Friday, June 19, 2015

AND 1 Looking To Go Grassroots In Return

Once purely the flashiest streetball attire of the 1990s, And 1 is on the verge of a triumphant return.

The product rose to prominence in the 1990s, emblematic of the streetball culture. The original white t-shirts were indicative of the flash, pizzaz, and trash talk sprinkled on blacktops across America.

They were to be worn strictly by those with game, those containing enough silky-smooth handles and moist jumpers and the hiked up defensive aggression to pull off the one-liners on the back.

The graphic t-shirt brand skyrocketed in popularity. An abundance of those with game steadily began flaunting their gear. While the slogans and trash talk gave And 1 an identity and a unique swagger, the shorts and cutoffs and kicks and socks would soon follow.

Stephon Marbury, once a prodigious schoolboy talent out of Coney Island's fabled Lincoln High, emerged as the company's first spokesman.

At the time, Marbury was thriving as a hard-driving, deft passing guard blessed with a killer crossover. The muscle-bound guard formed a blossoming 1-2 punch with Kevin Garnett.

They were two of the league's prominent stars, representing a promising youth movement in Minnesota. An ego battle changed the course, with the internal strife eventually setting the two apart.

The And 1 product drove deeper into the NBA scene, with commercials featuring Latrell Spreewell and a host of other NBAers of that late-1990s heyday.

 The And 1 mixtape, featuring iconic asphalt legends such as Rafer "Skip To My Lou" Alston and The Professor, solidifed And 1's pure streetball presence.

Now And 1 is taking a different approach, establishing a rapport with the NYC prep scene.

"They seem to be changing their approach from the streetball concept, they're going more into the grass-roots circuit, trying to alter their image," said Rob Phelps, one of the city's most lethal scoring threats during his Nazareth High heyday (2,477 career points) and currently the head coach of Bedford Academy in Brooklyn.

"They were really into the whole streetball concept when they emerged. There was the white t-shirts, there was the sneakers. That was their foundation. It's a whole different concept now."

Bedford, an academically-enriched and guard-geared program moving up to the PSAL-AA ranks following a 20-win campaign in A, is stoked about a partnership with the household name brand.

"Our focus here at Bedford is academics and doing things the right way," said Phelps, who operates a 12-month program that includes team camps and Scrimmage Wars.

Phelps makes team workouts a livelihood, doing everything in his power to sidestep the AAU process.

"We've been looking for an opportunity like this for a while. It has a lot of resonance with me because everyone sported And-1 attire during my day. It was the go-to product if you played ball. They had Steph (Marbury) representing them. They had Spreewell. They had (former Orlando Magic guard) Darrell Armstrong. They even had my man (former Providence teammate) Austin Croshere representing them."

And 1's resurgence occurs during a time of ascension for Bedford. They return one of the most unheralded, prolific guards in the city in Anthony "Mook" Munson, a Division-I talent identified by harassing defense.

During the 2014-15 campaign, Munson's game levitated during heightened moments against stiffer competition.

He scored 25 points, tore down eight rebounds and had four blocks,  taking home MVP honors of the Francis Lewis MLK tournament. During a semifinal game against Springfield, the 6-foot-3 Munson had 18 points and ripped a team-best nine boards.

Beyond Munson, Bedford returns a young nucleus, including another defensive catalyst in pesky Anthony Gibbs. Both have played significant varsity minutes the past three seasons.

Romello Ford, a smooth left-handed guard, showed promise. The trio of Munson, Gibbs, and Ford has formed a basketball clique, having played together since youth days with the Staten Island Ironmen. This upcoming season will be a culmination of roughly 10 years playing together, this time against the city's top dogs.

As is par for the course, Bedford will gear up for the grind of the summer with Dean Street. A number of the city's premiere powers--Lincoln, Christ The King, St. Raymond's, and Wings Academy to name a few--will compete in the annual summer event.