Pittsburgh’s top-notch summer basketball league features fierce competition and fun talk

Monday through Thursday afternoons during the summer, Gilmore Cummings goes to A Giving Heart Community Center, a small gym on Climax Street in Allentown, to get ready for the night’s basketball games.

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

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

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

Players in the league vary in stages of their basketball careers, from foreign professionals to those who are not professional basketball but still want to lace up.

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

Some of the best to compete on Western Pennsylvania 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 to A Giving Heart for $5 and see some of the best basketball in the summer leagues from any city. Games are played at 7 p.m., 8 p.m., and 9 p.m. with a mix of NBA, ABA, and FIBA ​​rules in two 20-minute halves.

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

“I’m enjoying every moment, being 35 years old, still able to run around the court and compete and have a great 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’ side Bo-Gang for the previous three seasons. This season, Cummings plays for the Heatmakers alongside rising Penn Hills senior Daemar Kelly.

Kelly’s trainer 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 the summer before their senior year.

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

“It’s made me a lot better at competitive level, grown man strength and height with the pros here,” said Bowles, who recently finished his second season in a redshirt with the Dodge. City Community College (Kan.).

Proof of that is his outstanding senior season with Woodland Hills. According to the school record book, he scored the most points by a Wolverine in a season (693), including a record 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.

League culture boils down to go hard or go home. Each player tries hard as if fighting for the respect of his basketball in front of his peers.

Other teams came on nights they weren’t scheduled to play just to see the games in person.

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

One of the most important aspects of league culture is the opportunity to chat after a win. The DREAM Pro-Am Instagram is filled with highlights from the game, but the most important part is the post-game interviews.

The winning team talks about their victory in an uncensored video that shows their personality.

“That’s where you can see some of the humor in the players,” Cummings said. “After getting a big win and fighting hard, you can say rubbish.”

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

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

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