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News » Armor set to debut

Armor set to debut

Armor set to debut n Springfield s new Basketball team tips off Friday night.

Berkshire Eagle Staff

SPRINGFIELD -- The newest professional sports team in Western Massachusetts is part of a league that has only been in existence since 2001. The Springfield Armor of the National Basketball Association Development League is anything but a fly-by-night operation, and the response in the Pioneer Valley shows that.

"The response has been great," Armor general manager Alex Schwerin said. "We re still selling tickets. Everyone s excited. The first game in franchise history will hopefully be a memorable moment for the franchise."

The Armor s history begins Friday night at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield, when they host the Iowa Energy. Game time is 7 p.m.

The Armor and the Maine Red Claws, based in Portland, joined the D-League this year as expansion teams -- giving the NBA s minor league 16 teams.

The two newest teams played each other in an exhibition game Monday night. In that game, Julian Allen and Perrin Johnson had 12 points each as the Armor beat the Red Claws 86-78.

Springfield received word on March 31 that it received a D-League expansion team.

The D-League was founded in 2001. Prior to that, leagues like the Continental Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association had players available for purchase by NBA teams.

Now, the D-League has players assigned to each of its 18 teams by NBA clubs. The Armor s parent clubs are the New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. Each team can provide up to two first- or second-year players, while the rest of the team is made up of D-League contracted players.

The NBA teams can call their players up as often as they like, but have to purchase the non-affiliated players from the D-League team.

"All the other 27 teams can call players up" from the Armor, said first-year head coach Dee Brown, a former Boston Celtic. "If the Portland Trail Blazers want a guard or a center we have that they like, they can sign him up to a call-up.

"The way the affiliate thing works, those three teams can send their players down. Any of the NBA teams can call up one of the roster players, who came through us, to their team."

Brown is, of course, best known for his 12-year NBA career that started as the Celtics first-round draft pick in 1990. He was a member of the NBA All-Rookie team in 1990-91, and his stint with the Celtics might best be remembered for his victory in the Slam Dunk Competition during All-Star Weekend in 1991.

Brown has coached the Orlando and San Antonio teams in the WNBA and has been director of Player Development for th Orlando Magic.

The Armor s roster is dotted with well-known names. Guard JamesOn Curry played collegiately at Oklahoma State for Eddie Sutton, and frequently appeared on national television. Adam Harrington was a star player at Pioneer Valley High School in nearby Northfield, went to North Carolina State and Auburn, and had a brief stint in the NBA .

Then there are former University of Massachusetts players Dante Milligan and Maurice Maxwell, who hung around until the final cut, and guard Craig Austrie, who was the starting point guard for Jim Calhoun at the University of Connecticut.

And while Brown will talk with front-office officials in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia, he ll be running his own offense and defense.

He said that can help the non-affiliated players catch some other team s eye.

"Even though we re affiliated with three teams that can send players up and down, they re auditioning for 30 [ NBA ] teams every night," said Brown. "You never know who s watching. So don t get caught up looking at the New York roster, the Philly roster and the Nets roster.

"Make sure, when you re out there playing, you have 30 executives looking every night at film, at video, calling me to get impressions on if [a player] can help their Basketball team."

The Armor joins a fairly crowded Pioneer Valley sports load that includes University of Massachusetts Basketball and hockey and the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League.

"It s been interesting because we re a brand new thing. From a ticket standpoint, we re right about 1,500 season tickets, which is certainly a good number to get to for the first year," Schwerin said.

"In terms of the business community, they ve been tremendously supportive. It s a new thing, and the challenge really is reaching out to as many people as possible. You can only talk to so many people and connect with so many people in seven months. That s going to be a growing process over the years."

Schwerin joined the Armor after working for Modesto of the California League, a minor baseball league. The Modesto team was owned by the HWS Group, the organization that also owns the Armor.

And while the Armor is trying to become Springfield s team this year, the first-year general manager wants to expand that reach.

"With the closest team to us being Portland, Maine, and Erie, Pennsylvania, we can have a little bit of a regional draw and interest," he said. "Certainly, we re starting as close to home as possible. Eventually, whether it s this season or down the road, we re going to want to be able to draw support from outside of just Springfield, and throughout the region.

"The support has to come from people that are closest. That doesn t keep us from reaching out .... to let them know about the team and what s here."

For Schwerin and his staff, it has been an extraordinarily hectic time period, since the team just took ROOT in Springfield back in April.

"We re in the final rush to the finish line right now," he said. "It s been a fun summer, a busy summer. It s been a great experience. We ve learned a lot about the community, about the organization and how we re going to be able to put this thing together.

"Now, we re just working every minute to get ready for the 27th."

To reach Howard Herman: , (413) 496-6253.

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: November 27, 2009


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