Buffalo 716ers accept invite to Summer Pro League - INTERVIEW
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • February 14, 2013 @ 4:09pm
Reversing the perceptions of others is brutally hard work, exhausting if you’re Buffalo 716ers owner and head coach Tawan Slaughter. Equipped with a master’s in education from Canisius and unrelenting ambition, she sleeps roughly four hours a night, juggling administrative and coaching duties for the expansion American Basketball Association club while she’s awake.
Early this week, however, Slaughter caught a break. The NBA-sanctioned Los Angeles Summer Pro League—sponsored by AND1 and boasting alumni like Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan—has invited the 716ers to assemble a Rust Belt-based team for the July 20 to 29 showcase in front of professional basketball scouts both in America and overseas.
“As an organization, we’re progressing a lot faster than we thought we would,” Slaughter, whose minor-league 716ers will start ABA play in Nov. 2013, said in an interview today. “This tournament in Los Angeles is a great opportunity for us.”
Each year, around 15 teams are invited to participate in the Summer Pro League, and due in part to the recommendation of Houston Xperience president and head coach Kevin Williams, Slaughter’s expansion team club was surprisingly included.
Williams, who’s directed Houston for four years in the ABA, doubles as a recruiter for teams in the Summer Pro League. When it was announced that the 716ers would have an expansion team, Williams served as a mentor for Tawan, lending her guidance in getting her feet wet as a minor league owner and head coach.
On a phone call this afternoon, Williams praised the 716ers organization, especially because of how rapidly the team has made its mark in the community—long before it even takes the floor for a meaningful game.
“I definitely think that the organization is doing a good job so far,” Williams explained. “They have over 1,000 likes on Facebook, had good success on holding a 3-on-3 tournament. They’re jumping out there really fast and getting involved in the community.”
Williams noted that the SPL has expanded to Orlando for the first time and, pending approval in a conference call tonight, will include 20 teams in the LA league and 12 in Orlando just a week after.
The 716ers’ organization is responsible for paying airfare and expenses to reach LA, but entrance into the tournament is covered by AND1, and Buffalo’s guaranteed six games (maximum of eight) over the 10-day span.
The next step in the process for Slaughter is to craft a roster of players with the talent to compete against NBA-hopefuls—in fact, every NBA franchise has fielded a team in the SPL’s history, although none took part last season. The Buffalo State and Christian Central Academy graduate plans to hold an open tryout in the third week of May, inviting 60 players from a five-to-eight hour radius surrounding the Queen City, which will also include Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and even Maryland.
It’s not rare for local players to ply their trade professionally overseas; in the last three years, four UB Bulls players—Mitchell Watt, Titus Robinson, Byron Mulkey and John Boyer—have all played professionally abroad, while Canisius’ Elton Frazier and Frank Turner earn a paycheck through basketball. Still, most of these connections have been made through existing college relationships, as local tryouts with international scouts are rare.
Slaughter currently fields a roster of 10 men’s basketball players that practices twice per week at locations such as Villa Maria College, the team’s 2013 home venue, and Holy Angels Academy. Angelo Kidd, one of Slaughter’s first recruits, has already earned a professional tryout in Chile, the Buffalo-based team announced through their Facebook page.
“We’re building the organization from the ground up,” Slaughter explained. “Right now we have a staff of 30, including a marketing team and also internships.”
Slaughter’s present roster has more demanded than just basketball—Kidd (pictured at Harvey Austin School, No. 97 on the East Side) and others are active in the community as mentors, speakers and tutors, as well as contributing to the ABA’s anti-bullying program called B.A.L.L.E.R.S (Believing Academics Leads to Longevity Encouraging Respect through Sports).
The 716ers have already co-sponsored a blood drive through UNYTS and collaborated on a charity event with the Buffalo Bandettes, the dance team of the NLL’s Buffalo Bandits.
While it was originally reported that Slaughter would be collaborating with Franklin Jackson as co-owners of the 716ers, Jackson opted to splinter and start his own team: the Buffalo Blue Hawks of the Ohio Valley Basketball League. That league was scheduled to start in mid-December but doesn’t appear to have tipped yet.
The 716ers’ invite to the Summer Pro League is the first step in reversing the negative connotations that accompany starting a minor league basketball team in Buffalo. With plenty of failed attempts in the rear view window—including the Buffalo Stampede and Buffalo Warriors in the ACPBL over the last three years—Slaughter wants her 716ers to be the local minor league that endures.
“There’s a negative stigma that the previous teams have left,” Slaughter admits. “People don’t want to buy into it because they’ve seen others fail. The Warriors couldn’t complete last season, and the Stampede [folded before that]. Right now, we’re trying to overcome those things.”
Participating in a national event like the SPL bolsters the 716ers’ cause and lends credence to their attempt to sustain a local minor league basketball team in Buffalo, which would be a remarkable achievement.