When writing about Rory Poplion (Delgado CC) last summer when the worst of the pandemic was being realized, I published in Forbes that he was fueling the competitive spirit of New Orleans basketball. Those games in that East New Orleans gym with no air conditioning lasted for hours in the midday summer heat. Coach Shaun Dumas has led the Crescent City Christian team to five straight championship games, winning another title this past season. ESPN chronicled his struggle to lift a program after Hurricane Katrina into a perennial title contender that has become a factory for college talent. 15 recruits in 4 years (16 in 5) with three championship trophies in arguably the most athletic state per capita in the country, that a level of sustained success that few can match.
Dumas and Poplion are top-line professionals in their approach to life and how it translates to being a better basketball player. Whether that Blue Chips-style spot in the East or the now available to a limited capacity Crescent City Christian gym, every pro and college kid with a dream that walked through the door showed an immediate appreciation and respect for both the coaches and the opportunity of the day.
The Opportunity was the Invite Only Open Run. No spectators. Players and family. These games would be more Grindhouse than group hug.
The Open Run Rules:
- No Refs. We all know the 1st rule of pickup hoops.
- Winner Stays On. We All Know the 2nd 1st rule of pickup hoops.
- 10-minute running clock. Stopped in the last minute if close with foul/injury.
- 1 minute between games. Winner better have their cardio up.
Dumas and Rory gave pointers from the sidelines as the music blared from the speakers. The intensity and focus brought by defenders kept the games running crisp, or a team risked getting run straight run off the court. The hoopers in this gym have too much pride in themselves to let that happen.
The first hour was dominated the Kyndall Dykes, Lamar Peters, Tyree Griffin triumvirate. They got walked off the court by the freshest team in the building on a last-second play. After a quick plea to the basketball gods for one more shot to keep the court Dykes, Griffin, and Peters walked off the court laughing like the high school kids that left the court hours ago but now watch from the stands.
Dykes is a well-recognized star on the European Basketball circuits as well as a member of the Palestine National Team. Just last season for Anwil Wloclawek in Poland he was second on the team in scoring, dropping almost 18 per game on 53% FG while grabbing 5 boards. Watching Dykes teach Jaron Pierre the nuances of the game while beating him with another slick professional move on the next possession was like a boxer carrying a student, teaching him with just enough force to not hurt him too bad but also let him know there is still much to learn. At 18, Pierre has the time and could be the next New Orleans player to enter the NBA going by his freshman season at the University of Southern Miss.
Griffin is a USM alum who is years into a professional career that could look a lot like Dykes in another decade. Blazing that trail to the global game keeps adding flames to the fire that Dumas and Poplion are helping to keep alive in these tough times. Peters is seemingly on the fringe of making an NBA breakthrough for the 2021-22 season, having spent time with the Westchester Knicks. His G-League Knicks assists record of 19 in a game may never be broken. Peters averaged 17.8 points, 7.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game, shooting 42% from the field and 40% from three-point range in that shortened G-League season then led Frutti Extra Bursaspor (basketball-mad Turkey) in assists in 2021.
The college kids gave their best shots at the pros the first time around and some showed real promise to follow in their footsteps. Pierre. RayShawn Mart has been very impressive going back to last summer. He is on the path to a European payday and could have the stats to back a claim as the best player ever from Xavier University.
Ryghe Lyons could be a New Orleans version of Draymond Green or Dennis Rodman. It seems almost like he wants to play fair on the court when given his size, skill set, and shooting range, it really is not for so many. Coach him up enough to convince him he has permission to dominate and Nichols State with Latrell Jones could make a Cinderella run in the NCAA Tourney next year.
However those basketball storylines play out in the years to come, there will be no doubt that the successes of many will be built from some small moments in these Open Run events. That’s the culture and legacy of the Poplion and Dumas Open Runs.