by Troy Sparks
WAUWATOSA– With the ongoing NBA lockout, you may not see the Milwaukee Bucks
play for a while. There will be some pro basketball here, regardless.
You can bet that these pros will excite the crowd and be available to
fans. These players have a local connection to people who have seen
them play in high school and college.
The Milwaukee Blast is the newest pro basketball franchise of the
watered-down American Basketball Association. This is not your
grandfather’s original ABA and the stars that carried that league
before the ABA-NBA merger.
At Wisconsin Lutheran College, Sept. 17, the Blast held their last round
of tryouts for players who were trying to make the team. The Blast
had other tryouts and chose players from those rounds to make up part
of their roster.
About 40 players, including those already on the team, showcased their
talents in the tryouts, which ran from 9 a.m. until noon. The list
of who’s who competed for a handful of spots on a team that will
carry between 12-15 players.
New head coach Marc Mitchell is familiar with many of the guys who tried
out, going back to his days as the coach at Custer when their teams
played against his team in high school. The City Conference lineup
of Dupree Fletcher, Devin Irven and Wquinton Smith (King), Deonte
Tatum, Dejuante Wade, Brandon and Breon Allen (Vincent) and Geo Riley
(Marshall) gave it their all in trying to impress Mitchell and the
rest of his coaching staff.
Each player had to pay $150 to try out, which was non-refundable. The
ones who will make the team will feel that it was money well-spent.
And the man behind this operation is team owner/general manager Elzie
Flenard. As the man in charge, it was his vision to have a pro
basketball team in Milwaukee.
“I’ve always wanted to have a pro team,” he said. “It just happened
that I was living in Milwaukee at the time. Back when I was in
college in Carbondale, IL (Southern Illinois Univ.) . . . It’s
really just a thing of destiny and faith that I just happened to be
living (back) in Milwaukee. It was a natural choice.”
Flenard chose the Blast nickname for a reason. “We kind of incorporate
what you think about when you think about Milwaukee,” he said. “So
the Blast kind of has a double, almost a triple meaning; a blast,
meaning a cold blast. When you say Milwaukee, the thing that comes
to mind is how cold it is.
“The other part of it is that there are a lot of festivals in Milwaukee.
So at festivals you have a blast, like it’s fun; it’s exciting.
It has that double meaning, the festivals that you see in Milwaukee,
also the weather in Milwaukee.”
This is a franchise that will be here for the long term, said Flenard. It
will maintain team identity. “I think that at the end of the day,
fans are going to find that it’s a very fun and very exciting
experience,” he said. “The Milwaukee Blast is going to be here
for a while. We’re not going anywhere. It’s not my goal to fill
it up and sell it. It’s my goal to fill it up and have a
10-year-old kid remember when he came to the first Milwaukee Blast
game, he bought a hat. And as an adult, he still has that hat
because that’s the memory that will be created.”
The makeup of this year’s team would be determined in the three-hour
session. It was intense and businesslike. Every player in the gym
went hard. They gave no breaks, and they didn’t ask for breaks.
Action went on at the four courts with drills set up at each station. There
were one-on-one, box out, dribbling and driving to the basket drills.
The referees showed up around 10 a.m. to referee the games. After a
water break, the players were split into four teams and scrimmaged
for about 90 minutes.
Riley, Fletcher and Kori Vernon (UW-Whitewater), Wade (Mid-State Technical),
Tatum (Hawaii) and J.P. Gavinski (Wisconsin) played well in the
scrimmages. Vernon, Gavinski, Brandon Allen and Irven are already on
the roster. The other four players (Riley, Wade, Fletcher and Tatum)
have a good shot at making the team.
Mitchell’s overall assessment of the tryouts was positive. “I saw a couple of
guys that were working hard,” he said. “I’d be interested in
sitting down with the owner and see if we can pick some guys.”
Added Flenard: “Our goal is to have players who may have played in Div.
I, Div. II, Div. III, or what have you, and they’re a couple years
out of playing. They want to play at a high level. They’ll
probably be working full-time. It’s easier for everyone to
schedule games on weekends.
“The other part is that we want to have a good mix in terms of players.
We’ll have players who have full-time jobs and they play basketball
at a high level. But, we’ll also have a couple of guys that are
legitimate. They have a legitimate chance of playing either overseas
or in the NBDL. We want to have a mix of guys who are looking to use
this as an experience to move up. And we want to have a group of
guys who are doing this because they love Milwaukee, they love
basketball and they want to provide a positive experience.”