For college basketball fans, once confetti falls and the “One Shining Moment” song plays at the conclusion of the national championship game, reality sets in that it will be another 6 months before college basketball tips off again. Historically, summer has been a painful waiting period for Aztec hoop heads like myself. Fortunately, since 2019, the Swish Pro-Am League has filled the void with summer basketball entertainment.
The premier summer pro-am league in San Diego County which runs from June 23rd-August 6th at La Jolla Country Day School will feature many current and former Aztec players.
Last summer, Matt Bradley, the coveted transfer from Cal, made his debut in the Swish Pro-Am and social media began buzzing about the talent he was bringing to San Diego State. Watching that game in person, I witnessed a true 3 level scorer and the next great Aztec hooper. Bradley went on to lead his team to a Swish League title and took home MVP honors of the league.
This summer, 13 current players on the 2022-2023 SDSU roster are on teams for the Swish League. The only notable absences are Adam Seiko and Aguek Arop. Most Aztec players will not be playing in the league until they return to campus for 2nd semester summer school which begins on July 5th.
The former players and Aztecs4Life who are on rosters include Trey Pulliam, Devin Watson, Kam Rooks, Skylar Spencer, D.J. Gay, Billy White and Deshawn Stephens.
In addition to Aztec players, Swish showcases the best professionals and college basketball players in San Diego County. Two years ago, Evan Mobley, the 3rd pick in the 2021 NBA draft, was the MVP of Swish and won the championship alongside his brother Isaiah who played at USC and declared for the 2022 NBA draft.
Former college standouts like Evan Fitzner, who played for Saint Mary’s and Indiana, San Diego legend Johnny Dee and Tommy Rutherford, a starter at UC Irvine, have been fixtures in the summer league. Kale Catchings, a Duke transfer portal signee will also be playing.
Steve Lavin, the new coach at little brother USD, has pulled in an impressive haul of college transfers to stock his roster for next year. Among them, transfers Eric Williams Jr. from Oregon and Jaiden Delaire from Stanford are listed on Swish League rosters. The level of competition in the league this summer will be very high and exciting to watch.
The Seeds of Swish League
Kwaku Amaoku, also known as Coach Ku, is the co-founder/CEO of the Swish Foundation and Commissioner of the Swish Pro-Am League. Coach Ku moved to the San Diego area around 1991-1992. He played basketball at San Marcos High and Mira Costa Junior College but had no college offers after he finished JUCO.
A San Diego pro-am league just formed by the father of San Diego high school basketball legend Josh Merrill was the showcase Coach Ku needed to get the attention of college basketball coaches. His play in the summer league led to a full athletic basketball scholarship to Grand Canyon University.
Now Coach Ku is giving back to the community that helped him pursue his college dreams. He co-founded the Swish Pro-Am League in 2019 with Michael Howell whose son Mikey is the all-time leader in assists at UCSD and other son Chris is a redshirt freshman guard at Saint Mary’s.
Howell and Amoaku wanted to create an opportunity for local high-level players to “be able to get the work in in the summer instead of just doing workouts and playing pickup ball at LA Fitness. Good competitive runs against good competitive players.”
Coach Ku would like the pro-am league to have a long existence in the San Diego basketball community. “We’re trying to get this to be something that runs for 40 years. The same thing like the Drew [League in L.A.] or the thing they do in Houston [No Excuses Summer Pro League]” Coach Ku said.
The Swish League is in its 4th season and continues to grow. A 4 team women’s league will debut this year in addition to the 12 team men’s league.
A.Y.B.O. – African Youth Basketball Organization
Coach Ku is also the founder of the African Youth Basketball Organization (AYBO) which has brought several high school and college prospects to the United States from Ghana. Per AYBO’s website, their goal is to give students from Africa “the opportunity to gain high school diplomas and college degrees as well as play the game of basketball at the highest levels.”
Among those players who Coach Ku has helped is current Aztec player Nathan Mensah and former player Joel Mensah who is now playing at Cal State San Marcos.
AYBO holds basketball camps in Ghana to identify young student-athletes who can excel both in the classroom and on the basketball court. Those who are fortunate to be selected and want to participate in the program, receive assistance through AYBO to make the transition to studying and playing basketball in the U.S.
Nathan and Joel Mensah are two prime examples of success the A.Y.B.O has been able to bless in their basketball careers. San Diego’s rich diversity is the perfect atmosphere to embrace this international outreach. But not every player will receive the same notoriety as both Nathan and Joel Mensah.
“There’s a lot of kids that we’v brought here to the U.S. from Africa. Nathan is just the most recognizable because of SDSU being a National program. So they don’t get the same recognition, but there’s a lot of kids out there that we’re trying to help, that have similar stories as Nathan, where they’re just trying to do this for their families.” details Amoaku.
“If anyone knows Nathan, that’s why he’s here, that’s why he’s doing this…he sacrificed a lot to be here and there’s a lot of kids that will do the same.”
For more information about AYBO, read the stories of the youth they are reaching out to or if you would like to make a donation to help their cause, please visit www.aybohoops.com.