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Basketball Pro-Am: Utah-based Powder League booming in third year

Air conditioning is nowhere to be found inside the hot and somewhat cramped gymnasium at Judge Memorial Catholic High in Salt Lake City, but people playing or watching Powder League basketball games on this 95 degree night doesn’t seem to care.

“If you really love basketball, this is where you want to be,” said former University of Utah star Tim Drisdom, who himself is one of the nine Powder League teams, but who is just watching another former Ute, Parker, tonight. Van Dyke, leaves for a league record 85 points for the Berger team.

As Van Dyke’s points pile up and trendy music blares during the action, Drisdom, his brother, and several other strangers bump their chests and grow increasingly animated as they root for the old East High star.

“That’s what we envisioned when we started a few years ago. We are proud of how far we have come. Keep in mind, however, that we still have a long way to go to get to where we want to be. Keegan Rembacz, co-founder of the Powder League

Despite the heat – somewhat muted by large fans circulating air at various strategic locations around the historic site – the scene is lively, energetic and optimistic.

“It’s a billion degrees in here,” laughed former Utah State star Danny Berger. Berger can afford to laugh — he’s the founder of the league’s best team, Team Berger.

On a balcony overlooking the north end of the field, not far from where the late and legendary judging coach Jim Yerkovich used to design game plans in his memorabilia-filled office, the Powder League founders , Neema Namdar and Keegan Rembacz, look on with a sense of pride. and accomplishment.

“That’s what we envisioned when we started a few years ago,” Rembacz said. “We are proud of the progress made. Keep in mind, however, that we still have a long way to go to get to where we want to be.

The Powder League is a nine-team summer pro-am basketball league made up of current and former college stars, a few NBA players, and a fair share of guys — such as Van Dyke and alumni BYU stars Zac Seljaas and Yoeli Childs – who are making a living in the NBA’s G League or playing overseas.

“I would call it a big AAU game for grown men because these games are very competitive,” Namdar likes to say, referring to the traveling All-Star Summer Tour which features youngsters playing in cities such as Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Houston and Atlanta while trying to get the attention of college coaches.

Friends at Sandy’s Alta High years ago, before Rembacz went on a church mission to Spain and Namdar played varsity hoops at Southern Utah, USU-Eastern at Price and Hawaii Pacific University, the duo formed the league in the summer of 2020 during the pandemic and played games that year at a small facility in Lehi.

In the second year, they played games on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at American Preparatory Academy, a charter school in Draper, and had 12 teams.

This year, they decided to move to hipper, more populated Salt Lake City, and found Judge’s old gymnasium a good, perhaps temporary, fit. The founders said Justice Memorial officials were great to work with and they knew the gym didn’t have air conditioning when they signed up.

“We wanted a more centralized location and a place to accommodate the NBA guys who come to play in town because they usually stay in Salt Lake City,” Namdar said. “It’s a place where they can get off the plane and be about 10 minutes from the gym.”

As for the reduction of the league from 12 to nine teams, Namdar said it was not because the players lost interest. On the contrary, they do not want the product to suffer.

“We tried to make the teams more competitive and homogeneous. It really changed the league because you never know who’s going to win every night,” said Namdar, who played professionally in Brazil last winter but plans to play in Europe or the Middle East this fall. Or he could return to Brazil.

Games now take place at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday evenings. Namdar said Friday nights are the busiest, especially when NBA players such as Rayjon Tucker are in action.

“Honestly, for our third year, it’s going well,” Namdar said. “Having him in Salt Lake has been great. I feel like there are more people here. … It’s hot, like the old school AAU games in Vegas, but it makes basketball even more difficult, and everyone is ready to play, staying loose.

Drisdom, who played all three years and was the head coach of Intermountain Christian School for the past five years, said the league has steadily improved.

“They added better players,” said Drisdom, who is leaving ICS. “Except for the heat, I think it’s a good place. The fact that they were able to keep it going (despite) COVID and all of that for the past two years has been really good. I enjoyed playing it and I think it will remain so for a long time.

Last Wednesday, the old American Fork star Tanner Cuff and his Salt Lake Community College teammates (Team Covington) got into a close match with Team Bullock, which had former NBA G League player Kentrell Barkley.

The SLCC Bruins reached the NJCAA National Championship Game last March in Hutchinson, Kansas.

“This league has improved in every way, like advertising, social media, everything,” said Cuff, who will be a sophomore this fall. “All the players have improved, so the competition is better. And there are also more fans. It’s just a good time.

Ahead of his record performance – he was 18 of 27 from 3-point range – Van Dyke said the new site is closer to top players and the league has grown every year to the point that word is spreading beyond Utah.

“It’s pretty impressive how it’s improved every year, not only the competition, the quality of the players, but also the way it’s run, the organization and all that,” Van Dyke said. “It’s only going to get bigger and better, just because the exposure is better. I think there are great players out there who want to be a part of it – NBA guys, guys like that.

Van Dyke leads the league in scoring with an average of 40.4; Seljaas is No. 2 with 30.6 points per game and was the MVP in last Saturday’s All-Star Game.

“Being able to play this summer is great,” said Van Dyke, who is returning to Germany for a second season playing there. “Finding a really good competition to play against in the summer, creating a feeling of play in the summer, that’s hard to do. To have that available is great.

Rembacz says the league is loosely modeled after the Los Angeles-based “Drew League” which attracts not only big crowds, but top-notch NBA talent as well. Superstar LeBron James played there a few weeks ago. The graphic designer and branding consultant said there’s no reason the Powder League – named after the famous Utah snow – couldn’t become something similar.

“You put Donovan Mitchell in a Powder League game, that would be just as packed,” he said. “There would be so many people here it would be crazy. It’s about involving the community to show them that it’s something cool that will improve the basketball culture of the community as a whole.

Rembacz said the nonprofit Powder League’s time would come.

“It’s just a matter of being patient,” he said. “We’re patient because we know what we’re doing works and people love it.”

Now, about that air conditioning.

Tanner Cuff shoots an off-center layup during a Powder League basketball game between Team Covington and Team Bullock at Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City, Utah on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.

Adam Fondren, for the Deseret News

Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion