And 1 streetball tour makes way to Miami

( - The new face of streetball wears baggy shorts and loose-fitting jerseys.

He always sports the latest kicks, because looking good in this world is just as important, if not more, than winning. Hip-hop tracks rule the rotation in his CD changer, and lingo such as "breakin' ankles" and "droppin' dimes" is part of his vocabulary.

These traits are nothing out of the ordinary for streetballers ... until they are attached to a 5-foot-10, 140-pound white guy from suburbia who looks more like the paperboy than the biggest star on the AND 1 Mix Tape Tour. Then again, 20-year-old Grayson Boucher, known as The Professor, still can't believe his ascent to fame, either.

"That's crazy," Boucher said. "I never thought the fans would embrace me the way they have. It was unexpected, you know what I mean? It's unbelievable."

A year after joining the Tour, which stops at AmericanAirlines Arena tonight, Boucher's popularity has risen higher than Vince Carter on a breakaway dunk. Young boys marvel at his dribbling skills. The ladies like his boyish looks. After games, the autograph lines snake around him.

Why all the attention? Aside from his skills, Boucher brings something new, something different to playground basketball, or as he likes to say, "I'm young, I'm white and I got game."

The craze is a product of society's curiosity for the unusual. Tiger Woods did it in golf. Eminem did it in rap music. Boucher's case of breaking the norm is being a white guy with street game. He excels in events played to the beat of hip-hop music, where freestyle rap contests precede tipoff. During games there is an announcer, who rotates wearing wigs that resemble the hairstyles of rappers Ludacris and Andre 3000, walking the court with a microphone, offering commentary. The crowd is mostly urban.

And here in the middle of it is Boucher, who grew up in tiny Keizer, Ore., home to all of one outdoor court. Still, he smiles after blowing by defenders. He throws no-look passes when a simple chest pass would suffice.

"You don't expect a guy like Professor to know how to play ball like that," said Tyrone Evans, known as Alimoe. "He's short, he's white. So when you see him out there, and he's goes around somebody and he looks back at them, you're saying `A white guy isn't supposed to do that.' A white guy isn't supposed to dribble between someone's legs and say `Get up off me.'''

Boucher said, "Now, the definition of streetball has changed to a style of player rather than actually where you played or where you're from."

Boucher gets big ovations during introductions, many fans screaming "Professor, We Love You." He entered Wednesday's game at Tampa midway through first half. It took just a few minutes before he dribbled between the legs of a defender and finished the play with a layup, bringing fans to their feet. Later, he threw an alley-oop pass between his legs -- from halfcourt -- to a teammate nicknamed The Helicopter.

Fans chase the tour bus after games. Women throw phone numbers out. Recently, AND 1 started receiving angry e-mails from followers who weren't getting autographs. So it decided to make Boucher available for an hour after each game. It still hasn't prevented some from going away disappointed.

"I think I reach out to all ages," Boucher said. "I don't see it as me attracting one type of guy. Not just white kids. Not just short kids. It's everybody."

Boucher recently joined mainstay "Hot Sauce" as the prime subjects of AND 1's marketing campaign. Boucher appears on the home page on the Tour's website and is featured in ads in SLAM magazine, The Source and XXL. He has his own shoe. A group of fans Wednesday lined the front row wearing The Professor jerseys, a hot seller at Foot Locker.

"It's really a great storyline," said Lonnie Harrell (aka Prime Objective). "Who would have ever thought? When I first saw him play, they didn't even give him the ball. Now, he's known nationwide. We went to Europe, and they knew him there."

The journey here has been just as unlikely as the story. Basketball is the only sport Boucher ever played, and after an all-state high school career, Boucher was bagging groceries and playing at Chemeketa Community College in Salem. The plan was to later enroll at a four-year university, and he would call his career a success.

But his break came when the Tour hit Portland last year. Boucher competed in the Tour's Open Run, a competition among locals to see who gets to play against the And 1 team. He played well enough to be invited to finish the rest of the Tour. After becoming a favorite among television viewers -- ESPN broadcasts Street Ball: The AND 1 Mix Tape -- he was signed to contract in September. He reached streetball stardom when he hit the winning 3-pointer in an event held at Madison Square Garden in New York.

"It's really been a lot of fun, with all the support," Boucher said. "But a lot of people still hate on me. Everywhere I go, there are people who still think they can beat me. Hey, people still think they can beat Jordan. What can you say?"

By Shandel Richardson
Aug 13, 2004
© Copyright 2004-2005

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