716ers return from LA with accolades, team growth - INTERVIEWS
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • August 19, 2013 @ 8:50am
Suiting up in the Los Angeles Summer Pro League was uncharted territory for the Buffalo 716ers, a local professional basketball organization slated to begin play in the Independent Basketball Association (IBA) in March 2014.
While glimmers of hope—like Ajay Rutledge’s chance to tryout for a NBA D-League team—accompanied our first post on the 716ers’ West Coast romp, the team as a whole struggled down the stretch, finishing 1-5 and missing the four-team postseason.
Regardless of the team’s finish, however, the Los Angeles Summer Pro League showered the 716ers in honors, choosing head coach and owner Tawan Slaughter as SPL Division Coach of the Year and including guard Amir Billups (pictured, below right) in the SPL All-Star First Team. Fellow guard Brandon Armstrong earned second-team honors.
When asked for a little detail into what Division Coach of the Year entails, Slaughter explained that, in the divisional rounds before the playoffs, a coach is recognized for how well the team responds to instruction, improves game-to-game and maintains discipline.
Citing Billups’ dominance in averaging 22.8 per game over five contests, major improvement from undersized big man Matt Tucholski in defending players ranging from 6’8 to 7’0 and a breakout performance from newcomer Freeman Pinkney, Slaughter led a group that wasn’t overwhelmed—not only in its first year in the SPL—but in its first major tournament as an organization.
“We now have a clearer picture of those players who are ready, who want to play at the next level,” Slaughter explained.
“The win-loss column wasn’t pleasing [for us],” she added, “but there were scouts always waiting for us when we walked off the the court, and we didn’t see them approaching other teams like that.”
Perhaps what allowed Slaughter to stick out from the 15 other coaches was her ability to adjust tactically in order to match the strengths of much bigger, taller opponents. With no players on her nine-player roster over 6’6, Slaughter instituted a full-court press that took advantage of her guards’ quickness and desire to excel in transition.
“The full-court press is something that you don’t see often at the pro level,” Slaughter said. “No one usually plays defense. We were up in four of the games by more than 20 points, so we have to lean how to keep a lead.”
While the high-energy defense kept her team competitive, it also put extra onus on the guards—especially Billups, who was asked to shoulder much of the scoring load while being responsible defensively.
“We played scrappy,” Billups noted, “but there were a few games where we let teams get back into it. We had to guard a bunch of big men on defense, and that made it tough to get enough energy to play offense.”
Though his flight to Los Angeles was delayed from Friday to Saturday—forcing him to miss the first SPL contest—Billups made his presence felt in his first appearance by draining eight three-pointers in an NBA Jam-esque performance.
“I told him to not try to do anything he can’t do,” Slaughter reflected. “He’s a shooter—he can really get hot and knock ‘em down. He really learned how to use screens [over the last week].”
“With one or two more bigs, we would have been the best team there,” added Billups, who starred at nearby SUNY Fredonia.
Because the SPL is an ideal tournament for exposure to professional scouts—Billups’ week created a few individual leads. Nominated for the “Best 1-2-3 Backcourt” in Los Angeles with Rutledge and Armstrong, Billups caught the eye of scouts from the LNBP, Mexico’s top-tier pro league—Devon Phillip and Armstrong were mentioned as well.
This past weekend, the 716ers gathered a mostly new collection of players for the U.S.A. - Canada Summer Series, and breakout performances in that competition could lead to being drafted in tonight’s NBL Canada Draft. See the roster of players (above, right) that Slaughter selected for this past weekend’s tournament.
The next step for the organization is official 716ers tryouts—tentatively set for 6 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 28 at Tapestry Charter School before practices begin later in the fall. A roster of 12 players is desired.