D-League Links

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Just a couple of quick links to pass along today.

First, a look into the mind of a couple of projected late-round draft picks and their thoughts on the D-League from 48 Minutes of Hell.

Secondly, some questions and answers with D-Leaguer Coleman Collins and Ridiculous Upside.

An Interview with Matt Bresee, Erie BayHawks Vice President of Business Operations

Friday, May 29, 2009

Starting something new is challenging, even something as simple this blog. I can only imagine how challenging it is to start a brand new professional sports organization. That was the task facing the management staff of the Erie BayHawks this time last year. Recently I had the opportunity to interview Matt Bresee, vice president of business operations, to find out what it was like helping the BayHawks take flight for their first year of play and what the organization is doing to prepare for year two.

As vice president of business operations for the BayHawks, tell us about your role with the organization.
My main duties consist of managing the day-to-day business operations of the organization, including oversight of all of our corporate partnerships and supervising our ticket sales, promotions, marketing and communications. And fortunately we have a great staff that helps make my job easier every day.

Off the court, what was the biggest challenge during the BayHawks’ first year?
We certainly had several challenges, including starting a new business venture during such challenging economic times, but beyond that we were challenged most by managing our game night operations. We’ve heard that this wasn’t noticeable from the fans’ perspective, which was the goal, however we feel we have a lot of room to improve the fans’ game night experience. This consists of everything a fan sees, hears and experiences from the time they walk through the front door. Don’t get me wrong, we think we did a lot of good things—we have a great mascot and dance team and provided a different “show” every night—but we also feel we have the greatest potential for improvement in this area. Also, we did not have anyone on staff with basketball game experience. I spent nine years with the Erie SeaWolves (baseball), and our president Ron Sertz was with the Erie Otters (hockey) for 12 years, so we had a good sense of the framework necessary to manage game nights, but basketball presents some different challenges and opportunities than baseball and hockey.

What did it mean to the organization to make the playoffs in its first year?
It was outstanding. On the business side of things we are always focused on making the organization successful off the court, meaning we’ll create a fan-friendly environment, deliver a great fan experience with giveaways and in-game entertainment, provide our corporate partners great value, etc., regardless of wins and losses. So to have the team play as well as they did, gel so quickly as a young squad, and make the playoffs in our first season was icing on the cake. Coach Treloar and Coach McDonald deserve a lot of credit for what the team accomplished.

How has it been working with the team’s NBA affiliates? How closely do they monitor what’s going on with the team in Erie?
We have good relationships with both affiliates and they have both helped contribute to our success in the first year, but in different ways. Because of our close proximity to Cleveland, we are fortunate to have built a strong relationship with several members of the Cavaliers organization. General Manager Danny Ferry was in Erie about five or six times this season, and he has extended assistance to us in both the basketball operations and player development area and in the business operations area. Danny was also gracious enough to call Coach Treloar the night we clinched a playoff berth, so that tells us he’s keeping an eye on what we’re doing.

As for Philadelphia, the fact that they are seven hours away has not allowed for as many opportunities to work together, but they have been helpful in providing some promotional support, and they sent a representative to Erie for Opening Night to help usher in the new season.

You work in the front office, but I know you’re a pretty big basketball fan yourself. Talk about the level of talent playing in the D-League, and what it means to have players of that ability playing in Erie.
I absolutely love it. And we’ve heard from so many fans about how much they love it and how impressed they are with the level of play in this league. On our roster alone this year we had a guy that scored 1,100 points at Kentucky (Erik Daniels), a guy that won a national championship with North Carolina (Jackie Manuel), another that played in a Final Four with Ohio State (Ivan Harris), and Philadelphia’s all-time leading scorer in high school (Maureece Rice). As an Erie native, it’s great to see the tremendous talent that is being showcased here on any given night during the season, and I’m really proud that Erie has this franchise.

Sticking on the court, is there any particular game or play that sticks out in your mind from the season?
It was the first night Darnell Jackson came down and was our first-ever NBA assigned player to play here. We played the Utah Flash that night and they had J.R. Giddens on their roster, on assignment from the Celtics. It was great seeing that caliber of players on our court going at it. Jackson had 24 that night and Giddens had 18, but more importantly we got the win and Jackson threw down a sweet alley-oop from Oliver [Lafayette]…which might have been the highlight play of the season, too. It was a lot of fun watching that.

The nature of minor league sports discourages roster continuity from year to year. What steps go into assembling the BayHawks’ roster for next season?
It’s in coach’s hands. He has indicated we can expect to see at least a few players return and intends to stick closely to the fundamentals of what this league is for—to bring in guys that he believes have potential to develop into NBA-caliber players. He will attend the League’s pre-draft camp to scout talent, we’ll hold open tryouts again in September or October, he’ll make his claim (to the league) for a group of allocation players, and the D-League draft will take place in early November. Eighteen guys will come into training camp in mid-November and fight for the 10 roster spots.

The D-League has seen some teams fold, but ultimately the number of teams has doubled from 8 to 16 since the league’s inception in 2001. What are your overall impressions of the D-League and its long-term viability?
The league as a whole is getting stronger every year and the NBA is working to help each organization be successful. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with other team operators and there is a lot of talent on the business side of this league too. I envision the league eventually getting to a pure minor league system with a one-to-one ratio of NBA teams to D-League teams, however it will take a while. But I believe there are plenty of viable markets capable of supporting franchises and it’s just a matter of time for more owners to see the investment potential. That being said, rumor is the next collective bargaining agreement could be interesting and may impact things at the D-League level too, so who knows how that will play out.

What are the important upcoming dates on the calendar for the BayHawks before the tipoff of the 2009-10 season?
The pre-draft camp is June 19-21 and the NBA Draft is June 25, so we’ll be interested to see who the Cavs and Sixers select as their draft picks will always have the potential to play in Erie. And the 2009-10 schedule should be announced sometime in July. After that we’ll have tryouts in September or October, the D-League draft in the beginning of November, and training camp will start mid-November.

And finally, what should BayHawks fans expect for season two?
We truly are working on improving every aspect of our organization, and I can attest to all the hard work our staff is doing every day. We learned so much during our first season and have a lot of ideas for how we can get better. I can promise fans that we’ll continue to make attending a game affordable and the show off the court will be even more entertaining. And if last season is any indication, Coach Treloar and Coach McDonald will again assemble a roster that’s going to play hard, compete every night, and represent Erie well.

Future BayHawks Watch: Philadelphia 76ers Mock Draft Tracking

Thursday, May 28, 2009

One of Erie’s affiliates is still holding onto hopes of an NBA Finals berth, although it’s not looking good for the Cleveland Cavaliers. As for the Philadelphia 76ers, they’re still in the search for a head coach, but they also have to be looking ahead to the upcoming NBA Draft.

Ths Sixers own the rights to the 17th selection in round one and do not have a second round pick. It’s unlikely that the player selected in that spot will spend much time with the Erie BayHawks, but it’s certainly possible. With that in mind, here’s a sampling of mock draft selections collected from around the Internet.

Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina

Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina

Eric Maynor, PG, VCU

B.J. Mullens, C, Ohip State

Three of the mock drafts have Philadelphia taking a point guard, which makes a lot of sense, especially if they do not re-sign Andre Miller, who is a free agent. Lawson would definitely help ignite the break and pair well with Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young.

B.J. Mullens would be more of a project, and I could actually see him benefitting from some work in the D-League fine-tuning his game after playing just one year with the Buckeyes.

Still, it’s probable that Philadelphia’s pick will remain with the 76ers, especially considering their relatively uninvolved status during the BayHawks’ inaugural season. I’d be much more willing to bet that one or both of Cleveland’s picks ends up in a BayHawks uniform before the 76ers pick does.

For a look at the 76ers draft history, check out this page from ESPN Insider.

Peaking at BayHawks Web Trends

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

*NOTE* This post was re-written May 30, 2009, to correct an error in reporting. Google's auto-complete feature had caused many of the search terms to drop the quotes around the team name, making for a broadened search, and thus exaggerated results that I originally reported. I've recalculated all the search results, and re-written the post accordingly. Thanks to Scott Schroeder from Ridiculous Upside for the catch.

I did a quick Google search of each of the current D-League teams to get a feel for where the BayHawks stand in terms of their Web presence. Using each teams name in quotes as a single search term, I searched the 15 D-League franchises, exempting Springfield since they do not yet have a team nickname. I also did a second search without putting the team name in quotes. (For example, searching "Erie BayHawks" and Erie BayHawks.

The teams yielded somewhere between 19,000-62,000 results, a pretty close range. The BayHawks were, however, on the low end. The search term "Erie BayHawks" yielded just 25,900 results, sixth fewest in the league. And when the quotation marks were dropped, the BayHawks had the fewest results in the league. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that BayHawks is a unique name not encompassing much other than the team whereas something like Red Claws, 14ers, Flash, and Energy all have additional connotations beyond basketball. Still, Erie's search results could be better, and it's a sign that the team needs to beef up its Web presence.

The two highest totals belonged to the Dakota Wizards and Iowa Energy. Of course, the term, "Iowa energy" is also a generic term that may contribute to their numbers, and there's no way to know exactly how many of those links are for the D-League team rather than energy in the state of Iowa. Still, there's no doubt that there is some separation among D-League teams and their online presence.

For Erie, there's some work to be done. Hopefully the number will continue to grow as the team enters its second season next year.

Below is a look at the results from a Google search of each of the teams (as of 5/30/09). The first number listed is from the term in quotation marks, and the second reflects the broader search of the team name without quotation marks. I've listed the teams in order of most hits with the team name in quotation marks:

  1. Dakota Wizards: 61,100/163,000
  2. Iowa Energy: 59,200/17,500,000
  3. Idaho Stampede: 53,000/85,800
  4. Colorado 14ers: 51,700/63,000
  5. Austin Toros: 42,700/63,000
  6. Utah Flash: 39,700/6,630,000
  7. Tulsa 66ers: 33,000/41,600
  8. Sioux Falls Skyforce: 30,600/31,300
  9. Albuquerque Thunderbirds: 26,300/34,000
  10. Erie BayHawks: 25,900/29,500
  11. Rio Grande Valley Vipers: 24,400/47,200
  12. Reno Bighorns: 19,600/399,000
  13. Los Angeles D-Fenders: 19,300/124,000
  14. Fort Wayne Mad Ants: 18,600/66,800
  15. Maine Red Claws: 12,900/63,400

The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I’m not deaf nor a Fundamentalist Mormon. But when I was a kid, I did have dreams of playing in the NBA. Even when I was cut from the varsity team in high school, I remembered hearing that Michael Jordan had endured a similar setback.

But by the time I got to college (where I managed to hold my own on the rec courts), I had pretty much coming to grips with the fact that the NBA was not in my future. So, I followed my second passion—writing—and managed to graduate summa cum laude with a duel concentration in writing and creative writing.

Somewhere between my fallen NBA dream and my college graduation, my mom put the idea in my head that I should write a book, and I agreed. But two years later, I still have no pages written, no subject chosen, no brainstorm forming in regards to what I would even write a book about.

Enter Lance Allred, whose biography is quickly giving me an inferiority complex. NBA player: check. Author: check. And now he’s entering the blogosphere, too! The nerve of this guy, treating my life’s dreams like items on a grocery list. C'mon.

In all seriousness though, Allred’s story is pretty amazing. The book is Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA. And that title alone makes me think it’ll be a great read. It details the obstacles Allred faced on his way to the NBA where he became the first legally deaf player in league history last season. The book also details his time in the D-League. While I confess I haven’t had a chance to read it just yet, the reviews below give you a pretty good idea that this book is worth a look.

"Hoosiers meets Big Love with a dash of Crime and Punishment. You will never look at an NBA player, particularly those at the end of the bench, the same way again."
-Ric Bucher, senior writer, ESPN The Magazine

"An inspiration for anyone who's ever wanted to succeed at anything that appeared out of reach."
-Kenny Mayne, from the Foreword

“Longshot is a must read! It will inspire you and entertain you at the same time.”
-Dick Vitale

"Lance Allred is excruciatingly honest without ever feeling sorry for himself. His painful and hilarious odyssey is more inspiring and triumphant than the story of any NBA championship. Allred has written The Glass Castle of pro sports."
-Ian Thomsen, senior NBA writer, Sports Illustrated

“Allred paints a beautiful picture (seriously, this book will someday be a great movie) of the determination it takes to follow one's goals, ultimately leading the reader to be happy for him once he achieves his goal, as if they've becomes best friends. It's inspiring, really.”
- Scott Schroeder, Ridiculous Upside

Embracing Interactivity

Friday, May 22, 2009

One of the goals of Blog Talk BayHawk is to develop a community of BayHawks basketball fans to engage in dialogue about the team, the D-League, and other relevant issues. In that spirit of interactivity, I'm introducing a new feature. Well, a Web poll is hardly a new feature in the blogosphere, but it's new for this blog.

I know my Web traffic is still low, but hopefully all those who do stop by are finding something they like, telling a friend, and coming back from more. The poll is quick, easy, and anonymous, so if you took the time to visit, please let your voice be heard and cast a vote. I'll try to create new poll questions on a regular basis depending on how many responses they garner.

So without further ado, here's the first Blog Talk BayHawk poll:

Who is John Treloar?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

John Treloar had a pretty successful first season coaching the Erie BayHawks, leading the expansion franchise into the playoffs while learning how the rules of the NBDL, especially in regards to roster management. Juggling players in the lineup based on NBA call-ups and assignments, waiver acquisitions, and injuries was no easy task.

But being a D-League coach is not exactly a high-profile position. Case in point, Treloar doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, although you can read up on retired Australian track star John Treloar.

Treloar (the coach, not the sprinter), came to the BayHawks after spending time as an assistant at Louisiana State University. Previously, he also served as an assistant at Indiana University, working under the legendary Bob Knight as well as Mike Davis. He also has coaching experience in the CBA and overseas.

As a native of Clinton, Miss., the 52-year-old Treloar may have had more trouble adjusting to Erie’s climate than he did adjusting to coaching in the NBDL. It doesn’t appear that the snow scared him away, however, as he is expected back for the 2009-10 season. He’ll try to build on the team’s first year success. The challenge of the D-League, however, is that he’ll likely return to camp with a roster that looks nothing like last year’s team because players sign contracts with the D-League rather than the individual teams.

For a look at Treloar’s thoughts heading into last season, revisit this article from NBA.com. It covers Treloar’s thoughts about the BayHawks’ relationship with the Cavaliers and 76ers, the salary structure of the D-League, his hopes to land an NBA coaching gig, and more.

Treloar’s coaching experience is detailed in the table below:

Top-3 Erie BayHawks YouTube Videos

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

You can find pretty much anything on YouTube these days, and the Erie BayHawks are no different. From the account executives to the dance team, you can find a healthy dose of BayHawks-related footage with a simple search.

But for the really lazy/bored fan out there, here are the top-3 BayHawk-flavored YouTube clips I stumbled across, embedded here for your viewing enjoyment:

BayHawks Director of Marketing and Communications Jeff Johns introduces the BayHawks to the Erie community

Coach John Treloar introduces the starting lineup

Assorted Highlights

NBA Draft Lottery Tidbits

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tonight is the NBA Draft Lottery. How does that affect the Erie BayHawks? Well, it really doesn’t have much of a direct effect on them, but it’s not easy to come up with D-League news every day at this time of year. Besides, I needed a good excuse to link to Hardwood Paroxysm’s NBA Draft Lottery Drinking Game.

If you’d prefer a more journalistic look at the draft lottery, I recommend Henry Abbott’s quality work on his TrueHoop blog.

So, it’s true. Neither of the BayHawks’ NBA affiliates have any ping pong balls in tonight’s lottery. Philadelphia is more concerned with its head coaching situation, and Cleveland is preoccupied with a little something called the Eastern Conference Finals. But they will have picks later in the draft that could end up seeing time in Erie.

In any case, I’ll be watching the full glorious hour of contrived television tonight. My life just wouldn’t be the same without the staples of the NBA Draft Lottery: ping pong balls; large, numbered envelopes with NBA logo cards inside, and of course, the random assortment of general managers, executives, and players asked to bring good luck to the lottery as the team’s representative, also known as the Elgin Baylor award.

Plus the draft lottery is the precursor for the NBA Draft. The draft is sort of like the NBA’s final exam before school is let out for the summer, and we’re all left with a lot of free time and a lot of baseball. Yes, there are summer league games and free agency, but from an NBA standpoint, you get the idea. NBA Finals. NBA Draft. Long wait until next season.

From a D-League standpoint, the draft lottery doesn’t have a whole lot of significance tonight. Most of the players taken in the lottery won’t see time in the D-League, but then again, you never know. As the D-League grows and young players continue to flock to the NBA, it may become a more regular stop for rookies to hone their skills before testing the NBA waters. For now, it’s a time for the NBAs have-nots to hope and pray the bouncing balls bounce their way.

Maureece Rice Links

Monday, May 18, 2009

I insist that I get no compensation—monetary or otherwise—for linking to Ridiculous Upside. They just continue to churn out quality D-League material at a rate I can't contend with. So, when I read something that catches my eye, especially when it's BayHawks related, I'll do my best to give my readers (Hi Mom!) a heads-up with a link like you see below.

This is from Ridiculous Scott's in-depth player profile of Maureece Rice:

Maureece Rice grew up a playground legend in North Philly, emulating the game of another Philadelphia star, Allen Iverson. I can't find any sources to confirm this, but I believe he once said "North Philadelphia, born and raised, on the playground is where I spent most of my days."
In other Mo Rice news, Erie Times-News columnist Duane Rankin reports that coach John Treloar thinks Rice is good enough to play in the NBA.

Social Media and the BayHawks

Friday, May 15, 2009

Let me pause from basketball talk for a post to quickly address the issue of social media in sports. From youTube to blogs like this one (and others more widely read), the Internet has already had a profound impact on the sports industry. Social media is the IT topic of the Internet and business today, and the business of sports is no different.

I regularly see the NBA updating its Facebook status. I get regular Twitter updates from Bill Simmons commenting on games, and Shaquille O’Neal commenting on everything.

With that in mind, I think the D-League would do itself a big favor to take the reigns and make social media its darling. It’s one of the best ways to spread news quickly and reach a broad audience. And no one’s totally sure how to best make it work just yet.

The Erie BayHawks are out there trying their hand at social media. You can follow them on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook or find them on MySpace (although the layout on this one makes the page nearly impossible to navigate).

I definitely think it’s good for the BayHawks to be out there. I also don’t think they’re in with everyone else, trying to figure out how to effectively use these technologies to market themselves, connect with fans, and build up the BayHawks name in cyberspace.

This blog is just a tiny part of the blogosphere, which itself is just a small piece of the social media world. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m pretty sure someone out there does, and it’s probably not someone running a D-League franchise. It’s probably someone fresh out of college. Today’s graduates have been using Facebook for years. While you sent Fido out to fetch the Sunday paper, they were tweeting about the headline they’d already read.

If I have any social media advice to offer the BayHawks and the D-League, it’s to take this seriously. I don’t think social media is a fad. Twitter is the evolutionary descendant of the telegraph. Facebook is the grandchild of Instant Messanger and E-Mail. These innovations make life and communication easy even if figuring out the best way to use them is hard. Don’t overlook them. Don’t misuse them. Invest in the time and talent to get them to work for you, and it’ll pay off in the long run.

Pro Basketball in Erie, Part 3: Getting from Them to Us

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The following post is the third and final in a three-part series. Catch up with “Pro Basketball in Erie, Part 1: The NBA Problem” and “Pro Basketball in Erie, Part 2: The Basketball Food Chain.”

If we’re ever able to get to a point where we all agree that the NBA is home to the best basketball in the world, and if we tweak the D-League in effective ways to make it a foundational feeder system for the NBA as part of the basketball food chain, we still aren’t quite where we need to be to support the Erie BayHawks. Fans need a reason to embrace this team, and that only comes by building a relationship over time.

Erie is currently home to a handful of minor league sports teams. In baseball, we have the Eastern League’s Erie SeaWolves, the AA-affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. We have the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. We have the Erie RiverRats of the American Indoor Football Association. And we have the Erie Illusion, an Independent Women’s Football League team.

The SeaWolves are the longest-tenured Erie franchise, having begun play in 1995. The Otters began play a year later in 1996. I’m not much of a baseball or hockey fan, but I grew up with these teams as part of my town. There’s a connection there, and I try to make it to at least a game or two a year (again, noting that I’m not a big hockey or baseball fan.)

Obviously, the BayHawks want to become part of Erie the way the SeaWolves and Otters have. It does take time. That’s how you reach the casual fan, the Erieite who isn’t necessarily a basketball fan, but likes sports and wants to enjoy a fun night at a reasonable price. That shouldn’t be a problem. And if it is, that’s an issue for the BayHawks advertising/marketing/public relations people to address.

The more pressing issue, in my opinion, is getting the basketball-watching public of Erie to buy in to the BayHawks. They need to infuse BayHawks into the basketball fabric of the city. I think their decision to host a basketball camp this summer at Family First is a great idea. It makes them relevant for a time during the offseason, exposes their brand to a younger generation, and hopefully turns kids on to the idea of BayHawks basketball.

The organization needs to continue to find ways to infiltrate other areas of the Erie basketball scene, starting from the ground up. Get out into the community and build some new basketball courts or renovate some of the playground courts found around the city. Get involved with schools. Fans are probably familiar with the “NBA Cares” community-service program, but did you know there’s also a “D-League Cares” effort?

Well, apparently it exists, but after one year of the BayHawks in Erie, I just now found this out researching this blog post. So, clearly there’s more they can do—both in terms of helping and letting the community know how it’s helping. Get out into the community. Get out to the schools. Get the grade school and high school students on board and their parents will follow.

Once they start following, the real test will kick in. The true test of sports fans’ commitment to their team is the us-or-them test. As a native Pennsylvanian, I’m familiar with Pittsburgh. Although I don’t have any rooting interest in any Pittsburgh-area franchises, I know plenty of people who do. Take the Steelers, for example. Technically, the Rooney family owns that team. But if you take a trip through Pittsburgh on a Sunday in November, you’d think every person in that city owned them.

Obviously Erie is a smaller city and the D-League is hardly the NFL. The point is that the ultimate goal of the Erie BayHawks franchise is to get the basketball fans of Erie to transition from talking about the Erie BayHawks to talking about OUR Erie BayHawks. Any real sports fan knows that’s when sports really becomes meaningful. Watching MY Lakers or MY Raiders is always more entertaining than watching any other NBA or NFL game. Hopefully someday soon, I’ll be able to say I’m watching MY BayHawks and feel the same way. It’s not an impossible task, but it’s not an easy one either.

I hope our community’s basketball fans are on board with me wanting this to happen. Pro basketball can matter in Erie, Pa. The Erie BayHawks can become our team.

Let’s make it happen.

NBA, don’t let the D-League experiment get out of hand. This league is still a baby. Be a good parent and give your child the love and care it needs. You need to continue to use it as an NBA-testing outlet while remembering to give it enough financial and promotional support to keep the league and the individual franchises stable.

And finally, D-League franchises, make the commitment to whatever small city you’re rooted in. There’s room for professional sports in places that aren’t New York, L.A., Boston, or Chicago. There’s a novelty about minor league sports that the great people of places like Erie can appreciate. Give us a hard-working, winning business model and basketball team that cares about the community and gives back to its fans.

Finally, fans. If the D-League gives us that. If the BayHawks really do make that effort to be the Erie BayHawks—to be OUR BayHawks—let’s show them what we know about basketball. Let’s get Tullio Arena rocking. Let’s make our voices heard. And let’s put our stubborn reservations about the NBA aside and give the pro game another chance.

Pro Basketball in Erie, Part 2: The Basketball Food Chain

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The following post is a follow-up to yesterday’s post, “Pro Basketball in Erie, Part 1: The NBA Problem.”

For a long time, the basketball food chain was pretty simplistic. The best elementary school players went on to play in high school. The best high school players were recruited to play in college. And the best players from college went on to the NBA after graduation. In the early 70s, Spencer Haywood became the first player to challenge this model, filing an antitrust suit against the NBA.

The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Haywood won, forcing the NBA to adopt a “hardship rule” that made an exception that players who could prove financial hardship could play in the NBA without going to college. By 1976, players were eligible for the NBA after the time their class graduated from high school. Moses Malone and Daryl Dawkins were among the first to take advantage of this rule that would eventually lead to many of the game’s greatest stars today bypassing college to go straight to the NBA out of high school.

At the same time that high school stars were flocking to the NBA, basketball was experiencing the effects of globalization, and the foreign influx of talent grew steadily. If you remember as recently as 15 years ago, Toni Kucoc, Dino Radja, and Vlade Divac were among the few foreign-born NBA players, and none of them were elite-level performers.

Fast-forward to the 2000s, and it’s literally a world of difference. The past three NBA MVPs have been players who didn’t play college ball. And in this decade, the NBA Draft has had three high schoolers and three foreign-born number one picks, including two who didn’t play U.S. college ball.

Two years ago, the NBA instituted a new rule that forces players to be at least one year removed from the graduation of their high school class. And while it’s true that the NBA still feeds on the best players from college, they also have a taste for international talent these days. And the rest of the chain is all kinds of crazy. Starting in 2006, high school players can no longer go straight to the NBA, but they are going to play (and get paid) in Europe rather than spending the mandatory one year in college. And U.S.-born NBA players are going to play internationally as well.

That brings us to the D-League part of the equation. Where does the NBDL and the Erie BayHawks fit into the modern-day basketball food chain? It's another question that has no simple answer. Depending on who you ask, you’re likely to get a different response. It’s a really important question, too. Ultimately, the answer to this question will determine the fate of the D-League.

Right now, the D-League is closest thing to international basketball on the basketball food chain. Its primary targets are young players a year or two out of college that can’t quite make an NBA roster. Its main exports go to the NBA. The allure of Europe is that their teams are generally able to pay much better than the D-League. The one area where the D-League has a leg up on international teams is its NBA team affiliation. Unfortunately, the affiliations are mostly indirect and most D-League teams are affiliated with more than one NBA team.

Currently the D-League does not rival the NCAA. NBDL President Dan Reed isn’t spearheading an advertising campaign to get blue chip high school prospects to forgo college in favor of spending a year with the Erie BayHawks. I don't think that's in the plans. And although I don’t have my finger on the pulse of the NBA/NBDL to know if accepting players right out of high is in the long-term plans of the league, I think it's an idea worth fleshing out.

Obviously college basketball isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. At the same time, the current NCAA system is significantly flawed. It's set up to benefit schools first, coaches second, maybe fans third, and players last. It’s a joke to see these top-level players show up on campus for a year before declaring for the draft.

Far too many players aren't going to college on a basketball scholarship. They're going to play basketball on a college scholarship. There is a difference. The point is, college isn’t for everyone. There has to be an alternative, and maybe that's Jeremy Tyler's European endeavor. Or maybe it's the D-League. All I know is that if Spencer Haywood won his case in the 70s, I don’t see why another challenge to the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement wouldn’t be able to shake things up again in 2009.

Granted, it's not in NBA’s best interest for the D-League to get all of the best high school players for a one-year minor league stint travelling to play in Erie, Fort Wayne, Dakota, etc. But it's also not good to force kids to go to college who have no business nor desire to be there. We need to find a compromise. Is the NBA honestly going to tell young hoops hopefuls that it was bad for Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, and Tracy McGrady to jump from high school to the pros? I don't think so.

However, that early-entry decision doesn't always go as planned. Remember Korleone Young and Ndudi Ebi? Probably not. Well, surely you know Kwame Brown and Sebastian Telfair. All of these guys tried to go from high school to the NBA, and it didn't pan out as they had planned.

Isn't it possible that preps-to-pros draft busts like these could’ve benefitted from some professional seasoning in the D-League? It certainly couldn’t hurt considering their career paths. I think that’s territory the D-League needs to claim. They need to carve out their place in the food chain or they’ll be eaten away from all ends by the competition.

The D-League needs to make room for players straight out of high school who lack the desire to go to college, the maturity to survive in Europe, and the talent to be in the NBA. They also need to establish the league as a true minor league system (an idea I can’t say I’m the first to suggest).

It just makes sense. Each NBA team makes a financial commitment to cover the basketball operating costs of one D-League franchise. The one-to-one correspondence benefits the NBA teams by giving them greater control over player development, ensuring that the players are being taught in a way that fits their system. The D-League gets the financial support it needs as a young league. The direct connection also strengthens the D-League’s role as a feeder system. Plus it gives the fans of the NBA franchise a vested interest in the affiliated D-League franchise since all of its players may someday suit up for that NBA team.

The basketball food chain has been rapidly evolving. The D-League is in a position to stake a major claim in the food chain and better the game—by bettering the NBA—by continuing to evolve itself. If it does that, there’s a chance the D-League could become the preeminent minor league in American sports or at least a league that can't be ignored by any self-respecting Erie basketball fan. There’s a lot of work to do to get there, but it’s within the realm of possibility.

Coming up next: Pro Basketball in Erie, Part 3: Getting from Them to Us

Pro Basketball in Erie, Part 1: The NBA Problem

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When I first heard that Erie was getting an NBDL franchise, I was excited. Unfortunately, I felt like I was in the minority. And, although I do not have the attendance figures, anyone who attended a BayHawks game this season can attest to the fact that there are plenty of good seats still available.

It is the most important question BayHawks management has to answer: How do we put butts in the seats? (And keep them coming back for more.) The answer—if there is one—isn’t going to be simple, but first we need to get to the root of the problem.

Yes, the BayHawks first season coincided with the worst economic downturn of my lifetime, and that certainly didn’t help. But I’m not an economist, and I don’t even play one on blog TV, so I’ll leave that part of the equation for people who know what they’re talking about (assuming they’re out there somewhere). What I do know about is basketball. And when it comes to basketball, the BayHawks have an image problem.

Whoa, hold back your complaining e-mails, BayHawks management. The image problem isn’t really your fault. Unfortunately, it’s still your problem.

You see, the BayHawks are affiliated with the NBA. Therein lies the problem.

In Erie, there is a definite stigma against the NBA. I don’t know if this is a national or local phenomenon, but around here, the league is looked down upon—or more realistically—ignored by the masses, even among the basketball-fan population. As a basketball diehard and NBA junkie, I consistently find myself on the defensive, trying to defend the merit and entertainment value of NBA basketball. Erie basketball fans prefer, in no particular order: big-time NCAA basketball, local (Division II) college basketball, and local high school basketball.

Yet the same people who can be found packing the stands for the McDonald’s Classic high school tournament in January and filling out NCAA tournament brackets in March, find excuses not to care about or actively avoid watching the NBA.

The three most common complaints I hear are as follows:

  1. NBA players are overpaid.
  2. NBA players don’t play defense.
  3. NBA players don’t play hard.
NBA players are overpaid.
I have no counterargument for the first point, but that applies across the spectrum of major pro sports. So, if football fans still love watching the NFL, baseball fans still love watching MLB, and hockey fans love watching the NHL, the same should apply for basketball fans and the NBA.

NBA players don’t play defense.
I don’t understand the theory behind this argument, but it’s a clichéd response I get all the time when I question why some basketball fans don’t like the NBA.

Yes, NBA teams score more points than college and high school. They also play longer games with a shorter shot clock, limited zone defense, and rules catered to allow the offense to flow smoothly. Is anyone really pining for more games to be mid-90s Knicks-Heat games where 80 was likely both the winning team’s point total and number of bruises sustained?

The fact of the matter is that “NBA players don’t play defense” is such a general statement, it’s hard to even offer a rational defense. But if you watched the Cavs grit out a win against the Atlanta Hawks last night when their offense was sputtering, you’d see defense. If you watch Shane Battier follow Kobe Bryant like a red-and-white shadow, you’d see defense.

Fans also need to understand who NBA defenders are defending. They are defending the best athletes in the world. It’s almost impossible to stop LeBron James when he has his mind set to get to the rim. And even Battier’s defensive brilliance can’t keep Kobe from hitting H-O-R-S-E shots in the playoffs.

Collectively, defense wins championships. But individually, on any one given play, great offense will beat great defense. It’s the chess mass that makes the game great. It’s why people generally aren’t glued to their TV sets to watch shootaround. They want to see the challenge of scoring against defense, and that’s what the NBA delivers.

NBA players don’t play hard
Again, this is a major generalization. I blame Eddy Curry, Ricky Davis, and players of their ilk. Yes, there are some bad apples in the bunch. But since when do we judge the quality of a movie based on two extras who aren’t even in focus during their only scene?

I think the NBA is as competitive today as it’s ever been during my lifetime. From Kobe and LeBron to Chris Paul and Kevin Garnett to Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade, there’s no shortage of great players who bring it every night. Their teams, and the league, follow their example. The U.S. Olympic “Redeem Team” this past summer set the bar high, pushing one another to be the best, and it’s rubbed off on the league in a positive way.

Just to be in shape to play an 82-game regular season takes a tremendous amount of work. I don’t think the average basketball fan has any appreciation for what NBA players do in a day or a week to do their job. These guys are machines. The few times a week they play on national TV or the SportsCenter highlights that you see from them? That’s the equivalent of me typing this paragraph. It’s such a small piece of what they do.

Millions of kids grow up wanting to play in the NBA. About 450 get to realize that dream per year. Suffice it to say, it takes more than God-given ability to make it to this level. These guys are the best in the world doing what they do. Any basketball fan should appreciate that.

So that’s where I’m coming from. I love basketball. Basketball is played all over the world by people of all ages, sizes and talent levels. The best of the best play their basketball in the NBA. As a basketball lover, I enjoy watching the sport in general, but enjoy it most when it’s played at its highest level. That’s why I love the NBA. You won’t see the game played any better on the planet.

Coming up next: Pro Basketball in Erie, part 2: The Basketball Food Chain

Communication Solicitation

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by to take a peak at the blog. I'm in the process of writing a longer post regarding Erie basketball fans and their general opinions about basketball. That'll be up later in the week, if not tomorrow.

In the meantime, I'm looking to you the readers for post suggestions. If there's a BayHawks related topic you'd like to see addressed (within reason), let me know, and I'll do what I can to write about it. We've got a few more months of offseason to tackle before the basketball-heavy in-season content can return.

So, what's on your mind? Leave a comment below or e-mail me your thoughts and/or questions.

Expand Your D-League Knowledge

Friday, May 8, 2009

The NBA playoffs basically have the basketball world on lockdown through the Finals in June, and I’m as intrigued as anyone to follow LeBron, Kobe, and company. So, while it’s true that the D-League is under the radar as much as ever this time of year, it doesn’t mean there’s nowhere to turn for D-League fans.

As one man, I can only provide so much entertainment and information. Thankfully the Internet makes it possible and easy to share information. So, let me direct you toward D-League bliss in the form of a few good links.

Basketball Reference
This site is a godsend for stat junkies, students of the game, and basketball historians. For the purposes of this blog, I’m linking the D-League section, but there stats and records are hardly limited to the NBDL.

DraftExpress: D-League Blog
The folks over at DraftExpress have a great thing going when It comes to covering the NBA Draft. From college basketball to international basketball to the D-League, they have it covered. They even have their own D-League Blog, although it hasn’t been updated since the end of the season, but it’s got solid information when it is updated. In the meantime, the regular DraftExpress blog content is fresh and ready for your eyes right now.

Reed and Write
D-League President Dan Reed believes in his league more than anyone. His blog is open and honest, and he welcomes fan input. If you have a suggestion to better the D-League, he’s the man to turn to.

What D-League players can learn from the NBA playoffs

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Last night’s Los Angeles Lakers-Houston Rockets matchup included technical fouls, flagrant fouls, and ejections, and that’s the subject of a million blog posts today, I’m sure. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m trying to carve out some niche territory. And that’s exactly what D-League players should be trying to do.

Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest. You aren’t ever going to find these players on a D-League roster. These are core pieces of playoff team. But no championship team puzzle is complete without the role players. Think of the Spurs with guys like Bruce Bowen, Steve Kerr, and Robert Horry or the Lakers with players like Brian Shaw, Rick Fox, and, well, Horry again. Superstars may win championships, but role players help them get there.

And there are two perfect examples of the kind of role player you want in this series both of whom once toiled in the obscure basketball underground we lovingly refer to as the D-League. I’m talking about the Lakers’ Shannon Brown and the Rockets’ Chuck Hayes. Both players came from strong college basketball programs: Michigan State and Kentucky, respectively. And both are currently making the most of their talents simply by knowing their strengths and doing the things they do well.

For Hayes, that means banging down low on the block. In two games he’s managed to frustrate the Lakers two biggest, most skilled big men, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, by using his lower body strength and defensive toughness to body them off their spot on the low post and make them work hard for every shot.

On the offensive end, his contributions may seem minimal, but he’s not being asked to be a scorer. As TNT’s Doug Collins said, any point Hayes scores is “found money,” but he sets good, solid picks, and he’s always active on the offensive glass.

For the Lakers, Shannon Brown has been a surprise blessing early in the 2009 NBA playoffs. With Derek Fisher’s shot struggling and Jordan Farmar unable to defend the bigger, stronger Deron Williams, Brown saw significant time playing point in the Lakers’ opening round series against Utah. And he thrived simply by being a high-energy guy. His athleticism was a welcome change of pace from the veteran stalwart Fisher, and it didn’t hurt that ShanWOW (as Lakers blog Forum Blue and Gold calls him) was shooting lights out from long distance either.

The point is, Hayes and Brown aren’t the focal point of their teams. However, they have carved out a niche and given their coaches reason to play them regular rotation minutes. D-League players, take note. This is your calling. Rarely is a D-Leaguer going to get called up as a scorer. The NBA is loaded with guys who can score.

But if you’re a shooter or a stopper, a banger or a ballhandler, you may be exactly the piece an NBA team is missing to complete their championship puzzle. The D stands for development.

So, I challenge the D-Leaguers out there to watch the players that aren’t selling jerseys or starring in commercials. Look beyond the box score and really watch the game. Take note what happens when the bench players get their minutes. There’s no shame in being the 8th or 9th best player on a championship team. That’s something future BayHawks should want. To complement LeBron James or Andre Iguodala is no small feat. Make it happen, and you’ll earn a compliment from me to boot.

This Blog Has Ridiculous Upside

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I'm always looking for ways to make this blog better. (Your suggestions are welcome in the comments below this post.) One way to do that is by recognizing that Blog Talk BayHawk is not the only bird in this sky we call the blogosphere.

While the quantity and quality of D-League blogs pales in comparison with the number of NBA blogs out there, there are some really good blogs out there. You can find the relevant blogs I recommend in the far right column of this blog listed under "In the Blogosphere" of the Links section.

The list will hopefully grow in time as the D-League grows in popularity and relevancy itself. For now, I'm adding a second blog to the list joining Duane Rankin's Give and Go, which primarily covers the BayHawks and the NBA.

The latest addition is a blog called Ridiculous Upside, and it's a must-read for anyone who follows the D-League. Not only does the blog title feature one of the most cliched words when speaking of NBA prospects, it's also entertaining and well-written.

Here's a snippet from their post today, "NBA D-League Hybrid Affiliation, Revisited":

The new policy will enable an NBA team to assume "full control over all basketball operations of its D-League affiliate, including coaching and player personnel decisions." In return, NBA clubs must make a three-year commitment to covering the expenses for the affiliate's basketball operations, which includes player salaries, paying for the coaching and training staffs and absorbing all travel costs.

The NBA estimates the annual cost of those expenses to be $300,000 to $400,000 annually. Which equates to the single-season amount NBA teams spend on a minimum-salaried rookie. The cost involved in running all levels of a D-League franchise, by contrast, was estimated by one Western Conference executive as "a million-dollar loss for one year."

Ridiculous Scott goes on to argue for five other changes he'd love to see the D-League implement, and I'm on board with all of them. So, do yourself a favor. Read the full post now and make Ridiculous Upside (along with Blog Talk BayHawk) part of your daily Internet reading.

Players in Review: Darnell Jackson

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Darnell Jackson became the answer to a trivia question when he became the first NBA player assigned to the BayHawks by one of their NBA affiliates, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers.

Jackson won a national title as a member of the 2008 Kansas Jayhawks before being drafted in the second round (number 52 overall) by Miami and being traded to Cleveland. According to the rules, NBA rookies or second-year players can be assigned to the D-League as many as three times during the season.

Jackson was first sent to play for Erie against the Utah Flash on February 9. Jackson’s impact was felt as he scored 24 points on 10-14 shooting and grabbed six rebounds in 26 minutes in helping the BayHawks to a 101-89 victory.

His second appearance was March 18 versus the Austin Torros. Jackson again played about 26 minutes, scoring 15 points on 5-9 shooting and grabbing six rebounds. Once again, the BayHawks won, this time by a final count of 114-106.

While his stats didn’t blow away the competition, his presence inside certainly kept the defense honest and the 2-0 mark with Jackson in the lineup is worth noting.

It’s surprising to me that neither Philadelphia nor Cleveland took advantage of this opportunity more often. The Cavs used three other rookies during the year: forwards J.J. Hickson and Jawad Williams, and guard Tarence Kinsey.

For the Sixers, I can understand why rookie Marreese Speights and second-year star Thaddeus Young weren’t sent down to the BayHawks as they played regular minutes for the team. But that doesn’t explain why the seven-footer, second-year man, Jason Smith, wasn’t given the chance to develop in the D-League.

I’m of the opinion that there’s no way to get better at playing basketball than by playing basketball. If a young player isn’t getting minutes on the NBA level, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to give him some D-League minutes.

I think it helped Jackson. (He went on to score 15 points and grab eight rebounds in 42 minutes on the final night of the season in a game the Cavs lost in overtime against Philadelphia.) And I think it would help other young players. Here’s to hoping the Cavs and Sixers utilize this option more frequently next season.

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Players in Review: Quincy Douby

Monday, May 4, 2009

Of all the players to put on a BayHawks uniform during the team’s inaugural season, no one had more of an NBA pedigree than Quincy Douby.

A quick look at Douby's NBA numbers certainly won’t blow you away, but he was a former first round pick (number 19 overall) of the Sacramento Kings.

To put the former Rutgers guard’s talent into perspective, consider this list of other guards chosen in the 2006 draft after him: Rajon Rondo, Marcus Williams, Kyle Lowry, Shannon Brown, and Jordan Farmar. Pretty good company.

Douby’s career got off to a dubious beginning in Sacramento, and his talent and body frame were very much in the model of Kings star Kevin Martin, making him expendable. So it wasn’t a complete surprise when he was waived by the Kings in February.

When the news came down, Douby had a decision to make about his NBA future. Sit around and wait for another NBA team to come calling or sign a D-League contract and make someone notice him. Douby chose the latter and Erie claimed him off waivers on March 11.

He made his D-League debut March 13 when Erie hosted the Dakota Wizards. Incidentally, that was one of the two games I watched live in person, and of all the BayHawks that played in that game, Douby stood out for his ability to get his shot off whenever he wanted. Although he went just 2-of-6 from 3-point range, he did score 16 points in just under 17 minutes of play.

He would go on to play in four more games for Erie, averaging 18.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 28.6 minutes per game before he was called up by the Toronto Raptors. He was first signed to a 10-day contract before eventually being signed on by the Raptors for the rest of the season. He was the first call-up in BayHawks history.

Whether Douby is back in Toronto next year or not is a job for another blog, but his short stint in Erie gave fans a glimpse of the kind of talents that can be showcased in the D-League, even if only for a handful of games.

Since the goal of the D-League is to prepare players for the NBA, the best D-Leaguers won’t stay around for long. But it gives fans a great opportunity to catch future NBA players on the upswing, so that they can say, “I knew so-and-so back when…” That was the appeal of Douby in Erie, and that will be the appeal of luring future NBA prospects to play for the BayHawks en route to their dreams of the call-up.

Players in Review: Taj McCullough, Mike Cook

Friday, May 1, 2009

Neither McCullough nor Cook finished the year on the BayHawks roster, but both players made contributions early in the season, and for that, neither player will be overlooked in this segment.

McCullough was actually waived by the BayHawks when they acquired Cook back on Dec. 27. McCullough played in 8 games for Erie, averaging 6.5 points and 1.9 rebounds in 12.4 minutes per game.

Of all the BayHawks transactions this season, the decision to release the 6-7 forward out of Winthrop may have been their biggest mistake. McCullough was claimed off waivers by Fort Wayne where he went on to start 34 games, averaging 17.6 points and 4.8 rebounds in more than 32 minutes per game for the Mad Ants.

Cook played in 10 games for the BayHawks. The 6-4 guard out of Pitt was hampered by a knee injury, which is why he wasn’t able to stay on the roster. When he was healthy and playing, however, he put up a respectable 8.6 points in just 12.6 minutes per game. He failed to fill up the stat sheet in other areas, though. Combining that with the knee injury, it was understandable if disappointing that Erie had to let go of the former Panther when they did on Jan. 22.

Blog Talk BayHawk now on ErieBlogs

My thanks to ErieBlogs for adding me to their blogroll and giving Blog Talk BayHawk the following recommendation in their May 1 Erie news, sports and events post as follows:

If you are into the Bayhawks, we’d recommend checking out Blog Talk BayHawk, a new local blog covering the Hawks written by Matt Hubert.
You can now find the latest Blog Talk BayHawks posts included along with your other favorite Erie-related blogs over at ErieBlogs.com on the right-side column underneath the heading "New posts by Erie bloggers." If it's not in your bookmarked sites already, add it now. It's a daily must-see Internet destination for anyone with ties to Erie and the surrounding area.

About this blog/blogger

Blog Talk BayHawk is an unofficial Erie BayHawks blog covering the NBA D-League. It features opinions and information about the NBADL and the Erie BayHawks. Blog Talk BayHawk is written from a basketball fan’s perspective to fill In the gaps left by professional journalists’ coverage of BayHawks basketball and the Erie professional basketball scene.

Matt Hubert is a 25-year-old writer and basketball fanatic born and raised in Erie, Pa. He graduated from Mercyhurst College in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in English and a dual concentration in writing and creative writing. Matt's not wavering from his stance as a lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan, but he will cover the BayHawks' NBA affiliates in Cleveland and Toronto when it makes sense to do so throughout the year.

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