Wives, fathers, girlfriends, sons, fiancés, brothers, and old friends surrounded an outdoor basketball court bordered by barbwire to experience the community atmosphere at San Quentin State Prison during its first annual All-Star game. The team picked by Quentin resident Allan McIntosh won 94-87.
“When you guys bring your family in here, that means a lot,” Brian Asey, general manager of the SQ basketball program, said. “You brought in people that you care about to see the people that you care about. It’s a testament to what we’re doing in here.”
Robert “Bishop” Butler, who paroled seven months earlier and visited to attend the game, added, “I spent 13 years on this yard. It’s like a family reunion.”
Butler was one of the four formerly incarcerated men that returned to attend the game.
Community member Griffin Reilly, a former overseas pro, brought his fiancé, Olivia Mountz.
“He (Reilly) told me he could bring family in and I wanted to come and see what he was doing in here,” she said. “I was a little scared at first because of my expectations but it was fun. Everyone was really nice.”
After her outing at the prison, Mountz added that from now on she will have a lot less prejudgment.
Normally when Reilly visits to play basketball at San Quentin, he plays against the Warriors and/or the Kings 40 and over team.
On Oct. 6, members of every community team in the basketball program – Prison Sports Ministry, Imago Dei, Lincoln Hill, Trailblazers, Shoe Palace, Bittermen, SQ Kings and SQ Warriors – were invited to take part in an all-star game, complete with play-by-play announcing and a rap half-time show. The outside community members were allowed to bring family members and girlfriends inside with them to watch friendly rivals suit up to play on the same teams with incarcerated men. Former pros and college hoopers played side-by-side with street ballers.
“It was a dream come true; the best part was that I didn’t know who was free and who was incarcerated,” Geoffrey “Free” Gary (Trailblazers) said. “That’s the dream and beauty of basketball.”
Green Team sponsor Patrick Lacey, a Claremont- McKenna alumni, who brought his mother, father and girlfriend, suited up for McIntosh’s team, the SQ Lakers, although they were coached by Ceasar “C-Money” Mc- Dowell, who normally heckles him every time he plays against the Warriors.
“I’m pumped about this,” Lacey said. “I’ve been playing against these guys for six years. I’m going to set so many screens for (McIntosh).”
“All his (McDowell’s) tough love was just toughing me up for this moment,” Lacob said with a smile on his face then added, “(McIntosh) as a GM would give Bob Myers a run with that team that he put together.”
The other members of the Lakers were David Liss, Jon Williams, Dan Wohl, Nick Newman, Ben Bergsma, Anthony Ammons, Mark Stapp, Steve Lamb, Tom Tunny and Tyrrell Price, Sr.
“We had the school yard picks,” McIntosh said. “The guys I picked were the guys I enjoy playing with. The decision wasn’t talent only.”
SQ King Oris “Pep” Williams, the oldest player on the court at 57, acted as the team captain for the Warriors. As teammates he picked Reilly, Teohn Conner, Erv Anderson, Dejon Joy, Ryan Steer, Jamal Harrison, Damien Crosby, Dominique Thompson, Rafael Cuevas, Ian Ashcraft-Williams, Tevin Fournette and Danny Brown.
For the day, Jeff “Hoov” Heitman (Trailblazers) coached the Warriors.
“It was his first career loss as a coach, but today wasn’t about winning or losing; it was a celebration of the program,” Steer (Trailblazers) said.
However, nobody told the players the game was just a celebration. Both teams played with NBA finals in- tensity, showing out in front of family and friends starting with a basketball skills challenge.
Gary won the skills challenge by dribbling through cones, making a free-throw and throwing passes in the fastest time of 19 seconds.
“That’s because I’m here,” Gemma Mondala, Gary’s lady friend, said.
Gary added, “She’s my inspiration. I’ll be darn if I bring a cutie like that and don’t show out. I have to show what I’m working with.”
In the first quarter, with Reilly, Conner (a former ABA semi pro player) and SQ Warrior Fournette starting, the Warriors appeared to be too much for the Lakers. The Warriors jumped out to a 23- 10 lead.
In the second quarter, the Lakers took the lead by raining three-pointers. Liss (Prison Sports Ministry), and Gary nailed two each. By half-time, the Lakers led 43-42.
“We came out soft,” Patrick Lacey said. “Coach Ceasar yelled at us a bit and we got it going. It was a big comeback – we had to get the win for coach Ceasar.”
At half-time, the formerly incarcerated men who returned as productive citizens spoke.
Danny Cox played for both the Warriors and Kings before paroling five years ago. On the outside he struggled his first two years but read the bible every day and received support from the people he once played basketball against in prison. Now he works at Tesla as a shift leader.
“This program has blessed us immensely,” Cox said. “All these cats don’t just articulate, they demonstrate if we need them. Who does everything they can to come into a prison? They love you, give them love back.”
Timothy “Detroit” Long returned wearing a Detroit Lions jersey. The former SQ King now teaches at Five Keys Charter school.
“It feels great to be back; it gives cats an opportunity to see success from a man who did 26 years,” Long said. “You can get a job. Ain’t nobody out here going to look at you funny.”
As an alarm sounded, Aubra-Lamont “Coocoo” McNeely, a former SQ King, who returned dressed in brand new Jordan basketball sneakers, an Echo hooded shirt and black shorts, emphasized the difference between now and a few years ago.
“I ain’t got to get down no more; that’s over with,” he said, referring to the rule that every incarcerated person has to sit on the ground when an active alarm, signaling that a disturbance is happening somewhere at the prison, sounds.
McNeely advised the guys that they should seek to parole to the San Francisco area because the city offers formerly incarcerated people lots of support. McNeely has two jobs including working for a homeless shelter.
Prison Sports Ministry sponsor Bill Epling commented that his goal is to see everyone who plays for the program parole and never come back. Then he gave Don Smith all the credit for recruiting him to be part of the program.
Smith responded by reminding Epling of the time he blocked his shot.
Larry Blum, of Blum Inc, who donated $7,000 worth of San Quentin Kings and San Quentin Warriors t-shirt to be sold to raise money for the San Quentin Honor Guard and athletic programs attended the game. He proudly wore a San Quentin Kings t-shirt.
As the second half started, Trailblazer Aidan Coffino, sat on the bench wishing an injury didn’t prevent him from playing. Next to him sat his father Michael, who played for City College of New York back in his days.
“I figure I’ve been talking about it for so long,” Coffino said. “It’s one of those experiences you can’t describe. He’s given me basketball and so I’m giving him this day from one basketball lover to the next.”
Michael commented, “This is amazing, inspiring. There’s so much hope in here.”
The hope M. Coffino referred to was evident on the faces of the men serving life sentences yet still included in the community. However, the Warriors’ comeback attempt as hopeless as Wohl, who played pro in Israel, went off in the second half.
The Warriors, who were ahead as much as 15 in the first half, found themselves behind 13 points with under two minutes left in regulation.
Steer nailed a three to close the gap to ten. Then the Warriors fouled to stop the clock as Reilly tried to put them on his back. He scored seven points in the final minutes but the Lakers kept making enough free-throws to keep the lead and win the game.
Reilly led all scorers with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Conner added 16 points and 10 rebounds followed by Fournette with 11 points.
Five Lakers scored in double digits. Wohl scored 20 points with 10 rebounds and 2 assists. McIntosh added 19 points, Liss 16, Lacey 13 points with 13 rebounds and Gary 11 with 8 boards.
“It was a great experience,” Williams, whose team lost, said. “The atmosphere with them bringing their people in was real nice. I’m hoping this is the beginning of a great tradition.”
-Vincent Turner and Gemma Mondala contributed to this story.