The eight qualifiers.

by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree

Los Angeles—When Keith Parker arrived at the Westchester Recreation Center on Saturday morning for his daughter’s basketball game, the last thing he was expecting was to face off against one of the area’s most highly touted basketball players. As Parker and his family made their way through the park, they noticed the set up for the Red Bull King of the Rock one-on-one basketball tournament.  While Parker prepared his daughter for her game, his wife signed him up for the tournament. Parker’s draw: Schea Cotton, considered one of the best high school basketball players in the country during the 90s. “I reluctantly played in my running shoes,” Parker says.

Under some heavy heat, Parker and Cotton battled in one of the best first-round matchups. In the end, with both players exhausted, Parker pulled out the upset. “It was cool,” says Parker, who doesn’t find too much time to ball since becoming a Little League baseball coach. “It was street ball. Obviously he’s a very good player and the situation is different if it’s a real game. We were both tired and I’m an aggressive player so I wasn’t going to back down. I got right up in his chest. That’s how we play the game.”

Schea out in round one. Schea was nowhere to be found. Word was he left immediately after his loss. Since I missed the game, I went on the hunt for more facts. I sought out the man who kept the entire park entertained throughout the tournament, an MC by the name of Mouthpiece. Dude had me cracking up with his nicknames and hoop commentary all day. “There were a lot of mishaps with calls and it’s really slippery out here so you gotta be a little timid with your game,” Mouthpiece explained “Schea played against a dude that just played grounded ball. And they’re playing on a double rim. Out here it’s a different element. But Schea Cotton’s resume speaks for itself.”

The Red Bull King of the Rock is a one-on-one basketball tournament that will be held in six cities over the next few weeks. From these qualifiers, 64 players will be selected to participate in a final tournament held on The Yard of Alcatraz, hosted by Boston Celtics star Rajon Rondo. The finals will be the first official sporting event ever held on Alcatraz, and the first time basketball has been played there since the inmates left the island over 50 years ago. SLAM is a fellow sponsor of the event, which will run future qualifiers in San Diego, Phoenix, Seattle, San Francisco and Oakland.

Each game featured a five minute running clock and score was kept with twos and threes, no free throws. In addition to having a well rounded game, players needed to acclimate to the factors that come with playing ball on asphalt. First, there was the incredible heat—one of the hottest days I recall in LA. Then you must factor in the double rims and slippery spots near the blocks, making for tons of falls and traveling calls.

Some participants showed up as early as 5am to get in line for registration, which began at 9am. In all, 30 ballers from all over Los Angeles showed up for the 10am tip off. After a few close early games and a couple blowouts (there were at least two skunks), the games became competitive and heated, with some cats walking off in disgust after getting beat.

The finals came down to Christian “Dragon” Yeung and Izeah “Clutch” Bowman. By this point in the day, both players were drained after some serious battles. In the final game,  Clutch used his super nice handle to get to the rim for easy layups, running out to an early 6-0 lead. It looked like it was a wrap, but I underestimated Dragon. Dude was scrappy as heck and not giving up no matter what. He reeled off a few buckets and then began milking clock and used up all his fouls (players were allowed 5 fouls and each foul after resulted in one point for the opponent). With Dragon up 7-6, Clutch had to ask for a brief timeout to step off the court and throw up behind the Red Bull truck. When he got back on the court, he had no legs and started relying on his jumper. It wasn’t falling. Dragon continued his relentless attack, frustrating Clutch and pulling off the 10-8 win. Clutch, who played ball at Santa Monica College and currently plays overseas in Spain, was disappointed he couldn’t finish. “I had it in my hand, up 6-0,” he says. “The sun is baking out here and I was drinking way too much water. I was tired and should have put it away.”

When he’s not going by “Dragon” on the court, the 22-year-old Yeung is a substitute teacher.  “My game’s not pretty but it gets the job done,” says Yeung, a West Covina native who played ball at UC Riverside. “I’ve played in a couple tournaments like this and I know how physical it can get. The game’s a little easier when it’s one-on-one because you can control the entire game rather than rely on teammates. I tried to use strategy. Conditioning is a factor, so you have to be really smart when it gets down to the final minute.”

Yeung says he works on his game everyday and will continue to do so until the finals, held on September 18th. The winner of King of the Rock will collect $10,000.

The 8 players from the Los Angeles qualifier moving on to Alcatraz:

1. Christian Yeung – West Covina
2. Izeah Bowman – Inglewood
3. Nick Gaillard – Paris, France (now in West LA)
4. Garrett Pickens – Inglewood
5. Jamar Cramer – Long Beach
6. Hershel Presley – Morningside Park
7. Albert Jones – View Park
8. Phlip Guillard- Paris, France (now in West LA)

Christian Yeung.

For more info on Red Bull King of the Rock, please visit www.redbullusa.com