BIGGER THAN THE GAME

For nearly 30 years, the courts at St. Francis de Sales School in the Belle Harbor section of Queens, NY, had seen some of the hottest summer basketball in the city. But this winter the courts hosted something far more serious than basketball: thousands of people seeking a hot meal and some fresh clothes in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

After lives began to return to normal and the recovery mission got underway, AND1 was the first to make a donation to rebuild the courts. Many more followed, and the school has raised over $120,000 to keep the game alive and well at one of the meccas of New York high school hoops. Now, after most had assumed the annual Summer Basketball Classic would surely be cancelled, the tournament is set to begin July 17, provided last-minute construction goes as planned. Check the Wall Street Journal article on St. Francis’ recovery here.

The game has a funny way of reassuring us that things have returned to normal; and at AND1, we’re proud to have played a small part in the journey.

WELCOME TO DC, GLEN RICE JR.

You already know we love guys with the NBA pedigree (see Friday’s Tim Hardaway, Jr. post), but Glen Rice, Jr. is next-level: not only did his father star for the Heat, Hornets and Lakers over a 15-year career, but unlike every other college player in the draft—and every American player since Brandon Jennings—Junior has already made his pro debut.

Rice was one of the top transfer candidates in the nation when he left Georgia Tech after his sophomore season, but he chose a different path, entering the NBA Development League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He bided his time, working hard for his burn, and in the second half he exploded, shooting 39% from the NBA 3-point line on his way to the D-League championship. Rice copped Finals MVP honors as well, scoring a ridiculous 58 points with 23 rebounds over a two-game sweep of the Santa Cruz Warriors.

Like his dad, Rice’s J is a deadly weapon, but he has an athleticism Senior never had. He attacks the rim, uses his strength to get to the line, and even participated in the D-League’s dunk contest. But, like Hardaway, Rice’s most important skill may be his experience; he’s battle-tested, he’s been on the road, and he’s ready for whatever the League throws his way.

Brooklyn. Boston. Blockbuster.

You wouldn’t make the deal when you’re running back a playground game, but the suits in Boston are looking to the future, sending future HOFers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to a Nets team that looks primed for a title run in 2014. The Nets now have All-Stars at every position—the starting five has a ridiculous 35 All-Star appearances between them—and with new coach Jason Kidd at the helm, they can play with anyone when healthy.

It’s a changing of the guard in Boston, though, as the youth movement takes over for an aging core. But all isn’t lost: the young’uns were raised by winners like Garnett and Pierce, so don’t call it a comeback when the Celtics are better than you think. They still have one of the most electric backcourts in the league, with Rajon Rondo running the show and crazy-athletic Avery Bradley in opposing point shirts 40 minutes a night. There are winning pieces with plenty of cap room here; if Rondo comes back 100%, and Bradley fulfills his unlimited potential, NBA royalty might once again wear the crown, and sooner than you think.

Welcome to New York, Tim Hardaway Jr.

Yesterday, you could ask any Knicks fan what the name “Hardaway” meant, and they’d probably say a bunch of words we’re not allowed to write on this blog. Today, “Hardaway” means the future: after his father went to battle against New York for years in the mid-90’s, yesterday Tim Hardaway, Jr. joined the Knicks as the 24th pick in last night’s NBA Draft.

Junior is a polished, experienced two-guard with both the family and collegiate pedigree to succeed in the League right away. A sweet spot-up shooter and a beast in transition as both a finisher and a facilitator, he can beat you every which way. He’s got excellent size and strength to check small forwards, and the quickness to swallow up shooting guards. It’s an impressive package, especially at no. 24.

But we all know going from college star to NBA rook is about more than physical skills, and as his father saw during the 90’s, not every player can handle New York. Fortunately for the Knicks, Junior grew up this way. Where other guys struggle to make the transition from student-athlete to full-time baller, he’s been about that life since day one. Broadway’s bright lights didn’t scare Tim Sr., so you know Junior is well prepared.

 

Shane Larkin – Prospect Profile

It’s the NBA’s bread and butter. The play you run when the shot clock’s winding down. The move that Stockton and Malone rode to the Hall of Fame. It’s the pick and roll, and nobody in the nation ran it better than Miami’s Shane Larkin.

To be a lottery pick at 5’11”, the other numbers better measure up, and Larkin’s got the measurables to get him in the top 14. For starters, Larkin helmed Miami’s pro-style offense as well as anyone in the country, finishing second in the nation in both pick and rolls attempted points per pick and roll. He’s not just a passer, either, ripping threes at a 41% clip last season.

Not a stats guy? Try this: at last month’s pre-Draft combine, Larkin posted the third-highest vertical leap ever. Not just in this draft. Ever. Dude gets up 44 inches, so if you think his size is gonna hold him back, think again. He might not start as high as everyone else, but he’ll finish higher.

 

James Southerland – Prospect Profile

NBA teams don’t need a rotation guy who’s a B- across the board. They don’t need someone to come in and be just like the starter, only a little worse. They want a different look, something the other team has to gameplan for. A defensive stopper, a slashing combo guard. They want a specialist. In James Southerland, they’ll get the long-range sniper.

A Queens native who played youth ball with AND1 rep Lance Stephenson, Southerland shot a blistering 40% from deep in his senior season at Syracuse. With his size (a legit 6’7” without shoes), catch-and-shoot prowess and quick, compact release, that number should hold up in the League.

But “3-and-D” is hot with NBA GMs right now: guys that can catch and shoot while providing rock-solid defense at the other end. And if you look at Jason Kidd, who played into his 40’s on veteran smarts; Danny Green, who went from an afterthought to nearly a Finals MVP; or even Matt Barnes or Jared Dudley, who haven’t seen the rim up close in a few years…defense isn’t athleticism alone. ‘Cuse had the nation’s fifth-ranked defense last season, with Southerland playing 30 minutes per game. He knows team defense, and we know he can shoot the rock; now who wants that impact rotation player again?

Peyton Siva – Prospect Profile

A product of Seattle’s rough Deuce-8 neighborhood, Peyton Siva lived on turf disputed by three separate gangs. His sister was an habitual shoplifter. His older brother joined one of those gangs and started dealing drugs as a teenager. And his father…well, that was the worst part. When he was around, it was clear he was addicted to those drugs. All too often, he wasn’t around at all.

At age 13, with his mother working three jobs and his dad gone missing, Siva taught himself to drive. He wasn’t out to start a new life, just pick up the pieces of his old one. Peyton went out in search of his father, and eventually found him in a drug den with a gun in his lap, contemplating suicide. Peyton talked him out of it, saying he had big plans for life and basketball, and he needed his father to be a part of it. It took some doing—this wasn’t the first trip Peyton Jr. had made to the dope house—but Senior finally agreed, and for good.

Today, Siva is far more than a national champion, two-time Big East Tournament MVP, or any of his other accolades. Now a devout Christian and working with the Louisville Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Siva also improved his average high school grades to become a 2013 Academic All-American. To any NBA teams looking to draft him, you can’t go wrong with this kind of player, or this kind of person.

Isaiah Canaan – Prospect Profile

Relentless to the rim, lights-out shooter, scores off the pick and roll, catch and shoot, pull-up, whatever…sounds like a top ten talent, right? Not always, but one look at Isaiah Canaan makes you wonder what the lottery scouts are missing.

Canaan lists Chris Paul and Damian Lillard as role models for his own game—and he hits them up regularly for advice on his leap to the League—but with his compact frame, he looks more like Ray Felton or Ty Lawson. He certainly shares their physicality, using his bulk to create space and finish at the rim. Plus, opposing guards can’t post him up because he’ll just muscle them away from the bucket.

He’s gotta have weaknesses, right? Well, Canaan played 6 more minutes per game than any of his teammates last season, and coach Steve Prohm relied on him for everything—every big shot, every pick and roll, every dribble drive. Now, critics say his 3.2 turnovers per game make him “turnover-prone,” even though he was actually second on the team in turnovers per minute. As an NBA rookie, Canaan won’t be asked to make every play, and take every impossible shot; so if that’s the best the haters can come up with—that his coach asked him to do everything—sounds like a legit sleeper to us.

What More Can You Say?

What more can you say about Game 7? The aging Spurs used every trick in the book—including some shots from Ginobili and Duncan that belonged in the circus—and once again stood toe to toe with Miami’s thoroughbreds. After the game, Gregg Popovich said they got beat by a “better team.” Funny, it didn’t always seem like it.

What more can you say about LeBron? Guy does everything at both ends of the floor, and last night, the guy who used to be called a choke artist threw up 37 and 12, and buried a couple of late daggers that put the Spurs to bed. Oh, and if you’re keeping track, that’s two rings, four MVP’s, and two Finals MVP’s. Yikes.

And last but not least, what more can you say about this season? From great basketball in NYC, to a soap opera in LA, and a million stories in between…this season had everything. And with the draft coming up next week, you won’t have to wait long for it to start all over again. For now, get on the playground—streetball season is officially on.