Gunning For That #1 Spot, Review

And I'm back from my Fourth of July weekend. I hope everyone had a good one. As always, expect shoddy writing as I get back into the flow of posting (regularly, hopefully) again.

Yesterday I shelled out about $24 so that The GF and I could see "Gunning For That #1 Spot", the documentary by Adam Yauch (one of the Beastie Boys) on eight high school basketball players competing in the Elite 24 Game at Rucker's Park in Harlem. It's a great premise.

Unfortunately, I have to say that the movie failed to live up to my expectations. It struck me more as a 30-minute special on MSG that was dragged out into a 90-minute documentary, mostly thanks to a hyper-indulgence of slo-mo replays and unnecessary (but artistic) transitions between scenes that serve no purpose. I did enjoy the two minutes of helicopter footage taken through a fish lens camera of NYC from above, from Coney Island all the way uptown. And I did enjoy the four (or more?) Jay-Z tracks on the soundtrack.

But this is not Spellbound. The movie fails badly to present any personal stories of interest. The eight players (Donte Green, Jerryd Bayless, Kevin Love, Brandon Jennings, Kyle Singler, Michael Beasley, Tyreke Evans, and Lance Stevenson) are, after a long filler segments on several other subjects, presented quickly (about 2-4 minutes per) and with little depth.

Let's take a step back quickly, and fill in the gaps. There is a filler segment that delves, briefly, into the history of Rucker Park, and what it means in terms of basketball history. It's a nice five minute segment, but like most of the movie, it doesn't get into depth. It skims the subject. "On Hallowed Ground", a documentary from 2000, does a much better job of capturing the once and present glory of Rucker. And, in fact, it was more timely, coming right at the start of the latest wave of Rucker's glory, when the EBC league had started to get lots of attention. Going back a few years prior, to maybe 1997, I would say, is when the NBA most heralded rookies started paying homage to Rucker's history by making a trek there to play in some games against the street ball legends - marquee players like Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson. The post-Jordan generation kicked off this new tradition, and it continues through this present day.

The movie skimmed over the backstory of how this particular annual event came to be. You see, the sneaker competition (which was covered in the movie, briefly) doesn't allow for competitions like this, where Adidas guys face off against Nike guys and/or Reebok guys.

What made this sort of sneaker truce happen? NYC. The appeal of playing in the world famous Rucker Park, along with other "cultural outings" (the first year featured a private screening of the MTV Music Awards at Jay-Z's 40/40 Club for the young players). The movie skimmed the subject of the sneaker biz, and how important they are at this stage (the high school stage), without delving too much into it.

And the movie skimmed the subject of "player rankings". Despite the title of the movie, though, not much discussion is seen or heard, at least from players, about their rankings. There is a discussion of how much importance the ranking services play into the future of these kids. It sort of hints at a shady world - Is it like radio? Does payola, perhaps from sneaker companies, play a part in making certain players higher ranked? - but there is no in-depth discussion.

So finally in the second half hour, we get to meet the players. Let's go through them one by one:

Donte Greene - raised in Baltimore. I'm not sure if he's poor or not? It's a weird dynamic. The producers of the movie seemed to want to really sell you on the "poor kid from inner city" aspect, but half-heartedly. Here's what we get: pictures of inner Baltimore (the infamous row houses), but Greene is living at his grandparent's place, in what looks like a more suburban environment (real houses). We hear that his mother passed away, so he (and his younger brother) lives with his grandfolks, supported by his grandpa's janitor salary. Also keep in mind that Donte was born in Germany.

As for his game: well, the footage doesn't outstand much, not as compared to the other 7 players. He's compared often to Carmelo Anthony, mainly because of the height (6'8) and background (Baltimore-raised, attended Syracuse University for a season). More than any other player, Donte Greene may be that kid who benefited the most from his rankings. He never really seems to show much, either in the footage, or in the actual game. Somehow he was considered a top high school player, and based on that was able to go into the NBA after only one season at Syracuse. He went 28th in this year's draft. Perhaps he will end up a marginal NBAer, and not a star or elite player like the rest.

Jerryd Bayless - was born and raised in Arizona, and is presented as an affluent, pretty, focused young man. Bayless seems to be a perfect Arizona fit, actually. He seems very Richard Jefferson - very respectful, dutiful, polite. He seemed to lack a sense of humor, as we'll see when we get down to Michael Beasley.

As for his game: he really relies on his lift, and his ups. He always seems like the smallest guy on the court. I like his jumper, and when the Knicks were picking this year, I thought he was the only other player they could have reasonably taken at #6 other than Danilo Gallinari. Watching his serious demeanor, and his dependence on lift to get off his jumper... I'm sorta glad the Knicks picked Danilo. Bayless will probably take a half-year to adjust to the NBA, and he might have a few good seasons before his knees fail him. Then his jumper, and skills, will be diminished. He might end up like another Arizona product - Mike Bibby. Really good, very focused player, until his body fails him.

Kevin Love - very affluent. Not enough Stan Love in the movie. I wanted to really get to know more about the role his father (supposedly very overbearing) plays in his life.

Kyle Singler - Another kid from Oregon. Struck me as that really tall kid who beat everyone else in sports growing up. All the footage of him shows him crushing lesser foes (the only other tall kid in Oregon his age is Kevin Love, apparently) in many, many sports - football, basketball, hockey, baseball... this kid has probably been playing sports all year round. Chances are he hasn't worked as much at basketball as the other kids in the movie, which might explain why he is still at Duke this year as a sophomore, when all seven other players are (or will be) one-and-done in college.

Michael Beasley - Throughout the movie, friends and family interviews provide most of the background as the kids rarely got to say much to the camera. Except for chatty, animated Beasley.

Bayless seems to have little patience for Beasley's humor: "Is he on my team?" Bayless says to someone after Beasley pulls down Bayless's shorts in front of everyone. "If so, then I'm freezing him out during the game".

Beasley, it is revealed, was kicked out of the first grade for mooning the teacher. And for cutting some little girl's ponytail off. This is why he supposedly scared so many teams. Of course, he's still the most talented player in this year's draft, and should have been the number one pick.

Oh, and he talks endless trash to an unresponsive Kevin Love during the actual game.

Brandon Jennings is from Compton, CA. He doesn't get much of a chance to shine, but when you see him in the game footage, he is a sick player. He has the illest handle of any of the players in this movie, and is a better pure point guard, in my opinion, than anyone from this year's draft (better than Rose or Mayo).

Tyreke Evans is from Chester, PA. I didn't know much about Chester, but it appears to be economically depressed. Tyreke was raised by his three older brothers, all of whom schooled him in basketball. The Evans clan of Chester is very similar to the Marbury clan of Coney Island.

And speaking of Coney Island... Lance Stevenson. The next great player out of Coney Island, following the footsteps of Marbury and Sebastian Telfair, is not a real point guard. He's a shooting guard, and his skill set is impressive. Indeed, I couldn't help noticing how many open teammates he didn't see, in the video footage of his high school games. Still, he's a lights out shooter with a great knack for penetration, and a stellar handle.

Let's talk about the actual game footage now, which represents the last thirty minutes of the movie: Kyle Singler - the movie made him look mad nice. So nice he got three nicknames from Bobbito Garcia. In reality, he scored only 13 points in the game. This movie probably showed all 13 points.

Similarly, Kevin Love got a lot of footage, when he had only 13 points and 7 rebounds. Still, he was one of the most interesting subplots of the flick - how would Love adapt to playing a pure streetball game? He handled himself well.

Stevenson didn't get much burn in this game, but he dropped 15 points. Don't worry about him... the next year (2007), he dropped 38 points (on 17-22 shooting) in the Elite 24 game at Rucker.

Tyreke Evans also showed up in 2007. He dropped 26 points, and broke Stephenson down a few times with his moves. Stephenson may have hit for 38 points, but he had two critical airballs on threes that could have tied the game with less than 30 seconds to go.

Brandon Jennings really had the illest handle. He was actually the biggest fan fave, in fact. He had 12 points and 15 assists that game, most to JJ Hickson. He was named co-MVP, along with Hickson, for his team.

OJ Mayo and Bill Walker were missing from the Elite 24 game. They were on the roster, but declined to show up. Same goes for Derrick Rose and Eric Gordon. The documentary did not give any background info on JJ Hickson (who had a monster game - 34 points, 10 rebounds), DeAndre Jordan, or Cole Play (Cole Aldrich of Kansas).

Bayless also had 15 points, like Stephenson. The non-featured Jordan had 11 points, 8 rebs, and 3 blocks.

In the 2008 NBA Draft, Beasley went 2nd, Love went 5th, Bayless 11th. Greene went 28th, to Memphis (Mayo's team).

Brandon Jennings is slated to go Arizona if he can score high enough on the SAT. If not, Europe is a possibility. Tyreke Evans is going to Memphis.

Brandon Jennings would drop 19 points and 23 assists in 2007's game, with a new nickname: "The Takeover"

What did I take the most from this movie? That these "kids" are very professional and business-like for their age. They have been playing ball against people much older than them for most of their lives, to this point. They been around (adult age) handlers for a long time. They aren't kids like everyone else.

At one point early in the movie, a cameraman asks Kyle Singler about going to NY. Singler replies that he has never been to a city before.

"Have you ever seen a subway before?", he is asked.

The reality is that, with the kids having been moved around in tour buses during their time in NYC, Singler probably still has yet to see a subway. The price of being a professional star does often cost your childhood.