The third annual 'Props 2 Pops' summer basketball league came to a close this past Saturday, but not before making waves around Salem.
Founded back in 2017 by Witch City's own Coky Espinal, the five-on-five outdoor competition runs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at Palmer Cove Park and features some of the top hoops talent on the North Shore.
This time around, the league was better than ever, jumping from its original slate of six teams with eight players per squad to 10 teams and 10 players per. The final week of the season included an all-star game, slam dunk and 3-point contests, king of the court 1-on-1 competition and a winner-take-all championship clash.
Not only is it a great opportunity for aspiring young hoopsters to hone their skills in the offseason against top tier competition, but perhaps more importantly it keeps teens off the street and gives them a safe and fun outlet three days a week.
"When I started this three years ago that was back when Salem was going through the epidemic with drugs and gangs and all that," said Espinal. "So I said, 'let me create a basketball league where I can have all these kids under our supervision so we know that they're not doing anything bad out there.'
"The coaches that we try to get are like mentors; father figures, brothers," he continued. "To have those kids under their wings not only when they're on the court but outside the court keeping in contact with them and making sure their grades are good and all that, it really serves as a mentoring program, too."
Following a competitive regular season, the top eight teams based on overall record qualified for the playoffs. The final four came down to 'All Lynn', 'L.G.T.M.', 'Royal Blendz' and 'Neighborhood Heroes', with the 'All Lynn' ultimately coming out on top over Jarnel Guzman and the 'Neighborhood Heroes'.
Former Salem High standout Nate Lebron took home the 3-point contest crown after knocking down six consecutive triples to wrap things up. In the dunk contest, St. John's Prep graduate Nate Hobbs threw down a series of jaw dropping jams including a 360 windmill and an ode to Michael Jordan foul line dunk to be dubbed winner. A video of the Vince Carter-esque windmill dunk went viral on popular social media accounts such as House of Highlights and Overtime. Peep the clip below.
Former St. Mary's of Lynn star and Endicott College bound Jalen Echevarria won the king of the court. In the all-star game, which featured a "fantasy" type draft with 20 players taken total, former St. John's Prep standout Will Batchelder helped his team grab the win by going bonkers for 43 points in a 92-76 decision. The smooth shooting guard canned four straight 3-balls at one point and had 27 points by halftime.
All in all it was an exhilarating summer on the blacktop with friends, fans and family alike regularly filling the bleachers and sidelines in support. And next summer, Espinal and Co. will be back at it again.
"We've already set the date for next year and we'll be starting up again on July 1, 2020," said Espinal. "We're looking to take it to another level and go even higher than the 100 players we had this year. It's been growing each year and we want that to continue."
About Props 2 Pops
- The league's name ties into the fact that many of the competing players don't have a father figure in their life; playing for one of the many mentoring coaches helps fill that void.
- To be eligible to play you must be 19 years of age or younger.
- Games are played with 16 minute halves, running time except for the final minute of the first half and final two minutes of second half.
- Should both teams remain tied at the end of regulation a three minute overtime period will be conducted.
- Games are scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights with make up games scheduled in the instance of rain.
- All games are officiated by MIAA referees from surrounding towns such as Peabody, Boston, Revere and Lynn.
- Each team will play nine regular season games with the top eight squads advancing to the playoffs and seeded by record.
- Some notable local players taking part in the league this year included Jarnel Guzman, Mason Baptiste, Jack Rodriguez, Marcus Montagino, Nate Lebron, Edwin Solis, Lyron Bennett, Will Batchelder, Felix Kloman, Kendrick Jean Francois, Jalen Echevarria, Jose Tavares, Robert Wallace, Jalen Aquino, Jhoan Vago, Isaiah Williamson and Toskany Abreu.