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The moment was enough to hot wire the pulse of any Chicago high school basketball junkie. In the third game of the just launched Nike-backed Chi-League Pro-Am at Young on Saturday, Jabari Parker delivered a perfect pass to a trailing Cliff Alexander.
The 6-9 Curie star finished with a crowd-roaring dunk. The play punctuated a second half surge that saw the upstart Mac Irvin Fire team storm back from a 13-point deficit against an Antoine Walker-backed team of college and post-collegiate former stars led by St. Joseph standout Demetri McCamey.
Walker’s veteran collection survived the Fire’s run to win. In the Pro-Am, winning is important though not absolutely crucial. It provides an elite showcase for the newly graduated, like Parker, or a rising senior such as Alexander, a chance to develop their skills against varied and distinguished competition.
“It’s great to play against older guys than you because they just know more about the game,” Parker said. “That team hurt us with their knowledge of the game, and that’s a great thing to have.”
Not just a reconsideration of high school glory days or renew old acquaintances, the league serves a deeper purpose. Former Marshall star Patrick Beverley offers a prime lesson in persistence and tenacity in pursuing a professional dream. After a couple of years on the professional margins, playing in Russia and the NBA Developmental League, Beverley emerged as a crucial reserve as he appeared in 41 games for the Houston Rockets this year.
Beverley is spending the bulk of his summer training and working out in Houston. He is flying home on weekends to participate in the Pro-Am.
“The summer is the time of the year when you really have to improve your game,” he said. “Especially in the month of June. You might spend the time just working on an individual move, or just work at developing different skills.”
Every player’s story is different. The theme of staying sharp and honoring your own past is a constant.
Anthony Davis, the former Perspectives-MSA star who just completed his first year as the No. 1 overall pick of the New Orleans Pelicans, inaugurated the Pro-Am with his former Kentucky teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, of the Charlotte Bobcats, Saturday afternoon.
Davis admitted his life has undergone a dramatic change. His memories are sharp and positive.
“Looking back, probably the best time I had was playing [high school] and AAU [club basketball],” he said. “Three years ago, nobody really knew who I was. Then I got to play [at national tournaments] in front of the college coaches, and it all changed.
Now, Parker and his two high school aged teammates on the Fire team, Alexander and Young’s Jahlil Okafor, are each being talked about as high NBA draft picks.
“I’m not really [qualified] to comment on that,” Davis said. “They have to get through college first.
“It does go to show you how much there is Chicago high school right now,” he said.