4 players signed, two drafted and a whole lot of question marks

Yesterday marked the signing of Halifax’s first four players so it’s probably a good time to reflect on the current and potential roster.

Just to get it out of the way: I have absolutely no idea where the Dennis Rodman rumour came from, but I got a few hundred hits yesterday from people who seemed to have believed it. Rodman’s playing days, even in the minors, are long over. Last season he managed to convince the owner of the now defunct Elmira Bull Dogs of the EBL to fork over $80k for the privilege of having him coach two games mid-season. The publicity stunt bankrupted the upper NY state team. (The owner, James Schutz, once owned the Corning Bulldogs in the ABA, a team which no showed on Halifax after folding mid-ABA season just like so many other teams. Schutz now owns and runs the ACPBL, a fourth rate American regional minor league) The Rodman rumour seemed to have come from some clueless internet folk making shit up and everyone believing them.

So now that we’ve established who Halifax didn’t sign, it might be worth mentioning who they did sign.

Andre had hyped these signings up and I had no illusions that we were going to see an NBA starter show up in Halifax, but I imagined a player along the lines of Morris Peterson (a former business partner of Andre’s)  might be a viable option, so when the announcement was Eddie Robinson and Rodney Buford I was a bit underwhelmed. It’s a good example of over selling and under delivering. Had Andre just held the press conference without any hype then the media likely would have been excited about two NBA journeymen joining the team and fans would have followed suit. It also would have helped reduce the chances of fan disappointment when at least one of these guys (probably Robinson) turns out to be a huge bust.

I actually think that Buford could potentially contribute here. Yes he’s had at least six separate substance abuse related disciplinary issues, but they’ve all only involved marijuana for the most part so I think he’s more of a “problematic character guy” than “a head case” or “dangerous criminal.” He’s also played at a very high level since leaving the NBA and has the size and tools to be an elite scorer at this level. I think he will produce, but I am unsure if he’ll produce enough to justify the huge salary he will no doubt be drawing. Given the fact that he will likely take up much more cap space, I am not sure he’s a totally justifiable upgrade over a guy like Mike Mercer. I am also curious to see if they decide to try to play him at the off-guard spot or move him over to small forward.
Eddie Robinson will likely not stick around. The guy hasn’t even been playing pro-ball on a regular basis since bouncing from the bulls and is now a 35 year old. Time is never kind to wing players who rely entirely on athleticism and that’s exactly what Robinson was. His stats for the 2006-07 D-league season with Idaho aren’t terrible: 15.6 ppg, 3.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals a game. But keep two things in mind: first, that was when the D-league was still a disorganized mess of a league with a low level of talent. Second, that was five years ago and it was the last time Robinson played any level of pro-ball.  Maybe he’ll surprise me, but I doubt it.

Largely overlooked has been the re-signing of two players from last year’s team. Taliek Brown was last year’s starting PG and is in many ways a player with a much better pedigree than either of the former NBAers announced yesterday.  He’s a former NCAA champion with UConn, and he wasn’t a bench player on that team. He was the starting point guard. I thought he was one of the best guards in the PBL last year and he is a legitimate high level professional floor general. He can run a team, get to the rim and play D against most point guards (although he did struggle staying in front of very quick guards last season his experience and strength let him push a lot of smaller guys around). His major flaw is that he has absolutely no jump shot, but the reality is that if a player that good could also shoot the ball he would never be available to play in the NBL. Of the four players signed yesterday he is far and away the safest bet to be a contributor to the team this season.

Finally,t he team announced that DeAndre Thomas will be joining the team for a third time. He’s a giant ball of basketball talent who was notorious for eating big macs as a pre-game meal during his brief sting with the University of Indiana. He’s 6’7″ish but throws his considerable weight around well. He has incredible hands and amazing footwork but he has been a constant headcase everywhere he’s gone (including Halifax) and is incredibly foul prone and lazy on the defensive end of the floor. (or rather, he’s so lazy he often doesn’t bother to go to the defensive end of the floor). He’s another guy who likely won’t last to the playoffs, if he even gets out of training camp.

On the whole I feel like there were two signings today that are likely to be good moves (Brown and Buford) and two that I don’t think will pan out (Robinson and Thomas). If two of Halifax’s starting five are a former NCAA Champion and a former NBA player then I think the team is positioned well.

The problem is that with camp opening the first week of October the team’s signed, drafted and otherwise likely list of players is short. As of now it looks like this:

PG: Taliek Brown (signed), Jerrell Thomson (sort of drafted, unsigned), Christian Upshaw (unsigned camp invite)

SG: Pappa Oppong (drafted, unsigned), Rodney Buford (signed)

SF: Eddie Robinson (signed)

PF: Eric Crookshank (unsigned but likely to return), Danny Friend (drafted, unsigned), DeAndre Thomas (signed)

So basically they have no one locked at the centre and powerforward spots except for DeAndre Thomas and a glut of old guys and unproven, undersized guards. I know it is early but they need to get some proven minor league vets into camp and try to bring in some athletic wing players. I expect yet another season of musical chairs at the centre spot while Andre hunts for the non-existent affordable, versatile and athletic minor league centre.

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How did Halifax do on draft day?

There were a few tiny technical errors with the broadcast (mostly involving sound levels)  but overall what we saw broadcast last night was head and shoulders above anything else the minor leagues have done with a draft, and I included the NBA-DL in that category.

But how did the Rainmen actualy fare when it comes to using their three picks effectively?

Anyone who has followed the US minor league circuit knows that it’s still too early to make any firm judgements about players for one simple reason: between signing/being drafted and opening day there’s a good chance players will get bigger offers overseas, have passport problems, decide to pursue a more lucrative career doing something else, choose not to leave their families or decide not to report to the team for any variety of reasons. However, waiting until November to toss out opinions is no fun, so let’s talk draft grades:

Round 1 (6th overall pick) Grade: B

Danny Friend is an unknown property. Unheralded out of a small DII school (Limestone college) with no video online, no previous pro-experience but he seems like a sweet kid and his mom was with him and was absolutely stoked that her kid got drafted. From the video they showed on the broadcast he looks like he’s long with really good size and they don’t need a ton out of that position since they will at least have Crookshank there playing 28+ minutes a game. You can’t fault a team at this level for taking size and length but it is surprising that the team took a pass on Tristan Martin who was probably the Canadian with the biggest reputation in the draft and who fell to the Quebec Kebs at 8th overall.  I’d say this is a solid pick that may or may not pan out. At the very least it looks like they got a kid who wants to play for Halifax and who is a legit basketball player. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Round 2 (13th overall) Grade: A-

Papa Oppong! Mavs Gillis is going to lose his goddamn mind doing play-by-play everytime Big Papa shoots the basketball. Papa has swagger. Papa went to Eastern Commerce where Andre Levingston was once an assistant coach. Papa is a Canadian. Papa played DI ball for Eastern Kentucky where he knocked down 45% of his three point shots. Papa is going to make the team and give quality minutes as a shooting guard with decent size and a sweet stroke. Papa is young and is going to become a legit pro. I for one am stoked on the Papa Oppong era in Halifax.

Round 3 (20th overall) Grade: F

Dude isn’t even a Canadian? Wasted pick. Jerell Thompson is tabbed to play a backup role and he played DI ball, although it was in a weak conference (NEC). He’ll be in camp, but he could have been a camp invite without being drafted. Boooooo.

Overall grade: C

I really like the pick of Oppong. I don’t know much about Friend but the fact that he doesn’t jump out as being awful which is actually a plus. The third pick was a messy screw up. I just can’t get excited about a three round draft for Halifax when they only emerge with two players and only one canuck. They’re behind the rest of the league when it comes to finding a quality second Canadian and the team has generally struggled to sign top Canadian talent in the past. I’d expect the Rainmen to either pursue another Toronto guy with some connection to Andre or an AUS player like Simon Farine. In terms of needs I think Papa gives them a potential bench scorer and you can never have too many shooters, Friend has size and a good attitude on his side and they got one of two required Canadians. A solid “meh” draft deserves a solid C level grade.

 

So how do you think Halifax did? Would you have picked someone else instead? Did they mess up passing on Tristan Martin? Who are you hoping gets a camp invite?

Also: I am now “tweeting” or “twittering” or whatever the kids call it these days. “Follow” me at http://www.twitter.com/section23nbl

Five questions before the NBL draft

And after a 2 year hiatus Section23 is back. Short version is that I am moving back to Halifax in a couple of weeks and no one started a blog about the team in my absence. So here it goes: five questions I, and I am sure lots of other Rainmen fans, are asking themselves and each other in the lead up to tonight’s NBL draft. I haven’t re-built my base of contacts in Halifax yet so this is conjecture, semi-educated guesses and extrapolation.

#1 Is this draft for real?

Mercifully, Yes. If you didn’t follow the PBL you might wonder why anyone would even need to ask this question. The Premier Basketball League, the former home of the Rainmen, Millrats and Kebs, held two drafts which were nothing but a PR move (and a poorly executed one at that), with teams selecting players they had already signed prior to the draft and almost none coming out of the combines. Of course that would be annoying but not awful if it didn’t end up becoming clear that some other competitive elements of the league were equally staged.

The disappointment that Levingston, Bernier and McCarthy felt with the PBL draft are reflected in the rules they set out for this year’s NBL draft: players at the combine only, neutral team running the combine, no parachuted in players or guys already under contract, etc. As of now there’s reason to believe it will all be above board.

# 2 Does anyone outside of minor league nerd circles care about this draft?

Surprisingly I am going to say yes. The league and their interim PR director Jillian Blackman have done an insane job of getting local and national media attention for the draft. The broadcast crew is Sherman Hamilton, Paul Jones and Eric Smith – i.e. legit broadcasters with deep roots in the Canadian sports media. I expect all the media in local markets to pick it up and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see articles in the Post and the Globe. The real question is whether or not it will hit the highlight packages on the sports networks or garner a mention on CBC’s news loop – I won’t hazard a guess but I think that may largely be dependent on the quality of the broadcast and how slow a sports day it is.

#3 What’s the talent level in the draft?

A bit lower than I expected. I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of stars or even starters coming out of the draft. There will no doubt be a few diamonds in the rough from unheralded college programs who are going to impress, but there are very few recognizable minor leaguers on the combine list and more worrisome almost no big name CIS players. It’s the first year so I suspect lots of agents were waiting to see how the combine, draft and league fare in their first year so I’m not worried but it’s surprising to see so few names from the big CIS schools like UBC and Carlton and few players from the big NAIA programs that often produce high quality minor league players (to say nothing of the lack of players from major NCAA schools). There is a surprising amount of height in the draft though, and I would expect that the big men at Seneca got a good, hard look this weekend.

#4 Who will Halifax take with their three picks?

No idea. A new coach, a new league and a real, live draft make things a bit complicated to predict but we know a few things that can help narrow things down a bit:

– There are 3 players who played university ball in Halifax at the combine: STFX’s Will Silver and Charlie Spurr and Achuil Lual of Acadia.  Halifax has long looked for a local player who can actually play at this level swinging and missing wildly with high schooler turned bench warmer Derico Wigginton and then Dalhousie bench warmer turned Rainmen bench warmer Devon Norris so I would expect them to give all three players a serious look. Lual was in camp with Halifax last year but was cut by his former Acadia coach, Les Berry. Silver was part of a three headed beast of a backcourt at X over the last few years but I think the big question mark will be about his size and strength, but being the only Halifax native in the draft I would not at all be shocked to see him drafted in the third round. He’s definitely not a starting PG at this level, but he might be able to run the second unit.

– Andre likes to be involved in personnel decisions and he goes through some intense phases where he obsesses over a certain type of player (first it was slashing guards, then big and athletic wing players and then strong centres). I don’t know how he’s feeling this weekend, but rest assured that he will look to make some sort of splash with the draft and has always placed single skill players (i.e. deadly shooters like Silverhorn) and athletic players at the top of his list when it comes time to build a team.

– Halifax have five players under protection: Eric Crookshank (PF), Josh Dollard (SF/PF), Trayvon Lathan (SF/PG), Taliek Brown (PG) and DeAndre Thomas (PF/C) and that may play into their decision making but I don’t think it’s going to be the major factor. Crookshank looks like the only lock to stay in Halifax and if there is an elite big man available at any point when the Rainmen are on the clock I’d expect them to take the best available player, not pick by position.

#5 Will the rest of the teams know what they’re doing?

Definitely. Halifax do have an advantage in being an established franchise, but the Kebs and the Millrats are experienced, too. Moncton’s ownership are serious businessmen with serious basketball connections so I expect them to be well staffed. London have hired former NBA All-star and minor league coaching legend Michael Ray Richardson. I just don’t see Halifax facing off against a bunch of rubes tonight.

Levingston Raiding the CBA, Strick Looking for Front Office Gig and a Reminder to Tryout for to Play at the Metro Centre

Lots to update, thanks for the most part to Mathew Wuest and the Halifax Metro.

First off:  Remember when the team was being announced last year and everyone on this blog was saying “this team needs role players”?  Yeah… well Levingston agrees now. He’s saying that he wants to go find three or four dominant guys and surround them with role players.

After the season, Levingston was talking about bringing back Jimmy Twyman, Eric Crookshank, Michael Anderson and Tony Bennett.  He mentions that he wants to bring back Eric and the Voice – Bennett is a question of money, and I think I would bet a limb on Eric’s return.  Twyman is mentioned as only being viable as a back up, which I think is a good call.  Anderson isn’t even mentioned and it’s implied that the team are looking for a new starting small forward.

I am not convinced you win the PBL championship of Eric Crookshank is your first or second offensive option.  His athleticism isn’t as dominant as it was in the ABA and his post up and mid-range games are just way too inconsistent to lean on down the stretch.  However, I do think you win the PBL championship if Eric is scoring off put backs, deflecting passes and rebounding.  I think he needs to look to re-invent himself as an energy guy who creates total chaos on defense and crashes for offensive boards.  I think Bennett is a fantastic starting shooting guard, but he needs to have a small forward and point guard who can actually shoot the ball to make up for his low percentage from deep.

Levingston drops some names on the new players he’s pursuing and for the most part they are former CBA guys.  With the collapse of the Continental Basketball League there are a lot quality minor league players out there.  Some of them certainly mid-level European talent (i.e. German League type guys) but have chosen to stay in North America for various reasons.  Unfortunately, some of the minor league talent out there choose to stay in the US due to passport issues and those players won’t be heading North to play for the Rainmen.  Some of the names mentioned in the article include:

  • PG Jason McLeish, a NYC native who had a strong D1 career at Eastern Kentucky.  Definitely a legit starting PG.
  • Trayvon Lathan, a 6’6″ shooting guard who played D3 ball and is currently playing for the Los Angeles Lightening in the IBL (a team that features a crazy assortment of washed up NBA guys).  I have a hard time seeing him as anything other than a back up wing player.
  • DeAndre Thomas, a 6″8 big man… who could be a massive coup if it is who I think it is.  The only detail we get on him is that he’s friends with Bennett and is 6’8″, but a 6’8″ DeAndre Thomas played for the Indiana Hoosiers for a year before leaving the team in 2008 as part of absolute clusterfuck that was Hoosiers basketball.  He then suited up for Robert Morris (College, not U) in the NAIA.  The guy is massive – he was 285 -300 lb when he left Indiana.  He didn’t exactly light the NCAA up, but “Big Dre” has the sort of size that the Rainmen were looking for all year, but fitness is obviously a major concern.
  • Galen Young, a 6’7″ minor league veteran.  Back in the late 90s he played for UNC-Charlotte and was a 2nd round pick by the Milwaukee Bucks.  He was cut before the season started and has played in various overseas leagues and the CBA ever since.  He was CBA player of the year in 2007 and would bring experience, leadership and versatility to the team.  In his prime he was a triple double machine but he’s exactly ten years older than me and will be 34 by the time training camp starts.

Of course, none of these guys are actually signed and there’s no indication that they’re interested in joining the Rainmen, but it’s nice to know that the team has already started looking seriously at players.

The second article in the Metro is about Strick.  Appearently he’s lost weight and is trying to get into shape for next season.  He’s another guy who age is catching up to him, but he plays a game that exploits his veteran experience and compensates for his lack of athleticism.  If he does return, Levingston says, it will be in a reserve role.  What’s more interesting is that he’s helping the Rainmen out by serving as an informal scout and helping the Rainmen staff find talent in NYC, and it sounds like he’s gunning for a spot in the front office of the Rainmen.  I am not convinced that the Rainmen need a dedicated GM, but I’d like to see them bring Strick in as an assistant coach and player for this season and give him some additional scouting responsibilities.  I think he could learn a lot from Berry and he’s respected by players.  Every Rainman I’ve talked to has said that he is the smartest player they’ve ever played with and if he was willing to accept an assistant/scouting role then I think you’ve got to give him a go on that.
Finally, just a reminder:  The Rainmen are playing host to a streetball tour called 94Inc in early August.  Basically, it’s a team of former And1 guys who figured they can do this themselves without a big company exploiting their labour.  Obviously I back this.  If anyone is interested in playing against them, there will be an open run on August 8th to try out for the local opposition.  Keep an eye on the Rainmen’s website for details.  Hopefully we’ll see Eric somehow be involved in this – I doubt we’ll see him play, but it would be cool to have him coach.

Profile of Eric Crookshank

There’s a pretty good longform interview with Eric on the Haligonia website.  It’s 12 minutes long and while there aren’t tons of new details in it I think it gives you a pretty accurate idea of what Eric is like.

Interview with Jermaine Anderson

The best player to ever suit up for the Rainmen gave an interview a few weeks ago which I just found.  It’s a bit fluffy with not a lot of details but there was one very interesting quote:

You had a tremendous individual season, what were the reasons behind your success?
J – First and foremost any success that I have is through God’s will, and the way I felt in some games it was through his grace I was able to even play. But I worked extremely hard in the offseason with a guy named Daniel Frieberg and playing in the summers with the national team really helped my game develop. Having the opportunity to play against teams such as Greece, Germany, USA, and Argentina has given me valuable game experience against some of the best teams and players in the world. Any time I get a chance to play for my country is definitely a blessing and a way to get better.


AJ Millien Named to All-PBL Second Team

Only one Rainman made an All-PBL team list this year and it was on the strength of his play for another franchise.  AJ Millien was named to the second team. I really thought that Tony Bennett was one of the best all-around guards in the league, but could you really justify putting two Halifax players in the top 11?(Why on earth is it not ten?)  I can certainly justify two Halifax players before I could justify two Detroit players.  They finished 4 games below .500 and were never even in the play-off hunt, and played in an incredibly weak division. In fact, the first team has three players whose teams won a combined 11 games!  You’d need to add Buffalo, Detroit and Quebecs total wins together just to get one game over .500 on the season.  Absurd.

The other major shocker to me is that Manchester, despite winning a tough division and playing high quality ball.  You can’t tell me that Al Stewart or Desmond Ferguson don’t at least deserve to be second team all-stars.

First Team:

Keith Friel Guard Rochester RazorSharks
Rashi Johnson Guard Battle Creek Knights
Randy Gill Guard Detroit Panthers
Cedric McGinnis Forward Wilmington Sea Dawgs
Tyrone Rayson Forward Buffalo Stampede
Jonas Pierre Center Quebec Kebs

2008-09 PBL ALL-LEAGUE SECOND TEAM

Player Position Team
Alex Harper Guard Wilmington Sea Dawgs
Benson Callier Guard Vermont Frost Heaves
James Reaves Forward Rochester RazorSharks
AJ Millien Forward Halifax Rainmen
Walt Waters Center Detroit Panthers


My picks for year end awards after the jump:

Continue reading

Season Wrap Up Part I: On Court Report Card

It’s report card time.  I will also be making an off-court report card as well as a post trying to analyze exactly where things went wrong with the team.  But for now let’s take a look at how the individual parts of this team performed over the last few months.  Some notes before you look at my rankings after the jump:

  • I am only counting games played for Halifax so guys like Anderson and Millien only get credit for work done for the Rainmen.  Sorry Slim.
  • Players who were not on the team at the end of the season do not count for the final over all mark.
  • This looks at individual players, not how things actually fit together as a whole.
  • It’s a mark based on how well players fulfilled the role that was asked of them.  If you’re getting 15 minutes off the bench then I don’t expect the same from you as I do if you were a starter.
  • Everyone’s mark is added up the same and then averaged at the end.  So Tyrone McNeal’s mark affects the team just as much Tony Bennett’s.

Continue reading

Millien Clinches PBL Scoring Title

Congratulations are in order for AJ “Slim” Millien after he clinched the PBL scoring title tonight.  Tyronne Rayson of the Buffalo Stampede could have caught him in the scoring race and tried his best by putting up 37 points against Battle Creek, but Millien just pulled it out.  His scoring numbers (along with his minutes and shots) plummetted after joining the Rainmen from Augusta but a couple of high scoring affairs against Montreal kept him from losing too much ground.

He also finished 7th in rebounds (9.5 per game) and fourth in blocks (1.4 per game).  Millien is a great power forward and I hope Halifax can bring him back next year.  However, the only way that that will happen is if the new coach commits to getting him more touches and minutes and makes him the centre (or at least second option) in the offense.  And it’s important that the coach, not the owner, makes that commitment.

Best All Time Five? Worst All Time Five?

So after two seasons in the books (Halifax have two games left… but they’ll be terrible games against an undermanned Montreal team) it’s probably a good time to evaluate who the best players the Rainmen’s history as well as to look back at some of the worst.  People should post their own lists, but mine are after the jump. Continue reading

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