CaliforniaPreps - Women’s Drew League: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Respect
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Women’s Drew League: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Respect

Saying the Black Panther is just a movie is like saying Tenesha Ware’s Women’s Drew League is merely a basketball league.

The Drew playoff games I attended a few weeks ago felt like witnessing a femme fatale of warriors who transcend basketball to mesmerize fans on fall Sundays at the hallowed Charles Drew Middle School gym.

Do they really have it like that E-Woods? Indeed 100.

How noble are these classy, fierce, and oh so skillful Drew women players? They exude authenticity like platinum rapper/lyricist Kendrick Lamar, who was raised across the street from the women’s Drew in Compton.

Both possess symphonic flow that’s real to the game. How many rappers have won a Nobel Prize for their lyrics? Only K.Dot has.

I need to borrow K.Dot’s recent album title because I’m compelled to say the women at the Drew are just as DAMN skilled and indomitable as at the men’s Drew side.

Rashaad and Aunjanay Chambers
Rashaad and Aunjanay Chambers

The minute I walk into the women’s Drew gym, I fix my gaze on the #8 guard from Team Runnit, Courtney Ford, who played at Mercer University.

She’s zipping around the court like Dwayne Wade, hitting treys, dishing out assists and haymakers, carving up the opponent SoCal Splash to the tune of 25 by half time.

So I ask the folks in front of me watching #8 on the bleachers, “Does she always put it on the comp like that?”

The young head sitting in front of me just kept his hands over his eyes, peeking out a lil between his fingers, and did these wild cowboy guns in the air “bap bap” as he roared, “Hell yeah.” The old head chuckled playfully to me, gesturing a “slit throat” finger to his neck for his official reply.

I wander near the SoCal Splash’s bench to see their plans to stop C-Ford. Their energetic young coach Rashaad Chambers is popping his veins as he shouts, “It’s our time if you want it!” His players next to him on the bench are yelling out. “Lock up 8, shut her down!”

Rashaad doesn’t have to tell me the loss was heartbreaking, you feel his pain as the 1 and done loss format is unforgiving. I ask him what does the Drew mean to him; he says, “It’s heavily competitive. I love being a part of it because it’s so well organized.”

I’ll never forget Rashaad leaning over to hug his lil sister Aunjanay Chambers who plays for him. This girl got game and plays pro ball in Spain.

I asked her to explain the league. She said, “The Drew is family to us.” You can see in these two siblings’ eyes, they ride and die for each other big time. Aunjanay’s teammate Charmaine Nelson, who played at Cal St Fullerton, said, “Playing here makes me feel like a pro, it’s the best.”

Tenesha Ware,  Chelsea Gray,  Casper Ware Sr
Tenesha Ware, Chelsea Gray, Casper Ware Sr (Photo by Mike C)

We must pay homage to the Drew League’s founder, Alvin Wills, who sought to bring young people together in his community and basketball was the vehicle.

His awesome friend Dino Smiley looked after both the men’s and women’s league when A-Wills stepped aside as commissioner. The women’s side took a long break in the 90’s until It was revived in 2001 by the ultra capable Tenesha Ware.

Tenesha lives to support the men’s and women’s Drew, giving untold hours to organize and score-keep both sides.

The Ware name? It carries major major respect, one of the most revered hoop family in LA.

Tenesha’s dad Casper Ware Sr. was an absolute beast in his youth, running mates with LA’s all time great street ball legend Raymond Lewis. Tenesha’s brother Casper Ware Jr., a Drew League star who takes pride in defense, played in the NBA.

T-Ware says about her women’s league, “Ever since 2001 our goal is to create an opportunity for women to showcase and exhibit their passion for the game. I remember LA Sparks player Nikki Teasley leaving it all out there, as those original 4 teams would battle each other in the early years.

“Nowadays the women still take great pride and earn each other’s respect. I thought it was so important for a woman to have a competitive experience each week, that well organized game to look forward to. That’s worth setting up right.

“When I played at Cal State LA, I was a scrapper, doing all the little things to help my team win. I’m the same way here. We set high standards and take satisfaction seeing our former players go on to be high level refs for us.

“We create a circle of giving, an opportunity for women to improve their skill. Some go off to earn money playing professional ball overseas. It’s very satisfying to help facilitate all this goodness.”

Adijat Adams and Keion Kindred
Adijat Adams and Keion Kindred

The Women’s Drew isn’t hoop, it’s magic, with that rare power to capture your imagination. A great example is seen with the ever talented team, N My Feelings. I was blown away just watching their players walk into the gym, they surely inspire fear and awe.

Four of their best pro players seem almost biblical to me. I call these four women out of respect, “The Four Horse-women of the Apocalypse.”

Two are players for the WNBA’s LA Sparks. One of those is Essence Carson. With her golden flare of hair, terminator style protective eye-wear, utilitarian and intimidating, she has grace and muscles to spare. The second LA Sparks member is the always in your grill Odyssey Sims.

A third member of our top four is from the recent WNBA champ Seattle Storm, Noelle Quinn. And let us not forget Adijat Adams, who is fresh off of winning a chip playing pro ball in Argentina.

Adijat was looking ever athletic and as crisp and dominant as her older brother Hassan Adams of Westchester, Arizona, and NBA fame. I sat with her mom Connie who inspired me to write about women.

Adijat told me, “I love Keion [Kindred] who is my coach, trainer, and god-brother. I’m grateful that he expects so much; it’s a blessing that he keeps it real with me. We identify areas for me to improve on from how I performed at the Drew. This place is fun, fam, and just great to be a part of.”

Seeing All The Stars at the women’s Drew, it conjured up these Kendrick Lamar lyrics in my head as they played,

“You can bring a bullet, bring a sword

Bring a morgue, but you can't bring the truth to me.”

#N My Feelings delivers you the truth

I asked N My Feelings coach Keion Kindred (who recently won the men’s side Drew championship this past summer with his team Redemption) what it means to coach at the women’s Drew,

“I love coaching here, seeing the growth of the league. We just hope the women’s Drew can hopefully repeat the same level of success and popularity that the men’s side has enjoyed.”

Noelle Quinn appreciates playing for Keion, and Keion told me how proud he is of her, more than just her winning a chip in the L.

How dope is Noelle? Incredibly, she finds the time and energy to coach her alma mater, the girls varsity of Bishop Montgomery High, and is even their athletic director after her WNBA season ends.

Noelle in this Drew league? A 6-1 force of nature, she is oh so, so sweet off the court. Then Noelle flips the switch instantly on court to be a killer, savagely snatching rebounds in the air as she grimaces at her opponents.

Feel her vibe on playing at the Drew, “Ever since I found beauty for the game while playing for George Quintero on our Cal Storm AAU team in high school, I realized each game deserves your 100%.

“It’s easy to give that full effort at T-Ware’s Drew, because everyone brings their A game and meets your energy. We feel like a family here and it’s good competition and cardio on my Sundays. All the women seem to love playing at the Drew, it lets us give back what was given to us growing up.”

Rayah Marshall and Noelle  Quinn
Rayah Marshall and Noelle  Quinn

Now do you see how magical this place is? That’s why I invited Lynwood sophomore phenom Rayah Marshall. At 6-3, she is the #4 player in 2021 per the ESPN Gurlz rankings. This super cool girl has swag and some dope gold earrings that spell Rayah to go with her fire jumper.

Rayah is already dunking as hard as the guys. I asked Rayah if she could see herself getting with these elite WNBA players at the Drew. Her eyes showed me that she was with it. It was heart warming to see Noelle talk with Rayah after her game, a torch being passed of past and present prep stars from LA no doubt.

The Drew inspires healing, and a future worth working hard to become a part of.

Imagine you’re a sophomore in high school, you just won the prestigious CIF Wooden Award as State Player of the Year, averaging nearly 30 points a game. Then you tear your ACL that same summer.

Don’t hypothesize - her name is Vanessa Smart, a Hueneme High guard. I invited her also to watch the Drew with me, trying to lift her spirits and see high level ball. Vanessa told me, “I’m excited to heal, to play again and improve. And one day I hope to play in this amazing league when I get older.”

#The Drew inspires

I challenge you to come to the Drew, to see the love. Can you find two more tireless advocates of the game than T-Ware and K- Kindred? They epitomize what Kendrick Lamar was trying to celebrate when he titled his album To Pimp a Butterfly.

Wikipedia explains,“Tu.P.A.C/B means by how a person from the hood grows to be a grown person, like a man or woman, like a caterpillar it tries to escape the hood, but it can't, because it's stuck in them for good, and it's good for him or her also.”

How cool and dedicated are the people find you find at the Drew?

Mary Anderson, Anita Rodgers, Robiyn Cassimere
Mary Anderson, Anita Rodgers, Robiyn Cassimere

You don’t even know. I met three elegant ladies who work the Drew concession stand. Two were Mary Anderson and Anita Rodgers who were serious ballers at the Drew in the 80’s. Anita was selected MVP no less.

The third was Robiyn Cassimere and it was obvious that they give their heart to the Drew. They even take aside the youngsters to impart advice on how to take it strong to the hoop without drawing a charge.

Imagine, falling in love with a league and not skipping it for 40 years? That’s the Drew.

I even know people who have named their kid “Drew” to honor this place. That’s fam, because this place transcends hoop; it’s love for each other. That bouncing ball going “thump, thump, thump” on the hardwood, it’s the players heart-beat for the game, a love affair many ballers and fans never quite get over.

I have to report, the Drew felt sadness the day I visited. There was a minute of silence given to longtime women’s Drew scorekeeper Lou “reset” Merrick, who passed away recently from cancer. I saw tears and emotion pouring out of those around me.

I asked the current scorekeeper Ervin Ware, Tenesha’s brother, about Lou. He told me Lou was “a great guy”. Erv feels the Drew is that special community that “uses competition to bring out the best in each other.”

I wasn’t able to attend the Drew Championship game but I heard it was beyond epic. N My Feelings played the Casper Ware Sr. coached team, Lady Cheaters, led by LA Sparks and WNBA All-Star Chelsea Gray.

Both teams battled all game, but “swoosh after swoosh” C-Grey put each play to sleep over and over to perfection to secure her team’s victory. Her performance so dope, even the sandman must wish he were a woman.

Women's Drew League All-League Team (with Tenesha): L to R-Noelle Quinn, Alisha Belt, Courtney Ford, Tenesha Ware, Essence Carson, Chelsea Gray, Danika Dale
Women's Drew League All-League Team (with Tenesha): L to R-Noelle Quinn, Alisha Belt, Courtney Ford, Tenesha Ware, Essence Carson, Chelsea Gray, Danika Dale (Photo by Jason Taylor)

Why am I so passionate to tell and share about the Drew?

I used to drive 2.5 hours round trip from Ventura Co. to play at the Slauson Rec in Compton during the 90’s as a youngster, even though a 24 Hr Fitness was next to my house.

How proud was I when I wrote my piece on the men’s Drew in 04’. I said that this league was so talented, it deserved even more credit than the famed NYC Rucker’s.

I knew in 04’ if a sponsor like Nike would support the men’s Drew, market it right, provide glossy uniforms, feature the men on a razzle dazzle website, I knew the Drew’s pure talent would make it a global phenomenon.

Hopefully soon that same level of success will manifest itself for the deserving women’s side.

Kudos to Tenesha for tirelessly writing about her league on her twitter page, which hopefully soon will be unified under one umbrella with the men’s side.

When? I’ll let the 5 Stairsteps conjecture,

“Some day, yeah, We'll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun

Some day, When the world is much brighter.”

One Nike athlete I respect, that respects women is Kevin Durant. Why?

KD, he showed up where the fore-mentioned Rayah Marshall and her AAU team were at the EYBL championship. KD gave them gear, gave them his time and praise, and he gave them his respect.

Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of respect, that’s what you find at the Drew, the best women’s league not named the WNBA in America, and This is America.