Ware shines against NBA stars Harden, Smith in Drew League

LBSU guard scores 34 points for Hank Cheaters II in first-round playoff win over the Kings of L.A.

Stefan Agregado | Daily 49er

Senior Casper Ware, right, jocks for position with Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden, left, on Saturday at Washington Park gym in Los Angeles.

Manny Diaz, Staff Writer

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LOS ANGELES — Long Beach State point guard Casper Ware might not be in the NBA just yet, but he proved Saturday why he is the Drew League’s 2011 regular-season most valuable player.

Ware guided his No. 3-seeded Hank’s Cheaters II to a 99-95 first-round playoff victory over a No. 6 Kings of L.A. team led by the NBA tandem of James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks.

“It feels good to get MVP in a league like this, with all the players here,” said Ware, who poured in a team-high 34 points at Washington Park gym.

The 5-10 senior guard from LBSU went 10 of 22 from the field, including 4 of 9 from 3-point range and 10 of 11 from the free-throw line in just under 30 minutes of play.

Harden finished the game with a game-high 37 points and eight rebounds, while Smith collected 28 points and eight rebounds.

Both Harden and Smith declined repeated requests to comment while visibly upset with the outcome of the contest.

The game seemed as if was going to be an uphill-battle for Hank’s Cheaters II in the first half, with the Kings of L.A. leading by as many as 13 points before the lead was cut to six at halftime.

However, both NBA stars, namely Harden, the third overall pick in the first round of 2009 NBA Draft, faded down the stretch as he missed three key free throws in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter.

Before the missed free throws, Harden hit 11 of his first 12 attempts.

A few possessions later, Hank’s Cheaters II capitalized on one their own free-throw opportunities as they took the lead for good with 45 seconds left in the game.

“My dad tells me all the time, free throws win the game, and we made them,” said Ware, who willed his team back into the game after several key drives to the paint against Harden late in the first half.

The surprise of the game came from 49ers forward Dan Jennings, who beat Smith out for clutch rebounds, and came up with big plays against the 2005 NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion.

A junior transfer from West Virginia, Jennings picked up steam as the second half went on, while Smith, who averaged 16.5 points with the Hawks last season, began to look tired.

Jennings, who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, threw down an emphatic two-handed dunk off a turnover from Harden to change the momentum in Hank’s Cheater’s II favor.

Following the play, George Preciado, also known as the “Voice of the Drew League” screamed “Dan Jennings! Making a name for himself in the 2011 playoffs!”

“That’s what I do, I come out here and play hard,” said Jennings, who is red shirting for LBSU next season due to NCAA transfer rules. “I’m just happy we got the win. It felt good. … Josh Smith is a player I’ve watched growing up … a very athletic player.”

Along with Jennings, Ware’s younger brother Ervin Ware also had a standout performance, matching Smith with six 3-pointers of his own as he finished with 22 points and four assists.

Like Casper, Ervin is a fan-favorite, and has earned the nickname “Big Swerve,” which Preciado used often over the loudspeaker.

Referees called a tight game and weren’t taking any lip, handing out a total of six technical fouls, including one to Harden, and one to Ervin and fellow teammate LBSU forward Edis Dervisevic.

Dervisevic finished with five points and four rebounds in just under 15 minutes of play.

The game was also broadcast live on the Internet, with more than 20,000 people tuning in at digitaldreamsvideo.biz.

Hank’s Cheater’s II will meet Team C.O.A. in the quarterfinal round on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Washington Park gym. Team C.O.A. is led by forward Craig Smith of the Los Angeles Clippers and guard Marcus Banks, who played for the New Orleans Hornets last season.  

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