Los Angeles Lakers: South Central Los Angeles

"The L.A. In My Game," with Dorell Wright

July, 24, 2011
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
As part of a continuing series, NBA players share the various ways growing up in L.A. shaped their games.

There are natural athletes. There are natural athletes who take an unusual path to the NBA. And then there is Golden State Warriors forward and South Los Angeles product Dorell Wright. To put Wright's athleticism in perspective, he didn't take basketball seriously until the 11th grade. Before that, he was passionate about making the big leagues, and even transferred from Washington High School to Leuzinger for its baseball program. A casual invite to meet the basketball coach eventually resulted in a change of athletic priorities. After graduating from Leuzinger, Wright did another senior year at South Kent School, a Connecticut prep school. But rather than better prepare him as planned for the transition to college, South Kent was Wright's last stop before jumping straight to the NBA.

Andy Kamenetzky: Where did you grow up playing?

Dorell Wright: St. Andrew's Park. It was a crazy scene. They were real big on their basketball program down there. We had a lot of guys that went to college. We had a few guys that went to the NBA come out of there. Hassan Adams. Rayshawn Reed. We was probably the three biggest names that came out of there around our age.

Gary Dineen/Getty Images
Dorell Wright became a high school phenom despite not getting serious about basketball until his junior year.

It was definitely tough. Inner-city kids. It's very physical, very competitive. Everybody wants to win. Every year, it was different players coming from different places, because they knew how good the league was and the competition they'd get. We'd go to the different playoffs [between parks] and we're always in the finals or the final four every year.

AK: Do you remember the first eye-opening experience of how physical the play was?

DW: The first game I ever played there, I got fouled hard as heck and hit the ground hard. I knew it was gonna be tough and you had to bring your game every single day. And this is with me being 8 or 9. That first game, I already knew.

AK: You've talked in the past about friends who got caught up in the gangs and violence. How challenging was it to stay on the right track?

DW: It's very tough. I was blessed to have great parents around and to keep me focused and active with baseball, basketball and football. It seemed like I was never staying still. I had a few hours with my friends, but the majority of time I was either working on my game or practicing or at a game.

I'll say one thing about L.A. streets: The streets, they're calling. You see your friends and peers out there, hanging out, things like that. Sometimes it's peer pressure to hang out and be cool just like them. But my mom and dad did a great job just keeping me focused and on the right path. Trying to see bigger things than just being here in L.A. and staying here my whole life in South Central and the inner city.

AK: You were initially much more into baseball than basketball. At what point did basketball become your focus?

DW: Basketball really became serious once I got to Leuzinger High School. I didn't play ninth and 10th grade at Washington just because of my grades and stuff. I was never eligible for basketball. For some reason, I was always eligible for baseball. I knew how much my dad wanted me to play baseball, so I was a little more serious. (Laughs.)

Eleventh grade, I had a subpar year. Averaged like 18 points my first time ever playing on varsity. In 12th grade, we got a new coach, Reggie Morris. He took me to different gyms to work out, so I was spending more time on my game. I averaged 24 points that year, so I felt myself getting better. I was getting a lot of attention from different colleges. Once that happened, I was like, "I might want to do this basketball." I was thinking I could go to some college. This is when Fresno State, Long Beach State, Northern Iowa, all these mid-majors were recruiting me. Not really heavy schools until I got to prep school. It was still not really clicking to me that I could go to the NBA.

AK: Ironically, you transferred to Leuzinger for the baseball program.

DW: Yeah, this is a funny story. We were so bad at Washington. We won one game in two years. My dad was like, "Oh, no. We're out of here!" I was gonna go to Serra in Gardena, but I didn't get a high enough score on the test. So the baseball coach from Serra introduced me to [Joel Romero] the baseball coach from Leuzinger. I decided to go to Leuzinger. Well, my dad decided I was gonna go Leuzinger. (Laughs.)

The first day of school, Coach Romero, we were walking to class and he was like, "The basketball coach is right there. You wanna meet him?" I was like, "Nah," because the previous two years, I wasn't able to play at Washington. "I'm just here to focus on baseball and that's it." He was like, "I'm just gonna let you meet him." So I was like, "All right. Whatever. I'll meet him."

His name was Coach Showalter. He was like, "We're gonna have open gym at the end of the week." I went and just completely killed the whole open gym. I was clearly the best player in there and I was, "You know what? I think I will play."

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The "L.A. in my Game," with Craig Smith

June, 8, 2011
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
As part of a continuing series, NBA players share the various ways growing up in L.A. shaped their game.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Craig Smith moved from South Central L.A. to the Miracle Mile area as a young kid. As a result, the Fairfax High School legend spent a lot of time playing ball on that side of town. In particular, he practically lived at places like Pan Pacific Park or Robertson Park (the latter with no less than current Wizard and fellow Angeleno Nick Young). On the surface, spots like these feel like a far cry from some of the presumably tougher courts around Los Angeles, but as Smith explained, don't judge a court by its zip code.

Andy Kamenetzky: Pan Pacific isn't necessarily a court people would naturally picture as potentially rough like a court in Watts or Compton. Is it tougher than it looks?

Juan Ocampo/NBAE/Getty Images
When Craig Smith was traded to the Clippers, it took the L.A. native full circle in his basketball life.

Craig Smith: Well, the new "Pan" is the one on Beverly. Everyone doesn't know about the old one that was close to Third and Gardner where they put in a senior citizen's home. Basically, it's like telling two totally different tales. Back in the day, Pan and St. Andrews (another Smith favorite, but much further south) were difficult and pretty physical. We were playing against some gang members who thought they can play basketball and other guys who enjoyed to play at the same time. So it would be a lot of arguing and a lot of physical toughness.

I played everywhere, though. I've lived in Compton when I was younger. I've lived in South Central. My mom was fortunate enough to upgrade her job to support us and put us in a nice situation. But I still had to fight my way against gang members. Nothing was easy.

AK: When you were playing in St. Andrews and Pan Pacific, were you typically among the younger guys?

CS: Yeah, I was definitely one of the younger players and there were a lot of guys who played collegiate ball or a couple of years in the NBA who came from St. Andrews Park as well. Hassan Adams. Brandon Heath, who went to San Diego State. There were a ton of guys coming into West L.A. There were a lot of guys who did D-1 and college. But everybody knows, the league isn't for everybody.

AK: Were there any locals you patterned your game after?

CS: I would say in the mold of Schea Cotton. He always a small dude, kind of like a (Charles) Barkley type. Those guys, they paved the gateway for us coming from toughness and coming from tough streets.

AK: Do you remember the first time you saw Schea play in person?

CS: Yeah, I was kind of overwhelmed. I was seeing somebody that was out there determined to try to be the best player on the floor. That experience in came out with always trying to put yourself in the best position possible and know this is a competition. And try to best at it in every aspect.

AK: Can you about the influence Fairfax High School basketball coach Harvey Kitani had on you?

CS: Harvey Kitani showed me how to keep my poise when people are out there talking on the floor. He showed me hard work and what it takes. Me and Harvey used to go back and forth because coming out of junior high, I wouldn't say I was the nicest kid or the kid that wanted the ball the most. I was kind of a bad ass and had a little bit of an attitude problem. But I loved playing the game. Sometimes I was just being hardheaded. He kind of told me the truth about things. Got me (in shape). We had to run to run on the track in September in 80 degree weather. (Laughs)

AK: Did the attitude problem you mentioned come as a result of playing in those rough games and needing to prove your manhood?

CS: Yeah. It's all about proving your manhood. It's kind of like, in a sense, somebody being in jail. You can't ever let them see you sweat. Even though I moved over into West L.A., there wasn't nothing soft about me. I'll always a South Central child, you know?

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Nick Young
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0