The Gym Is Back Open: Part 1: AEBL

By David Cordova

This is part one of a five-part series chronicling five basketball tournaments throughout the nation that Dave’s Joint was able to chronicle this past summer as it came back from a year’s hiatus following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

What can one say about the city of Atlanta? It’s a city where many have migrated and made better lives for themselves. But it’s also a town where many are making things happen, whether it be through sports, music, film or even business. With the 2002 song, “Welcome To Atlanta,” which was performed by Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris, it is the type of song that gets you hyped up to be in the A.

There’s the entertainment culture of the city, but there’s also the basketball culture. The high school scene is one that is rich with high-level talent, especially in areas like Gwinnett County, DeKalb County and Cobb County. On the college basketball scene, you see Division I programs such as Georgia Tech (ACC), Georgia State (Sun Belt), Kennesaw State (Atlantic Sun) and Division II programs such as Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University (SIAC) putting in work and repping the city well. And last, but not least, the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, who recently made noise in the NBA playoffs throughout the summer, making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.

As far as the AAU scene, there are plenty of AAU programs making noise on the sneaker & grassroots circuits, such as the Atlanta Celtics (Adidas 3SSB), Georgia Stars (Nike EYBL), Atlanta Xpress (Under Armour Association), Athletes of Tomorrow (Nike EYBL), The Skill Factory (Nike EYBL), Team Huncho (independent), Team Dickerson (Adidas 3SSB) and others that are pumping out more and more talent each and every year.

During the summertime, unlike many other cities, there’s one place for the community to gather to see great pro-am action. That place is none other than the Atlanta Entertainment Basketball League, otherwise known as the AEBL. From mid-June to mid-August, the action is non-stop at KIPP Atlanta Collegiate High School, which is located in the Westlake section of Atlanta.

When you walk into the school’s gates and walk through those metal detectors, you get a fun atmosphere, it’s the music, the entertainment, but also the competition that makes you hype and sends you home knowing that you’ve been entertained on Saturday’s and Sunday’s. In the 2006 film, “ATL,” T.I. and his buddies gained plenty of pleasure in coming of age at the legendary Cascade’s Skating Rink. If you’re a ballplayer or just love the game of basketball, then this is your Cascade’s, but the only difference with this place is you get to see the action for free in these parts.

Since its inception during the summer of 2013, the tournament, founded by Jahi “Jah” Rawlings, has been a go-to for basketball action in the Peach State. During the Fourth of July Weekend, we got to see some great talent in the gym such as former NBA player Jarrett Jack, Georgia State guard Isaiah Williams, former McDonald’s All-Amerrican Jelan Kendrick, former Georgia State guard Damon Wilson, Jr, .Providence College guard, Aljami Durham, Jr. and former University of Miami forward Kamari Murphy. Later on in the summer, the league got some talented guests from the Atlanta Hawks, such as Brandon Goodwin (who would later be waived), Paul Millsap and Louis Williams.

There were two guests in particular that stood out throughout the summer. Washington Wizards’ forward Montrezl Harrell, a frequent guest in the league who has already won championships, starred with Williams with Winners United, a powerhouse squad who made it all the way to the finals, where they lost to EYA Sports.

The other guest was none other than two-time NBA All-Star and current free agent Isaiah Thomas, who came to the AEBL on July 31st on a mission. In Brighter Days’ 128-111 win over EYA Sports, he came and scored an all-time high of 65 points, which became a legendary performance in the league’s history.

This season, there was also a women’s league, which featured the likes of former WNBA player Tamera “Ty” Young and high school All-American Flau’jae Johnson.

And speaking of women, there is one particular lady that holds weight at the AEBL. Her name is Bria Janelle, the undisputed “Voice of Atlanta,” who has been the emcee at the tournament since the very beginning. When she’s on the mic, she calls a great game and the crowd feeds off of her energy and that in turn leads to a lit atmosphere. Another great part of the AEBL is the DJ’s and their ability to keep the crowd in motion. 

In the past, the tournament has had NBA All-Stars on the court such as Kyrie Irving and Trae Young on the court. This past summer, although they didn’t play, they had Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony “Ant-Man” Edwards and the Hawks’ Sharife Cooper, a second-round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, both of whom are local kids from the area, sitting courtside.

For many years, the tournament has been sponsored by companies such as Nike, Puma, Red Bull, DTLR, V-103, Mountain Dew, Fresh Empire and more. Just like Holcombe Rucker did for the community in Harlem and other areas in New York City, Jahi Rawlings is doing for the city and metropolitan area of Atlanta with events and clinics for the youth. The best thing is, this is only the beginning. There is still so much more to come.

Part two of the five-part series will be on the Hoopsville Summer League in Jersey City, New Jersey, and the basketball culture in the Garden State. There will also be featured stories on other tournaments that we covered such as the Drew League, the Miami Pro League and the Bolden Mack Park Summer League. Stay tuned for more.

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