sik Wit It came out and put on a show for his homecoming. During pre-game warm-ups, he promised bringing the entertainment and throwing a few alley-oops, and he stuck to his word. After a left-to-right crossover, he threw a lob that Air Up There and G. Smith both caught and dunked.
Backcourt play by The Professor and Bone Collector was on another level when the two got hot in the 3rd quarter putting on a dribbling clinic that had the crowd going nuts.
“It was a blast. Any time I get to play here—because I’ve lived here for seven years—it’s a blessing,” said Professor. “We travel eight months out of the year, so to be able to be at home around all my people and the sponsors is awesome.”
A few moments later, Professor and G. Smith connected on a between-the-legs off-the-backboard alley-oop that sealed the deal in the 4th quarter.
The Ball Up team took the W over Team LA, 107-96.
Lousiville, KY, is the next stop for the Ball Up tour on 6/28. For more information regarding tryouts and event info, head over to Ballup.com
Photos by Drew Ruiz