High-end Pittsburgh summer basketball league features fierce competition, fun trash talk

Every Monday through Thursday afternoon during the summer, Gilmore Cummings comes to A Giving Heart Community Center, a small, gritty gym located on Climax Street in Allentown, to prepare for the night’s basketball games.

“I want to build a culture for the pros and college kids here in Pittsburgh,” Cummings said. “There aren’t many big leagues for the pros and college kids to play.”

He founded the DREAM Pro-Am in 2018 along with Averill “Ace” Pippens, his head coach for the Steel City Yellow Jackets, a semi-professional basketball team in the American Basketball Association.

The pro-am’s acronym stands for Discipline, Realize, Excellence, Achieve, Motivation.

The league’s players range in stages of their basketball careers, from overseas professionals to those out of pro basketball but still wanting to lace up.

“(The league is) reach out or invitation only, and it’s as far as I’m going to go,” Cummings said. “I want the best league and the best of the best competing.”

Some of the best to competed on Western Pennsylvania’s high school and college teams such as Ashton Gibbs, DeJuan Blair, DeAndre Kane, Matty McConnell, Mike Young Jr. and Lance Jeter have played in the league.

Fans can come down to A Giving Heart for $5 and see some of the best basketball in any city’s summer leagues. Games are played at 7, 8, and 9 pm with a mashup of NBA, ABA and FIBA ​​rules in two 20-minute halves.

Most players in the DREAM Pro-Am have played since the league’s inception, such as Gerald “Scoot” Warrick III, a member of 2004 PIAA champion Penn Hills.

“I’m enjoying every moment, being 35 years old, still able to run up and down the court and compete and have a good time,” said Warrick, who plays for the Harlem Wizards and has played overseas. “Let the kids see how the pros do it.”

Warrick played for Cummings’ team, Bo-Gang, for the previous three seasons. This season, Cummings plays for the Heatmakers alongside a rising senior at Penn Hills, Daemar Kelly.

Kelly’s coach at Penn Hills, Chris Giles, played in the DREAM Pro-Am in 2020.

High school players are rare in the league. Cummings limited entry to players in the summer before their senior year.

It was just in time for his cousin, Keandre Bowles, the second all-time scorer at Woodland Hills with 1,240 points, to join the league.

“It made me a lot better just as far as the competition level, the grown-man strength and the height with the pros in here,” said Bowles, who recently finished his redshirt sophomore season with Dodge City Community College (Kan.).

The proof is in his outstanding senior season with Woodland Hills. According to the school’s record books, he scored the most points by a Wolverine in a season (693), including a program-high 43 points against McKeesport in January 2019.

Bowles is on RNDRT with the league’s other rising senior, Brandon Davis of defending WPIAL champion Laurel Highlands.

The league’s culture is summed up as go hard or go home. Every player gives effort like they’re fighting for their basketball respect in front of their peers.

Other teams would come down on nights they aren’t scheduled to play just to see the games in person.

“We’ve got good teams coming out and playing good teams. It makes other teams come out to watch the great games,” Cummings said. “We got the fans, the video and the bragging rights.”

One of the featured parts of the league’s culture is the opportunity to trash talk after a victory. The DREAM Pro-Am’s Instagram is filled with game highlights, but the most significant part is the postgame interviews.

The winning team gets to talk about its victory in an uncensored video that shows their personality.

“That’s where you can see some of the players’ humor,” Cummings said. “After you won a big victory and fought hard, you get to talk trash.”

Cummings said his goal for the DREAM Pro-Am is to show the world that Pittsburgh has players and share Western Pennsylvania basketball culture worldwide. He’s excited about the playoffs starting this week in the league’s most competitive year yet.

“It’s a fun atmosphere, fun that you could bring your family down. We’ve got food and snacks,” Cummings said. “If you want to see good basketball, come down to A Giving Heart.”

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