In the heat of a penitentiary basketball game, to say things get intense is an understatement. Under the boards and on the court, dudes are battling fiercely for not only their reputations and respect, but also for that momentary escape from the reality of their incarceration. The game, the crowds, the pound... It’s all a stage where a cat with skills and heart can become the man on the compound. In the world of prison basketball, convicts go hard and inmates play scared and get chased back to their cells.
On most pounds, there is usually one player that stands above the rest. His skills, his stature, his popularity, his game... All that is factored in order to determine the unofficial title of the best player on the pound. But sometimes there might be two players who are so evenly matched that the whole compound is split on who the best player is. That is the case here at FCI Gilmer where Darryl “DJ” Hairston and Antonio “Monkee” Rogers pit their skills against each other on the court in what has evolved into a fierce rivalry.
Both DJ and Monkee are vicious and regularly lead their teams into battle. They really go hard, but don’t let me tell it. We can hear it straight from them.
“It’s a great rivalry,” Monkee says.
DJ echoes his sentiment: “It’s one of the best I’ve been involved in. Because of the build up and expectations that are put upon us. It’s nothing for two or three hundred people to tell me they’ll be watching me do my thing when my team plays Monkee’s.”
Both this cats represent to the fullest. Monkee reps Charlotte, North Carolina and has been doing his thing it in the feds for over a decade. He has a reputation as a champion, a proven winner and leader who will make the big shot, entertain the crowd and sink threes all day long. His game is straight Rucker Park with all the behind-the-back, through-the-legs dribbles and little tricks that the spectators love. The man dances down the court with the ball.
DJ on the other hand is newer to the system and younger. He is the up-and-comer attempting to snatch Monkee’s crown. And he’s doing a damn good job of it. With his superior quickness, penetration and graceful athletic moves that appear effortless, DJ looks like he should be in the NBA. His crossover is vicious and once he gets by his man – boom, he’s straight to the rack.
Monkee and DJ play in the Iverson mode. Quick, crafty and fearless scoring guards that lead with their heart and attack the rim like hurricanes smashing into the Florida coastline. But who is the best? If you ask 50 different dudes on the pound you might get a 25-25 split.
“Monkee is the best player,” Danny a vato from Cali says. “He’s won all the championships. He’s the best. End of question.”
DJ’s homeboy Choke digresses: “Man, Monkee can’t fuck with DJ. DJ will take him to school.”
And what do DJ and Monkee think?
“I’m the best player by far.” DJ says. “Everybody in the gym knows Monkee can shoot with the best of them, but I can knock down the three, drive and dish or finish over big guys. I rebound in the top 5, led the league in steals and assists. So I’m a stat-sheet stuffer, you know.”
“I give credit where credit is due, DJ is a good player and I won’t comment on who’s the best," Monkee says. "Popularity, stats don’t matter here. It goes by championships. Just like in the leagues.”
When it comes to championships, Monkee leads DJ 2-1.
“It’s a known fact that my team and I refuse to let anyone have our title as long as we are in the league,” Monkee says. “We walked out on the league (2005 Winter League) and gave away the hand-me-down title, and DJ never even said 'Thank you.' My feelings are hurt.”
DJ concedes, but counters: “He won the first two, and I won this year, but we’ve never met in the final game . I only had two players on my team last year, and Monkee always has a stacked mob. Everybody knows that.”
What about the head-to-head matchups?
“It’s probably even, but they beat us in the playoffs in overtime last year. But I fouled out on a bum call, and we only lost by one.”
Monkee breaks it down even more: “4-2, DJ, 2004 Winter League, 3-0, me, 2004 Summer League, 1-1 2005 Winter League before my team folded in protest of the commissioner.”
So that’s 6-5 Monkee with 2 championships to 1.
“We get a little physical at times, talk trash, shove and do as much cheating as we can, and the first who gets into it with the refs asking for calls usually lose the all-around battle,” Monkee says.
DJ describes games when he goes head to head against Monkee as having an “NBA Finals atmosphere. Rucker Championship. Final Four. Yeah, that intense.”
I can tell you the intensity of their battles gets the whole compound in a frenzy.
“If the games are on a Friday night, you can forget the institution movie, we become the movie,” Monkee says. "It’s hard to find seats if you are minutes late, it becomes standing-room only, and the sidelines become narrow.”
DJ agrees: “Biggest and best thing to ever happen here. Guys betting. Getting ready to fight. Half like DJ. Half like Monkee. The whole jail be in the gym. Wheelchair dudes, white, Chinese, Mexican, fags – everybody.”
“All day everyone is wanting to know the time, how many points to give up," Monkee says. "They’ll say I’m going for DJ, or I’m going for you, Monkee. What you gonna do, and during warmups they’ll be coming up to me, I put two books on 10 books. But I hate to be put down with what’s going on outside the court.”
When they talk about each other’s game they give mad props, too.
“Monkee just has that ability to hit big shot after big shot,” DJ says. “And he knows how to get his shot off anywhere.”
About DJ, Monkee says: "I admire his quickness, his ability to change directions and stop on the dime and pop the short jumper.”
Both players remember the same play from the 2005 Winter League as memorable.
“My team is up by three, time's running out, and Monkee nails a 25-footer plus a foul is called on me,” DJ says. “Amazing.”
But unfortunately, this play caused so much drama between refs, crowd and commissioner that Monkee’s team ended up quitting the league in protest after the commissioner ruled that the trey didn’t count.
This is how Monkee remembers it: “With seconds left I came down, spent off a screen and shot a three, and was fouled, and then the chaos, the game was never finished.”
Anyway, when all the hype, all the betting, all the arguments about who is the best is thrown out the window, these two dudes are just trying to play the game they love.
“I love to play my nemesis,” Monkee says. “I can’t sleep or eat until it’s over. I’ll be active all day until tip off.”
And DJ says: “That’s all I get hyped up for. No other guard makes me work or play as hard as Monkee.”
So there you have it. The inside look at a prison basketball rivalry.
Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti, federal prison number 18205-083, is housed at FCI Loretto. Previously he resided at FCI Fairton, FCI Fort Dix, FCI Beckley and FCI Manchester. He has been a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com since 2003
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