Photo by Chung Chow
The boys are back in town.
Seventeen years after the Vancouver Grizzlies abruptly left for Memphis, professional basketball has returned to the Lower Mainland. And like the NBA team that preceded them, the Vancouver Knights have established a strong link to Richmond.
While the Grizzlies played their home games at what is now Rogers Arena, much of their time was spent at their practice facility in the Riverport industrial Park. The Knights, however, have made the Richmond Olympic Oval their base for both practices and home games.
Jamal Mullings, director of basketball operations for the Knights, has high hopes for the team in the new North American Premier Basketball League.
“We want to establish a culture of winning, bring a championship to Vancouver, and be as big as the Grizzlies were,” he says.
Though the Yakima SunKings spoiled the Knights’ home debut last Sunday, posting a 113-101 victory over the hosts, and then triumphed again Monday 108-82, Mullings—who also plays guard for the Knights—likes what he sees.
“It’s a long season. We just opened 3-1 on a four-game road trip and we’ve gone through a lot of change and
adversity (including the franchise shifting from Seattle) early in the process, but I feel like it’s paying off,” he says. “Now we have opportunity to actually focus on basketball.”
Mullings says fans can expect to see a scrappy team that utilizes its athleticism.
“Some people may look at us and think we’re undersized, but we utilize a lot of small-ball lineups. Our quickness is an advantage, so we try not to worry about being outsized inside and use our defence to get out of tough situations. The counter to size is speed.”
Head coach Jerome Brown concurs.
“I like to play small ball. I love guards that go up and down (the court) and play a fast pace with plenty of movement,” he says.
But while Brown favours a fast-paced game, he also stresses patience. He points to the Golden State Warriors as an example.
“It’s no more than possessions. We just have to play the game the smart way instead of forcing the issue.”
Both Mullings and Brown are also bullish on the future of the eight-team league with franchises from the Pacific Northwest to the U.S. Southeast.
Most of the coaches have NBA resumes, as does president David Magley, previously commissioner of the National Basketball League of Canada and a former Cleveland Cavalier. And many of the players are former D league if not NBA players, Mullings says.
“I think (the North American Premier Basketball League) is the most competitive (basketball) league right now,” adds Brown, whose Knights (3-3 going into a twinbill against Nevada, 0-4, last week) are scheduled to host Kansas City Tornados (0-4) Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. at UBC.
When the creation of the NAPBL was announced last July in Chicago by CEO Dr. Sev Hrywnak and president Magley, the latter cited the new league’s unique standards as the main factor that will separate it from other leagues around the world. These include financial standards for team owners, sliding scale payments for players, venue and uniform regulations, and community initiatives.
Hrywnak and Magley are also dedicated to including valuable programming for local communities, particularly schools from the elementary to high school levels. Programs include players reading to younger children, hosting basketball camps for teens, and speaking in school-wide assemblies about substance abuse and staying in school.