Each year, Isaiah Thomas’ basketball tournament helps fill a void that has been felt in Washington for nearly a decade.
Appearances from local and national basketball stars highlighted the second day of Thomas’ fourth annual Zeke-End on Saturday, giving Tacoma, Seattle and the rest of Washington a small taste of what used to be.
Melanie Jones has volunteered and assisted in preparing the Zeke-End all four years. She said the hunger for basketball in Tacoma is driven by the SuperSonics’ absence.
“We have the Seattle Storm, and they’re great, and I give them 100 percent support, but we don’t have an NBA team, and it’s hard,” Jones said. “Isaiah and Jamal (Crawford) come and give a lot to our communities, and Avery (Bradly) does also. But besides that, our kids are watching players on TV and choosing players that don’t even come to our area.”
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The Seattle SuperSonics played their final game in Key Arena in 2008, but if the scene at Tacoma Community College was any indication, basketball is still vital to the Pacific Northwest.
John Wall, Dejounte Murray, Kelly Olynyk, Terry Rozier and Christian Wood were among the NBA players inside TCC’s new gym Saturday.
Breanna Stewart, the WNBA Rookie of the Year and Seattle Storm forward, also watched. Even Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson stopped by.
Jamal Crawford’s star-filled Pro-Am in Seattle has drawn large crowds in the past. Thomas’ 24-team tournament has added to the attention and exposure given to basketball in his hometown.
Terry Rozier, Thomas’ teammate in Boston, wowed the Tacoma crowd in his Zeke-End debut, drilling turnaround jumpers after knifing through the defense with a series of crossovers. Rozier was accompanied by his brother and manager, Greg Rozier.
Although he didn’t play, Greg soaked in the culture and atmosphere as he watched.
“They need an NBA team here,” Greg said. “There’s a lot of people here that love basketball. You can just look at this and see how many people come out just to watch. ”
Neither brother knew Thomas before Terry was drafted with the 16th pick in the 2015 NBA draft.
“Now, he’s like a big homie, he’s a mentor,” Greg said. “He’s who we look up to. He’s kinda like the big brother in the league.”
Aside from Thomas and Murray, David Crisp and Andrew Andrews were among the Washington Huskies to grace the floor on Saturday. Crisp, a Tacoma native who has competed for two seasons at UW, said he frequently talks to former teammates who made it to the NBA, including Marquese Chriss and Markelle Fultz.
“It’s fun seeing all them guys, they’re at the place I wanna be at,” Crisp said. “It’s cool watching them right now, and hopefully I can play one day against them.”