Walking into the Drew League in Los Angeles, you might recognize some of the top Southern California-based high school, college and overseas professional basketball talent.
Over the years, the league has become one of the top summer pro-ams in the country where players from around the world come to compete against elite competition. Among them, there is always a steady trickling of NBA players, mostly the ones who grew up locally.
Although there is usually a revolving door of NBA players from summer to summer, there has been one mainstay each season. If you’ve ever attended any games or followed along with highlights on social media, you’ve almost certainly recognized the 6’7 frame of Montrezl Harrell.
Whether it’s a rim-shaking dunk off a lob or a baseline drive and finish, Harrell has been all over the Drew League highlights. Ever since he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in the Chris Paul trade back in 2017, he’s been a regular at the Drew.
He walks in and is just a regular guy. He doesn’t have the security detail or the camera crews or any of that. He stops and pauses for every fan who wants to take a picture or get an autograph. And when he hits the court, he’s the same competitor that he is in the NBA.
The NBA offseason is usually a time of rest and relaxation for most players. Sure they get their workouts in and whatnot, but summer pro-ams aren’t exactly on their do-to list. The Drew isn’t the only summer pro league that Harrell has played in; he’s made the trek all over the country to the AEBL in Atlanta, the Miami Pro League, the Queen City Pro-Am in Charlotte, Venice Beach in California, Dyckman in New York, and The Crawsover in Seattle.
It sets him apart from most other NBA guys and as he says, he isn’t like most of them.
“I’m a little bit different, I don’t really take time off. At the end of the day you don’t really get a lot of time in this game,” Harrell told Basketball Insiders. “It goes by really fast, before you know it, it’s been eight years, we all try to stay around it. I just use the summer to work out and continue to get better and develop.”
Harrell first played at the Drew League during the summer of 2017 when the Houston Rockets traded him to the Clippers along with Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Sam Dekker in exchange for Paul. It was that summer when he began to immerse himself in the LA basketball scene.
When he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 offseason, it allowed him to continue to build roots in a city that had embraced him. But the NBA is business, and sometimes players don’t get to stay in familiar places for long.
After a first-round playoff loss to the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers were looking to make major changes and Harrell found himself a part of that. He didn’t play much during that series and he ended up being shipped off to the Washington Wizards along with Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell Pope for star point guard Russell Westbrook.
It’s not like he wasn’t prepared for change though. After all, he’d been through it before when the Rockets discarded him and then the Clippers decided to move on from him after the bubble season.
“Honestly, trades are always coming on. I was in one early on to come out here to LA so I’m not surprised being in one that sent me away from LA,” Harrell said. “It’s a part of the business. Like I tell people if you’re not one of the set group of five to ten guys that can kind of pick where you’re going to go, everybody in this league is tradeable.”
While Harrell has called Los Angeles home for the past five seasons, heading to Washington D.C. is a homecoming of sorts for him. Harrell grew up in North Carolina and attended Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia for high school. He played college basketball at Louisville and when he was drafted by the Rockets in 2015, it was the farthest away from home he’d been.
One of the biggest things he’s looking forward to playing for the Wizards is being closer to his family. The commute to D.C. is only a couple of hours and he’s excited to get to have his children and the rest of his family able to come to see him play more often.
“It’s great, just to be back home and having my family come to a lot more games. They’ve been to a couple of games on this side with me out here playing for the Clippers and Lakers,” Harrell said. “Now with me being only about two and a half to three hours close to home, they’re going to be at a lot more games, I can’t wait. My dad, my mom, my kids, it’s going to get big.”
Since he’s been in the NBA, Harrell has carved out a niche for himself as a tough and rugged forward who is active in the paint and doesn’t mind doing the dirty work. He can score when he needs to, he’s a force on the glass and he brings the type of energy and intensity that’s made him one of the top reserves in the league.
He’s worked on expanding his game, however. He uses the summer to get better and he often shows off what he’s been working on while playing at the Drew League. One of the aspects of his game that he’s been improving on is his shooting both from midrange and from the three-point line.
He’s always been one of the best in the league at moving without the ball and getting free in the dunker spot, but he’s been working on being more effective with the ball in his hands. He was confident that he’ll be able to utilize some of those skills in the Wizards offense throughout the season.
“It’s a whole new opportunity, it’s a whole different system. There’s a new coaching staff, it’s a brand new opportunity and I have a fresh start,” Harrell said. “I can’t wait to be able to just open up and be free again.”
So far, Harrell has been one of the most productive players on the Wizards while helping lead them to one of the best records in the NBA. He’s putting up 18.3 points per game, the second-highest mark in his career since his last season with the Clippers in 2020 when he averaged 18.6 points.
His 9.3 rebounds per game is a career-high and his 64 percent shooting from the field is the third-highest percentage for his career. He’s playing 29.6 minutes per game which is also a career-high.
Before he left Los Angeles to head to his new beginning in Washington, he wanted Wizards fans and his new teammates to know just exactly the type of player they were getting. He did not doubt that he would fit in well.
“I feel like I can play with anybody, I’m going to play my role. Whatever coach asks me to do, whatever we need to do to win the game,” Harrell said. “I’m pretty sure the coaches are going to put me in a great role and a good position to succeed, and that’s what I have faith in. I’m looking to go down there and just play with the high motor and the high level that I do now, and just carry it over.”
And with the Wizards being one of the top teams in the league behind his play, it appears that Harrell has done just that.