|The guy at lower left might be a college hoops coach.|
Such is the way of things at the Nike Pro City Jabbo Kenner College/Pro Summer League. The Kenner League, as it's known, has given D.C.-area collegians and professionals a place to play high-level offseason ball since 1981. (Note: defense not necessarily included in the 'high-level' description.) Held at Georgetown's venerable McDonough Arena, the Kenner's a vital part of the hoops scene in the Nation's Capital.
Oldtimers still talk about the time Allen Iverson debuted in the Kenner a few short weeks after being released from prison - before he ever suited up for John Thompson, Jr. Iverson, who hadn't played organized basketball in over a year, dropped 40 in a Kenner quarterfinal in front of a standing-room only crowd. Allegedly, footage exists somewhere - it's the league's Bigfoot Legend.
According to the Georgetown Basketball History Project, AI's exploits paled in comparison to an on-court battle that took place 6 years later:
Iverson's 40 points was not the Kenner record, however. Six years later, another memorable game saw Maryland star and NBA veteran Steve Francis face a local team led by Curt (Trouble) Smith. Smith, the younger brother of Georgetown All-American Charles Smith, had all the basketball tools but his academics had its share of "trouble", so to speak, and was not offered a scholarship to Georgetown. Smith played briefly at Drake but settled back in Washington and added to his own local legend in a 2000 Kenner game cited at ESPN The Magazine:Despite the fact that the Kenner's been in our backyard forever, we'd never made time to check out the action. Several Gheorghies rectified that yesterday, heading to McDonough to catch a couple of games, including one featuring W&M's own Marcus Thornton's On Point squad take on The Tombs.
"Last summer Steve Francis walked into McDonough with a team he called Francis' Hitmen, sporting a lineup that included himself, The Wizard, Moochie Norris, Jerome Williams and Cuttino Mobley. And lost," wrote Chris Palmer. "[They] dropped a 121-120 decision to a group of D.C. playground legends who made their names against these very same players years ago. They still talk about the battle between Curt Smith, little bro' of former Celts guard Charles, and Francis. The Rockets point guard gave the street legend 59 points from all over the court. The treys from the hash mark, wicked crosses and cradle dunks were enough to make sure Smith would never show his face in the gym again. Except for the fact [Smith] scored 62 himself."
We arrived early and managed to catch all of the afternoon's first game. Moments after The Teej took and tweeted the photo above (which may or may not feature an NCAA Division I head coach whose attendance would be a violation), the announcer warned the fans not to take any pictures and definitely not to do any tweeting of pictures. On the court, former South Florida big man Gus Gilchrist dominated the action for his A. Wash Associates squad. Fatigue took its toll, however, as Team Oohs and Aahs took advantage of the fact that A.Wash only had 5 players to close the gap down the stretch. Despite their lack of depth, A. Wash managed to eke out an 82-77 overtime win.
As expected in a summer league, the play was at times ragged, as was the officiating. But players on both teams took the game seriously, and the winners were notably happy.
Before the second game began, I said to my daughters, "See the kid with the long braids and the orange shoes? That's Marcus Thornton. He goes to William & Mary. That's who we came to see."
A tall, slim older man two rows in front of us turned around and looked at me. "You mean, number 12?", he said. "That's my son." And so we met Marcus Thornton's father, who seemed amused that we thought so highly of his kid and proved later to have a great sense of humor and equanimity.
Minutes later a much taller, much less slim older man wandered, bearlike, into the gym and took a seat on the far side behind the players' benches. The aforementioned Big John Thompson held court throughout the rest of our time in the arena.
Mr. Thornton turned to us as the beginning of his son's game and asked, 'Do you guys know when the other William & Mary player graduated?", pointing out a 6'7" balding guy. Though he looked familiar, I couldn't place him until the P.A. announcer said his name. 2010 graduate Danny Sumner was actually the leading W&M scorer for On Point, tallying at least 23. He's put on a significant amount of muscle - the lean, high-flying wing of my memory replaced by a much thicker, more confident model.
For his part, Marcus Thornton wasn't at the peak of his game. Though his skills and athleticism were the equal of anyone on the court, he wasn't helped by the physical nature of the game, and he seemed at times tired as On Point ran the entire game without subs. On several occasions Thornton burst to the basket, only to get knocked down without getting a call. In one case, he clattered to the court with enough force that the W&M fans in attendance audibly gasped. I leaned forward and asked his father, "Didn't you tell him not to get hurt out there?"
"He's 20 years old. I can't tell him anything," came the wry response. Even as his son struggled, the elder Thornton remained unruffled - you can see where Marcus gets his unflappable on-court demeanor.
OnPoint led by 7 late until Freeman decided he was actually going to play a bit and spurred a run to give The Tombs a lead. OnPoint countered with a driving layup and a defensive stop to claim a 73-72 victory. Thornton finished with a meager 7 points, though he spent much of the second half playing point and not looking for his own offense.
But regardless, we counted ourselves winners. Team G:TB made a new friend. Mr. Thornton shook our hands on his way out of the building and accepted our best wishes for his son. He and his wife are headed to the Dominican Republic with the Tribe next week, as W&M makes it's one-in-every-four years sanctioned summer trip overseas. We got to hear the pounding of basketballs and the squeak of sneakers on hardwood from great seats in a historic barn. We might've seen Steve Weingarten's finest moment. And my kids didn't kill each other. That's a decent Sunday afternoon.