CHATHAM — The top women’s pro players from around Chicago got their shot at the Chi-League pro-am on Sunday for the first time in the storied event’s history.
Britney Jones made sure she didn’t miss it.
Jones, a 12-year veteran of European professional basketball, knocked down a clutch corner three pointer to seal the victory for Whitney Young Legends in the semi-final. She finished the play with a menacing grin and a staredown.
“You have to,” Jones said. “You want to put on a show. That’s what the Chi-League is about. It’s a blessing to be able to play here.”
The women’s game has a long history of high-level competition in Chicago, but has often been overlooked by major events like Chi-League and by the big brands pouring money into the city basketball scene. Last weekend — and Sunday’s championship — is an opportunity to pay overdue respects. The pro-am highlights talented local women who can grow the game and serve as role models to young kids of all genders.
“More respect is coming, slowly but surely,” said Linnae Harper, a long-time Hyde Park resident and former Chicago Sky player. “We own our space. We own our time and now’s the time we can come together as women.”
The finals of the women’s bracket (alongside the men’s) will kick off at 1 p.m. Sunday at Chicago State University. Wilson, the new official basketball of the NBA and WNBA, helped sponsor the event in celebration of the WNBA’s 25th anniversary, as the popularity of women’s basketball continues to grow.
Overseas pros Chanise “Trixy J” Jenkins and Mariah King reassembled their old crew from Whitney Young and advanced to Sunday’s championship — with the help of Jones’ big-time shot.
Whitney Young Legends picked up right where they left off in high school, running their signature and suffocating full-court press with keen execution and attention to detail.
“We’ve been doing it since AAU days. And we still got it, apparently,” King said. “We don’t really get a lot of exposure out here. So this is a big start for us. To get our names out there, to get our talent out there, to have people come out and watch.”
The four teams that competed in last weekend’s semi-final put on an electrifying performance in the fundamentals: pinpoint passing, skillful dribbling, smart teamwork.
Mac Irvin III, coach of the famous Mac Irvin Fire AAU program, had his Whitney Young Legends run intricate plays, in contrast to the looser men’s pro-am style that often leans on overzealous individualism.
“We always stress structure,” Irvin III said. “Women, you have the athleticism, but you don’t have the dunking and all that stuff. So women are more fundamentally sound. They don’t have to try to jump over people and do all that crazy stuff. They’re always making the right plays.”
Irvin III flashed a diamond Whitney Young state championship ring. It’s one of three that his wife, Corey Irvin, won during her time as head coach of the Dolphins. Together, the Irvins have women’s basketball in Chicago covered all year-round. Corey Irvin was excited to introduce their young sons to some of her former players, who often don’t get the chance to perform in front of the home crowd.
“It makes me feel really old, but it’s kind of fun watching them, just watching where they at now. And just to see them still having fun,” Irvin said. “The sport knows no gender. None at all.”
The Irvins gave Chanise Jenkins her nickname, “Trixy J,” back in the day. Jenkins is now preparing to play in Hungary for her seventh professional season, but first stuck around at Chi-League to comfortably win the three-point contest. She lived up to the skills that got her the nickname — on the court, and on the dance floor as well.
“The women’s game in Chicago has always been dominant,” Jenkins said. “All we need is to be able to put it on the map.”
Harper’s team, THK Crew, cruised in their semi-final matchup against ASWBL, setting up the championship this Sunday against Whitney Young Legends.
Ana Sierra, captain of the ASWBL team, said it’s all love. Sierra has helped grow the women’s game in Chicago through her own initiative, establishing ASWBL (Ana Sierra Women’s Basketball League) as the first women’s pro league in the city. They’ve gained traction, signed up more teams and now host clinics for young girls looking to play.
“It’s about just being able to be recognized. Building platforms for us as well,” Sierra said. “Women hoop too. That’s my slogan. Girls hoop too, women hoop too.”
Harper is getting ready for her pro season in Puerto Rico next year, but hopes to work her way back to the WNBA. At the pro-am, she had the chance to put Chicago on notice, winning “Player Of The Week” honors to go along with 13 points.
Harper’s jersey was a size too small, but the chip on her shoulder is oversized.
“Next week, we turn it up a notch,” Harper said.
Check out some more photos from Sunday’s action:
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