Scoring points back at home


Hundreds turned out at West Baltimore's sun-splashed Cloverdale Courts yesterday as NBA star Carmelo Anthony returned to host a youth tournament and family day in the park where he played growing up.

The Denver Nuggets forward cheered participants in his three-on-three basketball tournament from a folding chair under the backboard and cut up with old friends after arriving on a tour bus. Later, he softly answered questions from the dozen or so local and national reporters, with his fiancee, MTV personality La La, at his side.

"When I grew up, we didn't have events like this," Anthony said, adding that he used to walk to Cloverdale and play on the weekends. Now, he said, on the same day that he agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract extension, he still misses things about Baltimore, including "just being able to sit on the steps outside my house."

The Melo's HOOD Movement 3on3 Challenge, now in its second year, is part of an effort by the Nuggets star to improve his image with positive messages after his appearance in the now infamous Stop Snitching DVD. On the video, others appeared to threaten the lives of those who snitched to police about drug dealing in Baltimore.

HOOD stands for Holding Our Own Destiny, and Anthony said he hopes events such as this one send a different message than the DVD that marred his image in 2004. "I just want kids to realize their own destiny," he said.

While appreciative of his presence, many of those at the tournament said they are Saturday regulars at the courts at Cloverdale Avenue and McCulloh Street - site of a neighborhood-run league for decades. The fiercely competitive league also has produced the likes of Sam Cassell of the L.A. Clippers and former New York Knicks player Ken Bannister, while also providing a community gathering spot.

"If you wanted to see anybody ... you came here," said Kevin Liles, the Warner Music Group executive vice president who grew up in Baltimore before Anthony but became friends with him after both achieved prominence.

Yale Heights residents Norman Peace and his wife, Veronica "Bunnie" Peace, are among those who are regularly at the park on summer weekends. They sat in their red-white-and-blue festival chairs in their usual spot, on a hill overlooking the court where their son, Matthew Crawley, 8, soon had a game.

The two said they were glad Anthony had returned to sponsor the tournament and family day, which included free games such as the air-filled moon bounce enclosure for children, as well as radio station 92Q's pumping, live-from-the-site music.

"This is a blessing," Bunnie Peace said as she looked out over the crowd of young men and women, all dressed in colorful uniform T-shirts donated for the day. "So many people come out for him."

Anthony wore a cap emblazoned with an M, a white Melo's HOOD Movement T-shirt, green three-quarter length pants, and matching green-red-and-white Nikes. He interacted readily with the crowd, which stretched from courtside bleachers filled with tournament players who loudly cheered and jeered competitors, to a hill above, where many leaned over a fence to watch.

For good shots, Anthony waved a white towel. When player Omar Strong, 16, of the Cloverdale Showtime team pulled far ahead in a timed shooting contest, Anthony leapt from his under-the-basket seat and easily goal-tended Strong's final shot.

"Give me five!" longtime friend Warren Polston of Baltimore ordered, pointing at the ground and feigning disgust.

Anthony complied, producing five quick push-ups on the court.

But most of the action was among those playing. At Cloverdale, the competition is always tough - Carmelo Anthony homecoming or no.

Said Cordell Nock, 16, of the Showtime, "We just want to win."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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