Drew League not just a place for NBA players to stay sharp

Vikram Bodas
Crystal Hogan laughs with other Drew League referees. (Courtesy of the Drew League)

LOS ANGELES — Loud, physical and competitive.

These are some of the aspects of the Drew League that make it the world’s preeminent pro-am offseason destination for NBA superstars to stay sharp in the summer. Just like the NBA standouts that frequent the Los Angeles-based league, referees such as longtime official Crystal Hogan use the unique setting to hone their craft.

“The Drew League is a summer thing, but it’s where we get better at our jobs,” Hogan said after reffing a game last month. “A lot of us officials have gone onto work at higher levels. I have worked junior college, Division III,  Division II and Division I college women’s basketball. I also did the NBA D-League for three years.”

Drew League referees get paid for their work during the summer, but Hogan insists that compensation plays no role in their involvement.

“We get paid, but in all honesty we would all do it for free,” Hogan said. “It’s a way for us to get better. We have to work on our communication skills. Players go practice and referees do the same thing. We go to camps to get better. We also have to effectively communicate with guys out there. As a woman, it can get a little bit difficult.”

Like many refs, the Compton native saw officiating as a means of playing an active role in the game she loved after her playing days were over.

“I played ball at a pretty high level so it was a way for me to stay involved in the game,” Hogan said. “Once I started doing it in high school, I liked it a lot. It was a way for me to stay involved even though I was still playing on the side. It just became a passion and I kept going further and further by going to camps.”

Hogan converses with a player mid-game. (Courtesy of the Drew League)

Hogan, who credits her start in the profession to longtime NBA official Kevin Cutler, was the leading scorer for Compton Community College before transferring to Long Beach State where she received a full scholarship. She graduated in 2000 with two degrees in psychology and criminal justice. With those two impressive degrees in hand, Hogan now enjoys a successful career in law enforcement.

“Even though I ref at a higher level, it’s still just a passion for me,” Hogan said. “I am in law enforcement as a parole agent for my home state of California. I do reffing on the side, but it’s something I truly love to do.”

Although Hogan was quick to point out the role the 44-year-old Drew League plays in helping her and fellow referees improve their on-court skills, she also emphasized the profound impact the league has on the community.

“This is a wonderful environment for kids and for families because it’s free,” Hogan said. “We have Nike security, we have regular security. It has helped our community tremendously as a whole because it’s a safe haven for everyone to come to.”

Longtime director of the the Drew League, Dino Smiley, echoed Hogan’s sentiment and assured fans that the organization would be around for years to come.

“Family, fun, and friends,” Smiley said. “The Drew League will continue to do what we do, serve the community. As we say before, especially being here, there is no theater, there is no bowling alley, things like that, so we are the entertainment for a weekend for three months, and we are tickled to serve the community.”