Memphis Basketball Pro-Am features top basketball players

One week, the four Lawson brothers – Dedric, KJ, Chandler and Jonathan – played on the same team for the first time. Former Memphis Tigers star Jeremiah Martin hit a 3-point fadeaway that had the men running up and down the sideline in disbelief. New Memphis transfer Kaodirichi Akobundu-Ehiogu threw alley-oop dunks and jumped for blocks that looked like volleyball spikes in front of a city crowd for the first time.

The following week, former NBA player and Memphis native Lester Hudson teamed up with the Lawson brothers and started throwing 3-pointers from 30 feet.

Tigers coach Penny Hardaway was there to watch her son, Jayden Hardaway. Adonis Thomas played a game last week.

That’s what happens at the Shelby County Pro-Am, which brings together the best basketball players in town and continues a tradition.

“We have some of the best talent in the world, but if everyone has to go through Atlanta or Nashville to compete over the summer, we lose,” co-founder Tayloe Taylor said.

Tayloe Taylor (24) of the Shelby County Pro-Am white team keeps the ball as it is guarded by TJ Moss (4) and Mike Campbell (7) of the blue team during a game on Wednesday, July 20, 2022 at the Orange Mound Community Center in Memphis.  The Shelby County Pro-Am is a basketball league that includes both current and former college and professional basketball players.

Memphis hasn’t had a league where pros can shine every summer since the Bluff City Classic ended in 2015. Stanley Blue, who served as the Bluff’s organizer for 26 years, then announced that the tournament would not be returning. reason for lack. of financial support.

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Cities like Nashville and Atlanta have since become popular summer southern hotspots for pickup races, and summer pro-am hoops like the Drew League in Los Angeles, where LeBron James showed up for playing alongside DeMar Derozan this past weekend, are staples in their community.

The Shelby County Pro-Am started in 2019 as a way to get Memphis back in that hoops conversation.

This year’s league began in June at St Luke’s United Methodist Church, where the cramped sports hall was so crowded every Wednesday evening that organizers moved games to the Orange Mound community center last week.

Brandon Mitchell (10) of the Shelby County Pro-Am blue team is guarded by AJ Jones (20) and KJ Lawson (13) of the white team during a game Wednesday, July 20, 2022 at the Orange Mound Community Center in Memphis.  The Shelby County Pro-Am is a basketball league that includes both current and former college and professional basketball players.

‘Memphis, we all love it here’

The atmosphere is reminiscent of classic Memphis high school games. An on-court DJ blasts music before a who’s who of Memphis’ best players from the past two decades enters the court. Fans are feet away from the action, and players often talk and interact with the crowd.

In addition to many locally based current and former U of M players like Chris Crawford, Willie Kemp and Will Coleman, the league also includes players who prepared in Memphis and played college ball elsewhere, like Chris Jones ( Louisville) and Nick King (Memphis, Alabama and MTSU). .

“That was key for me, just trying to get these players from Memphis and introduce them to the city, because a lot of these guys get traded,” Taylor said. “Memphis, we all love it here. Most of the time when people come to play in Memphis, they end up staying in Memphis because we show so much love.

Shelby County Pro-Am white team Jayden Hardaway (11) shoots a field goal while guarded by blue team Anthony Green (2) during a game Wednesday July 20, 2022 at the Orange Mound Community Center in Memphis.  The Shelby County Pro-Am is a basketball league that includes both current and former college and professional basketball players.

Taylor started the league with Nick Tuggle and Lawrence Kinnard. Tuggle and Taylor are Memphis natives who played together at East Tennessee State in the mid-2000s. Kinnard was a member of the 2004-05 Trade Call All-Metro Team before attending UAB.

There was a void in the Memphis basketball scene, and they wanted to give top players a reason to come home and play. After missing the 2020 season due to COVID-19, the effort appears to be gaining momentum.

“After last season ended, a lot of guys were kind of mad that it was ending and wanted it to last longer,” Tuggle said. “They enjoyed it so much. Without the players it wouldn’t be a success, so I have to congratulate all the guys who come and support.

Many players also play in the Keep it Sweven Pro-Am league on Saturdays at Fairley High School.

“We need to have all the players here under one building to improve each other, competing at a high level,” Taylor said. “We bring you the best of Memphis, and that was our whole goal. Bringing you the best pros in Memphis, the best college players in Memphis, all coming together to compete at a high level every night.”

Attendees watch a Shelby County Pro-Am game Wednesday, July 20, 2022 at the Orange Mound Community Center in Memphis.  The Shelby County Pro-Am is a basketball league that includes both current and former college and professional basketball players.

The playoffs began on Wednesday and there are indications that this year’s six-team field will spark even more growth going forward.

There is still a large contingent of Memphis players playing professionally who did not experience the event. Homegrown NBA players like Chris Chiozza, Cameron Payne and Thaddeus Young are on the league’s wish list. Eventually, the region’s top high school hopefuls will also be allowed to play.

But the bigger goal is to get Memphis Grizzlies players to dress up for a week and create a memorable community moment.

“I just want to see more NBA players come out competitively,” Taylor said. “I want to see it to the point of how Drew League is. We want to get there. »

Contact Damichael Cole at damichael.cole@commercialappeal.com and on Twitter @damichaelc

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