"The NBA Dream Starts Here?" said the banner in front of the scorers' table. But as I watched that November 16th opening game between the Fayetteville Patriots and the Mobile Revelers, I couldn't help but wonder, "how far can it go?"
I must admit I was among the many skeptics who panned the coming of the new eight-team National Basketball Developmental League (NBDL), which was created and financed by the NBA as its first official minor league.
But my curiosity eventually got the best of me and I became somewhat intrigued with the prospect of finding out what this new league was all about. So there I was: sitting in on one of the NBDL's first games at Fayetteville's Crown Coliseum.
Looking at the players, I saw many familiar faces. There was former Clemson PG Terrell McIntyre (all 5-9 of him) running the offense for the Patriots. Then, there was former NC State center Ron Kelley using some of the 25 pounds he gained since joining the Patriots to bully opponents in the paint. And who could miss the oversized afro of former Arizona forward Eugene Edgerson sticking out of the Revelers' huddle?
Wait a minute, I thought. Did I just see Dwayne Schintzius?
Yes, even an "old man" like Schintzius (Florida '90) is trying to catch on with an NBA team somewhere (still) and the NBDL appears to be the best opportunity. After all, the NBDL was produced so that aspiring professional players aged 20 years and older can be assured of being seen by NBA scouts, who are regularly in attendance.
The game itself was entertaining. Even though shooting was poor and team defense was almost non-existent, there was good ball movement and a great deal of intensity. It was also refreshing to see teams make it up and down the floor without lugging the enormous egos of NBA stars behind them. The officiating was also decent, even though several "anticipation" calls were made before the violations actually occurred. Basically, it was an NBA game with NBA rules, but without all the NBA hype.
I was impressed with some of the more unfamiliar players, like the Patriots' 6-10 forward Chris Andersen (formerly of Blinn Community College, TX), the first player taken in the NBDL draft. His solid performance (11 points, eight rebounds and five blocks) was one of the reasons he was signed by the Denver Nuggets a week later, making him the first NBDL player to be called up to the big leagues.
But what most amazed me that night were the fans who showed up en mass to see this fledging new venture take off. The capacity crowd of 4,429 was subdued for most of the game (mainly because of the Patriots' lack of offense), but they got into it about halfway through the fourth quarter when the Patriots tied the game at 60. Even though Mobile eventually won the game 83-74, it was evident that the Fayetteville community had pride in their new team.
And why not? The Patriots' organization made every effort to promote a family-oriented atmosphere for a low price of admission. Tickets range from $8 to $22 and parking is free (paid by a $1 facility fee tax on tickets). There are even single game discounts for military and a $3 discount for children 12 and under. The younger fans also seemed to enjoy the Patriots' mascot Sergeant Slam and the cheerleading squads formed from the local Boys and Girls Clubs.
But Fayetteville, a city that has lost minor league franchises in baseball and hockey over the past couple of years, is just one of the eight test market locations for the NBDL. Will other cities like Huntsville (AL), Roanoke (VA), Asheville (NC) and Columbus (GA) enjoy similar support? Will people keep coming to see former local heroes? Will they continue to fill the coliseums for the NBA-like atmosphere? Only time will tell.
One thing is for certain, though: the NBDL will be around for as long as the NBA chooses to support it. And NBA hopefuls will continue to get their shot no matter where they play. Yes, even Dwayne Schintzius.
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Besides Kelley (NC State '01) and McIntyre (Clemson '99), there were six other former ACC players on NBDL rosters at the start of the season. The Asheville Altitude feature Chris Carawell (Duke '00) and Rusty LaRue (Wake Forest '96); the Greenville Groove feature Tony Christie (Clemson '99), Merl Code (Clemson '96) and Tom Wideman (Clemson '99); and the North Charleston Lowgators are blessed with Makhtar N'Diaye (UNC '98).
by Chip Bremer