Former Huskies guard Jaylen Nowell is not short on big-game experience.
He suited up 42 times for the Timberwolves last season and, while a sophomore at Washington, led the Dawgs to an NCAA Tournament win.
But Saturday afternoon while driving to Seattle Pacific University, he became overwhelmed with anticipation. Like so many other Seattle area stars playing in The Crawsover, this was his homecoming.
“Before this game, I was driving here, I couldn’t help but feel the excitement, not just for myself but the excitement for everyone else that was going to come and see how big it was,” Nowell said. “You had one set of bleachers, and the whole thing was filled up.”
Much to the city’s incessant chagrin, Seattle does not have an NBA team. Its annual opportunity to showcase top-tier talent comes in the form of the summer pro-am organized by longtime NBA star and Rainier Beach legend Jamal Crawford.
That opportunity, like so much else, was thwarted last year due to COVID-19. But its return spawned a stuffed set of bleachers at Royal Brougham Pavilion.
The Crawsover might not have the formal feel of an NBA or NCAA contest, but it’s not like an All-Star game where players just try to entertain the crowd for three quarters before finally buckling down in the fourth.
Yes, there was some razzle dazzle, and alley-oops weren’t in short supply. But of all the adjectives one can muster to try and describe the environment, competitive is the most accurate.
“That’s what explains Seattle basketball, is competitiveness,” said point guard Tremaine Isabell, a Garfield High product who played at Missouri, Drexel and Saint Louis, and just finished a season playing in Croatia. “You look at all the guys in the NBA, there’s not one dude that’s made it that’s not competitive that doesn’t play with that chip on his shoulder, and that starts at a very young age. We’ve been playing against each other since we were so young. It might not mean anything at the end of the game, but you think about it throughout the week. You don’t want to be the guy that got 40 put on him or have someone dribble between your legs.”
Isabell was among those drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd for shaking hapless defenders. Former Rainier Beach star Shadeed Shabazz was, too. Both helped The Sonics (their Pro-Am team name) — who also had former Husky Dominic Green and current Husky Elijah Hardy on their roster — earn a 10-point victory over the PNW Rain, which was without Bulls star and two-time Slam Dunk champion Zach Lavine.
At one point, Shabazz crossed up a pair of defenders, scored one of his many buckets on the day, then danced across half-court in celebration. The crowd laughed as much as it did cheer, which seemed par for the course for this league.
“Honestly, the energy is incredible,” said Shabazz, who’s gearing up for his senior year at Alaska Fairbanks. “Like, every time I walk in the gym, I automatically just feel overwhelmed with the good energy, the support, the fans. Jamal has real good community involvement with Seattle, so it always makes you feel at home.”
What’s unique is the blend of NBA stars, former college standouts, current college players — even some up-and-coming high schoolers. Players such as Nowell, who used to be the mentees, have now become the mentors.
Micah Downs can relate. Downs starred at Juanita High before earning a scholarship to Kansas and then transferring to Gonzaga. The 34-year-old recently won a championship playing for Sporting Clube de Portugal. Count him among those pumped to see the Pro-Am return and to have fans back in the seats.
“It’s always fun to come back and play and see all the young guys coming up, and to be recognized as one of the older guys who helped pave the way for Seattle basketball,” Downs said. “It was awesome. Even playing overseas, we had no fans at all. We went to the finals and won a championship and we had no fans for any of that. So to be able to come home and see all that, it was cool.”
The Crawsover will resume Sunday and continue through the first three weeks of August. Seattle might not have an NBA squad, but until it does, this can at least whet the appetite.