In Kenner League, D.C. basketball legends may have lost a step, but not their love of the game

By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 17, 2010; D01

Sherman Douglas, 43 years old and not far from his playing weight of 185 pounds, was asking for a shorter pair of shorts. If he was going to run with the kids, the former All-Met Player of the Year, NCAA career assist leader and 12-year NBA veteran needed the right attire.

"I'm an old-school guy," Douglas said last week at Georgetown's McDonough Arena, where he was set to take the floor with the D.C. Legends. "I like medium shorts."

Joining Douglas on the Legends, part of the Nike Pro City Jabbo Kenner League, were former Hoyas star Mark Tillmon, 42, and former Virginia standout Junior Burrough, 36, along with current Hoyas Chris Wright and Henry Sims, among others.

In the nearly 30-year history of the Kenner League, long a summertime home for top area college, high school and pro players, no one remembers a team with such a trio of elder statesmen.

"I decided to give it a try to see where my legs is," said Douglas, who beat out Danny Ferry for The Post's high school player of the year award in 1985 -- before most of his teammates on the Legends were born. "I just want to get out and play a little bit.

"It's not like we're out there and we're getting paid for it. It's fun, it's basketball. These guys are in their 20s. For me to compete with them, run up and down, is ridiculous. I think I can hold my own when I have to, and you have to do it in spurts."

None of the three vets wanted to take the credit (or blame) for coming up with the idea to play in the Kenner League. Douglas, Tillmon and Burrough all play in a 35-and-over league in Largo with Georgetown basketball staffer Darryl Prue. NCAA rules, though, prohibited Prue -- a two-time All-Met forward at Dunbar High in the mid-1980s -- from participating in the Kenner League.

"When [Georgetown Coach] John Thompson [III] called me and said Sherman wanted to play in the league, I said, 'Sherman who?' " league organizer Van Johnson said. "Sure, why not? They can still ball a little bit. But I was surprised to say the least."

Though not as quick or able to jump as high as they once could, the Legends' legends insisted that basketball remains the same sport -- right down to the trash-talking that started between Douglas and an opponent only a few minutes into a game Sunday night.

"When you live in D.C. and play in D.C., it's always going to be competitive," said Douglas, a Spingarn alum. "I've been through that growing up my whole life. It's nothing. When you play, things happen. Whatever level you play, it's always going to be competitive."

During his playing career, Douglas earned the nickname "the General" for his floor leadership as a point guard. He set the NCAA all-time assist record (he's since fallen to sixth) at Syracuse, then averaged 11 points and 5.9 assists over his NBA career. For the D.C. Legends, though, he seemed willing to leave the bulk of the ballhandling to Wright, a rising senior and former three-time All-Met at St. John's.

While Wright and some of the younger players go at a breakneck speed, Douglas, Tillmon and Burrough pick their spots, sometimes willing to run a break, sometimes content to stay at the other end of the court and wait for play to return.

"College guys tend to run up and down the court with their heads cut off like a chicken," said Tillmon, a former All-Met at Gonzaga who is 10th on Georgetown's all-time scoring list. "They don't know when to go fast and when to go slow. That's probably one of the reasons we're playing in this league, to try to help some of the guys learn the pace of the game."

Tillmon called his graying hair "a birthmark."

"I better enjoy it now until the wheels fall off," he said. "Because, pretty soon, I'm not going to be able to do this anymore."

Teachable moments come throughout, as veterans share wisdom on the bench, or in quick conversations when play is stopped.

"You can definitely tell they got the veteran moves; they're not going to blow by you, but they're effective scoring," said guard Ben Hazel, who led Good Counsel in scoring as a senior this season and will be at Princeton in the fall. "They're more coaches on the floor than players."

Hazel, 18, had never before seen Douglas play in person.

"Once I knew he was on my team, I had to YouTube him," Hazel said. "I was like, 'Yeah, he's pretty good. I've got to make sure I step my game up.' "

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