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FROM COMIC RELIEF TO COMEDY CENTRAL: TWO EX-UCLA HOOPSTERS FIND THEIR NICHE IN TV WITH NEW ANIMATED SERIES

In Campus Rush (SI), Sports Illustrated on September 14, 2016 at 1:02 pm
Photo courtesy of Legends of Chamberlain Heights

Photo courtesy of Legends of Chamberlain Heights

UCLA basketball benchwarmers Josiah Johnson and Quinn Hawking didn’t think they’d sub in. It was way, way too early, as 15 minutes remained in the 2003 game against powerhouse Arizona, whose lead ballooned to 20. Rarely rising from the bench, Johnson and Hawking usually shimmied, swayed and stomped for teammates like future NBA players Matt Barnes, Trevor Ariza and Jason Kapono. They discovered the best camera angles in timeout huddles in hopes of appearing on TV after the commercial break.

“They called themselves ‘The S— Crew,'” said Brian Morrison, who played for the Bruins from 2002–05. “They entertained everybody.”

Shortly after entering the Arizona game, Johnson almost got dunked on by future NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. “I remember seeing my life flash before my eyes,” Johnson said. Hawking, too, tried to defend Iguodala. “Please don’t drive to the hoop,” Hawking prayed.

Finding humor at the end of the bench, Johnson, 34, and Hawking, 33, have turned splinters into punchlines, becoming co-creators, executive producers, writers and voice-talents of Comedy Central’s upcoming animated series, “Legends of Chamberlain Heights,” set to premier Sept. 14 after South Park. The show, which features animation by The Simpsons’ Brad Ableson, follows three high-school freshmen, Jamal, Grover and Milk, who are benchwarmers with big dreams.

Believing glory is just a three-pointer away, the trio of misfits try to overcome daily obstacles to live up to the legends they think they are, even if few share their vision.

“At some point in your life, no matter who you are, you’re going to find yourself on the end of the bench. It’s what you do from that point that really defines you and determines the rest of your life,” Johnson said. “We were benchwarmers but we didn’t necessarily feel bad or look down on ourselves. We tried to make ourselves legends however we could.”

Johnson oozed cool. Hawking first spotted him at a UCLA party in the fall of 2001. “Jo had a 40,” said Hawking, whose bleached, spiked-hair and long board and puka-shell necklace made him look more like a skateboarder than a ballplayer. The two became inseparable, partnering for practice drills, roasting each other with below-the-belt jokes, courting cheerleaders and navigating the best Thursday-night parties, since the odds of suiting up the next night were slim.

Hoops ran through their blood. Johnson’s father, Marques, was a five-time NBA All-Star and a member of UCLA’s 1975 championship squad. Johnson’s brother, Kris, helped the Bruins claim a national crown in ’95. Hawking’s father, Bob, coached the Bruins’ all-time leading scorer Don MacLean at Simi Valley High and also coached at Cal State Fullerton. UCLA was a natural choice for both. Well, maybe not for Hawking. “I didn’t really f— with them too much because they wore Reeboks,” Hawking said.

During their UCLA careers, Johnson, a 6′ 8″ forward, averaged 1.3 points and 1.6 rebounds from 2001–05 while Hawking, a 6′ 3″ sharpshooter, attempted six total shots, converting a three and a free-throw from 2002-05 (he redshirted his freshman season).

But they puffed their chests out like legends in practice, preparing starters for games on the scout team. The real objective? Humiliate the big-timers, like the time Johnson drained eight treys. “It was the greatest shooting day of my life,” Johnson said. “The starters were getting f—— pissed at me: ‘Stop being a f—— hero.'” (READ FULL STORY HERE).

 

QUEENS OF THE COURT

In OC Register on May 4, 2016 at 9:15 pm
ImperialsPhotoCindy

PHOTO COURTESY OF CINDY YAMANAKA/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

The women file into the gym, most in their late 40s to early 60s and most Asian American, every one of them eager for tipoff.

It’s a Sunday morning at a high school in Huntington Beach, but these women have been playing basketball in gyms like this, on mornings like this, for decades.

Today, it’s the High Rollers against Forever Kidz. Both teams are part of the Orange Coast Sports Association, which sponsors a basketball league of mostly Japanese American women age 40 and older. They play today because they still love the game more than they hate the sprained ankles and floor burns that come with it.

But for much of the 1970s and ’80s, the best players from each squad were teammates on Imperials Purple, the most loved, feared and copied women’s basketball team of its day.

In the vibrant world of Japanese American basketball, the Imperials of a certain era were a blend of Showtime Lakers and John Wooden-era UCLA Bruins. Only perhaps even a little more dominant.

“I always knew we were going to win,” said Stacey Honda, an Imperial during that era and after. “It was just a matter of what the score was going to be.”

Yet winning wasn’t even the biggest thing about them.

An Imperials game was an event. Grandmas, babies, mothers, fathers, cousins, siblings, friends – everyone an Imperial player knew might turn out to watch.

In an era when Asian kids sometimes faced hostility and exclusion, the Imperials competed with other basketball teams – and against expectations and bias that everyone cheering for them knew well.

They beat those too.

“Basketball gave the young Japanese girls confidence,” said longtime player Diane Okazaki.

“It was something inside,” she added.

“I could feel it. It gave you confidence in life.”

A WEDDING OR SOMETHING BIG? 

Before 2003, when she was named coach of the women’s basketball team at Chapman University, before she was a star player at Cal State Los Angeles and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the early 1990s – even before she got married, in April 1993 – Carol Jue was an Imperial.

The team was so important to Jue that she scheduled her wedding for just after the season ended. And as Jue and others played recently in Huntington Beach, it was clear Jue remains connected to the game.

“For us, for all these women,” Jue began, waving at the court, “basketball is a way of life.”

It’s a way of life for their community too.

For decades before the Imperials peaked, American immigrants from Japan – then mostly shut out of white culture – formed dozens of basketball leagues in Japanese-only communities up and down the West Coast.

The leagues initially focused on sumo and baseball, sports the first wave of arrivals learned in Japan. But by World War II, basketball was popular too.

They played hoops as prisoners in Japanese internment camps, and they kept playing it in the decades after, when they were a fast-climbing ethnic group that was moving out of segregated communities that thrived before the war. (READ FULL STORY HERE).

INSIDE J.J. REDICK’S OBSESSIVE QUEST TO MAKE EVERY SHOT HE TAKES

In SB Nation on April 12, 2016 at 11:29 am
Photo courtesy of Harry How/Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Harry How/Getty Images

J.J. Redick doesn’t wait. As DeAndre Jordan swats the opening tip to the Clippers, Redick dashes across the baseline as if gold awaits on the other side. Within seconds, he bolts past his defender to knock down a pull-up jump-shot against the Cavaliers on March 13.

“He’s a freak of nature,” said Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson, Redick’s former Magic teammate. “I can’t think of one person that’s in better shape than J.J.”

Redick soon nets nine of L.A’s first 14 points, as he squeezes into the lane for a floater, drills another shot off the dribble and then pops a three in the corner.

Ten years into his NBA career, Redick has evolved into a more dynamic shooter, matching a career-best 16.4 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists a night. He has a blistering 47.5 percent from three and 47.9 percent from the field as the glue of the playoff-bound Clippers.

That’s because with every shot he releases and every drill he completes, Redick increases expectations for himself. He must exceed his output each time he steps on the floor.

“I think one of my strengths is just being adaptable,” Redick said before a Saturday morning practice at the team’s Playa Vista facility in late March. “I’ve had a lot of different roles in this league. Even within the same organization, year to year, your role can change. I think my mind set is always starting with self responsibility of working to get better and improve myself, but also figuring out each year: how do I help whatever team I’m on win games?”

* * *

Every Sunday afternoon in the offseason is the same for J.J. Redick. The third-year Clipper shuttles across the perimeter at full speed, mandating himself to make 140 spot-up two-pointers and 140 spot-up three-pointers. Specifically, he must make 20 shots at seven different spots on the court, one after the other. Next, imagining a hand in his face, he must make 42 pull-up jumpers off the dribble: 21 to the right, 21 to the left. Draining 20 free throws, the drill stretches to 342 total makes.

Redick, whose offseason routine includes working out six days a week and not traveling after he starts his basketball workouts in mid-July, can be a perfectionist.

“It’s more OCD. I’m pretty obsessive about things,” Redick said. He expects himself to shoot 80 to 90 percent in the Sunday drill, no excuses. “I don’t take a shot unless I expect to make it. I expect to make every shot I take,” Redick said.

While on the Magic, he’d come to practice early to drill all types of shots: floaters, pull-ups, step-backs, moving into each shot as if he were in a real game and he was running wide in transition.

“I remember he would kick the ball across the entire court,” Anderson said. “It would hit the other wall and everybody would look over, and you’d be like, ‘Oh, it’s just J.J. He might’ve missed one out of like 30.’” (READ FULL STORY HERE).