The American Basketball Association, which brought us the three-colored ball, Doctor J and the three-point shot, is back with more wacky rules and an expansion franchise in Northern Virginia. The Nova Wonders have begun their search for ballers, and they are set to begin play in Chantilly in November, at the former Hoop Magic facility, now called the Northern Virginia Sportsplex.
The team is owned by three women, and has already held two tryouts in the area, including one Saturday at the Laurel Boys and Girls Club. One of the co-owners is Jackie Smith, a former women’s college hoop star at St. John’s in the early 1980s, where she led the team to consecutive Big East titles. She still holds the St. John’s women’s record for best free throw percentage in a season, .838.
She now lives in Fredericksburg, and along with Cassandra Warren and Joy Pickett, they are dedicated to creating a fan friendly, affordable experience for those who can’t quite pony up for the dollars and travel time needed to see the Wizards downtown. Not to mention the NBA’s whole uncertain labor situation, lockout etc.
The ABA has about 90 teams spread around the country in different regional conferences, and teams have a salary cap of $100,000 — they can only spend that much on the entire roster. Gilbert Arenas made that in one quarter. On the bench.
Here is Smith talking about her hopes for the team, and after the jump is more about the league, the guys who showed up Saturday hoping to become a Nova Wonder and the latest ABA rules innovations:
Smith, a native of Queens, N.Y., said she was living in Fredericksburg when a friend approached her about snapping up the Northern Virginia market for a pro basketball team. “We did our research and here it is.” She and Warren would say only that they spent several thousand dollars each to buy the team, and now they’re on the hunt for sponsors.
“I think people in Northern Virginia,” Smith said, “are looking for sports events that they can take the kids to that are affordable and more entertaining.”
The new ABA was founded in 1999, and soon moved from a small league with teams in large cities to a large league with teams spread all over the country, with franchise fees as low as $10,000. Some franchises have folded in mid-season, but the league has continued to grow, and Smith said the league plans to expand to 144 teams, and also launch an ”ABA Classics” with a top-tier league above the current ABA.
Smith and Warren said they began visiting every rec league and gym they could find in D.C., Virginia and Maryland, looking for players. They of course turned to Facebook and Twitter to get the word out, and some players said that’s how they heard about it. And they had their first tryout in early July in Chantilly.
The second tryout Saturday featured 18 players, some of whom who came from as far as New York, and all of whom seemed to have some small college experience and maybe even a little pro ball on their resumes. Linwood Boxley, 21, of Fredericksburg, said, “Just trying to live out my dream. Dreams only die when you stop trying to make ‘em reality.”
Travis Willis, 24, of Woodbridge, played high school ball at Osbourn Park in Manassas and college at Virginia-Wise. “We all want to play and get paid for it,” Willis said. “I know a lot of people that play overseas,” and he felt that making a good showing in the ABA might get him a shot in a foreign league.
Camontae Griffin, 25, of Baltimore, was a somewhat dominant point guard in Saturday’s workout, slashing through the lane and hitting shots from all angles. He played for Dunbar High and then several colleges, and said the Wonders “could be a step. Just give me a chance to show what I can do, to keep playing.”
The playing should be fairly entertaining. The league requires that ”every ABA game should be a fan-pleasing entertainment experience,” and that players are “expected to sign autographs and interact with fans after each ballgame...there will be ZERO TOLERANCE for taunting and baiting.”
The newest rule innovation is the 3-D Rule light, which goes on when a team steals the ball in the backcourt. If the team stealing the ball scores when the light is on, it gets an extra point. A regular basket becomes a three-pointer; a three-pointer is worth four.
Players can’t foul out. But after six fouls, the shooting team keeps possession of the ball. Players can’t “back down,” dribbling with their back to the basket below the free throw line, for more than three seconds. In overtime, there are NO time-outs (yay!). In the second overtime, the first team to score 10 points is the winner. Shots from beyond half court are worth four points.
“It’s just about giving it back to the fans,” Warren said. “The way sports are meant to be.”
The Wonders are scheduled to play their first game on Nov. 19, in a conference with teams from Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Lynchburg, Kentucky and West Virginia. You can follow them on their Web site or on Facebook. And a third tryout will probably be held this month in D.C. “Callin ball players to the floor!!!” the Facebook page declares.