Road Trip: Photographing the Premier Basketball League Combine

It’s what, 8pm and I’m here at the Thruway rest stop at Sloatsburg – the first rest area after you get off of I-287 from New Jersey.  It was a long road trip and I needed to take a break, a chance to upload some photos to my flickr site and decompress for a bit.

Saturday I drove down to Rockville, Maryland, where the Premier Basketball League is holding a free agent combine for prospective new players.  In other words, pay your fee, bring your shorts, bring your shoes, and bring your game.

For those who don’t know about the PBL, it began in the 2007-2008 season as several teams that broke away from the American Basketball Association.  You’re probably thinking, “You mean the league from the 70’s with Julius Erving and the Indiana Pacers and all that?”  Not quite.  The current 21st-century ABA plays their games with a red-white-and-blue basketball, but that’s the only similarity.  The current ABA is run by an advertising executive named Joe Newman, a person so slick he could sell a remarriage proposal to Jon and Kate Gosselin.  But Joe Newman barely knows how to operate a league – at least count, over 200 franchises have joined – and folded – and the level of play in the ABA is barely above a YMCA pickup league.  Proof of this statement?  Last year, the CBA played an interleague series with the ABA – of the 42 games originally planned, the ABA could only play 14 of them, and of those, the CBA demolished the ABA 12-2 (including one game where a CBA team defeated an ABA team with a score of 172-70).

Anyways, several ABA teams that actually KNEW what they were doing and had a decent level of basketball skills, broke away from the ABA and formed their own league, the Premier Basketball League.  Now entering its third season, the league has teams that stretch throughout the Northeast, and the quality of play in the PBL is much stronger than in the ABA.  If a guy can’t get in the NBA, playing in the PBL is a viable alternative to playing in the D-League or in Europe.

This will be my third year photographing with the PBL, and I have to say that it’s a very entertaining and rewarding experience.  I’ve traveled throughout the Northeast (in the Pride of General Motors, my Pontiac 6000) and have photographed dozens of basketball games.

This season, the PBL will return several franchises that are within my driving distance, including the two-time champion Rochester Razorsharks, the Vermont Frost Heaves (those are bumps in the road when the winter thaws, so get that image of a snowman vomiting out of your mind), the Manchester (NH) Millrats, the Quebec Kebs (as in Quebecois), the Buffalo Stampede and the Halifax (NS) Rainmen.  No, I’m not driving 17 hours to Halifax, I’ll fly there at some point.  But not with United – they might break my guitar – if I actually owned one.

One of the teams joining the PBL are the two-time CBA champion Lawton-Fort Sill Cavalry, and I got a chance today to re-connect with their head coach, former Albany Patroons head coach Micheal Ray Richardson.  He flashed the 2009 CBA championship LFS Cavalry ring, and it looked like he was balancing a blinged-out manhole cover on his hand.

In case you’re curious about the Patroons’ alumni quotient in the PBL, Big John Strickland (who helped the Pats reach the championship round in 2006-07) will start his second year with the Halifax Rainmen.  And Daryl Hill, who played for Albany last season, suited up for some games with the Quebec Kebs in 08-09.

This will be the PBL’s third season, and judging from the talent pool that showed up at the combine, there are definitely some keepers on the court.  It will be very interesting to see who among the 100+ guys who showed up will make a PBL team this coming season.

In fact, here’s a slideshow of some action at the PBL Combine.  And check out, near the end of the slideshow, Micheal Ray Richardson, with a big smile on his face, posing with a prospective referee at the combine.  Anyone who saw him coach at Albany for two seasons won’t believe Micheal Ray Richardson is that close to a referee – without cursing the official out.