The Washington Congressionals, members of the United States Basketball League, no longer wear their own uniforms and their past two home games have been postponed because a facility was not available.
Their struggles have drawn criticism from officials of the 13-team professional league.
"We're not pleased, to say the least," said Sean Fisher, director of public relations for the league, which is roughly the equivalent of Class AA baseball. "They have not met the standards of the USBL. [Congressionals owner Larry Arnold] needs to show us in the next month that he is going to change their direction." Fisher added that the league has no intention of folding the team and would like to see it finish the season.
Arnold did not return several phone messages seeking comment. Jacob Jonas, the team's interim coach since Mike McLeese quit May 7, declined to comment on the team's operations.
The USBL's 26-game season is completed just prior to the NBA's college draft in late June. More than 100 former USBL players have made it to the NBA, and the league bills itself as an opportunity for players to be noticed by NBA scouts and teams. Bus rides, cheap hotel rooms and other money-saving practices are routine.
One of the Congressionals' best players is guard Moochie Norris, who played 12 games this season for the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics. The team also began the season with the league's 1998 most valuable player, guard Curt Smith. But Smith, dissatisfied with the way the team was being run, demanded -- and received -- a trade (to the Connecticut Skyhawks), according to his agent, Tanisha Howard.
McLeese, who guided the team into the playoffs last year with a 17-9 record, said he became frustrated by a consistent lack of planning by Arnold. He said vans to take the team on road trips regularly arrived late and when the Congressionals traveled to New York City for their first two games of the season, on April 30 and May 1, Arnold did not make hotel reservations until the team had arrived in New York. The team ended up spending the night in Jersey City, N.J.
"The whole thing was a shady operation, to say the least," said McLeese, the former men's basketball coach at Howard University who resigned after the Congressionals won just one of their first eight games. They are now 1-11.
His replacement, Jonas, 26, is a 1996 graduate of George Washington University whose basketball experience includes two years as a student manager for George Washington's men's team and two years as a student assistant coach for the junior varsity men's team at the University of Albany.
The team had been practicing at Dunbar High School, where McLeese was an assistant athletic director. Since McLeese's departure, the Congressionals have struggled to find a place to practice. Also, since McLeese procured the team's uniforms last season, he told Arnold that if the team wanted to keep the uniforms, it would have to reimburse McLeese for them.
According to McLeese, Arnold declined to pay for the uniforms. For their game against Connecticut, the Congressionals borrowed the Skyhawks' practice jerseys and have worn them in their past three games.
Last week, the Congressionals postponed their home game against the Pennsylvania ValleyDawgs when a site for the game could not be found. Last Saturday, the team had scheduled its game against the Raleigh Cougars at the YMCA on 17th Street and Rhode Island Ave. in Northwest Washington, where the court has no seats and any spectators would have to stand.
However, by the time Raleigh arrived -- two hours late -- the court time allotted for the team was to expire before the game could have been completed, forcing the postponement.
"It has been really frustrating," said forward Greg Jones, the team's leading scorer at 23.3 points per game. "It is bad enough that we are losing, then we try to come back for our next game and it is canceled. It is hard trying to get back on track."
The Congressionals had played their first four home games of the season at GW's Smith Center, but Arnold was unable to secure other dates at that facility.
Fisher said he had been told Arnold was attempting to secure time at either the University of the District of Columbia's Physical Activities Center or Good Counsel High School to host games for the remainder of the season.
Tina James, a university services senior administrator at UDC, said school representatives and team officials met Thursday morning, but that no agreement had been reached for the team to play games at UDC.
Bob Windlan, the athletic director at Good Counsel, said the Wheaton school does not have time available for the Congressionals.
The team's next home game is scheduled for June 4 against the Atlantic City Seagulls, but a site is, as yet, undetermined.
"It is like the organization is falling apart," Jones said. "That is what it seems like."