Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2008

Nighthawks prep for New Year, new league

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The New Year is not the only thing that is new for the Maryland Nighthawks. On Jan. 5, they will kick off their new season, against the Wilmington (N.C.) Sea Dawgs, in a new place. The Nighthawks have moved their home games from Montgomery College’s Rockville campus to the brand-new Hanley Center for Athletic Excellence at Georgetown Prep. Of course, the biggest change of all is a new league. After ending its association with the American Basketball Association last April, Maryland has become a charter member of the new Premier Basketball League.

‘‘Minor-league basketball has never been done right,” Nighthawks owner Tom Doyle, who will also serve as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the PBL, said. ‘‘It has been successful in baseball and hockey because they have looked at a lot of things that we have not looked at: optimization of schedule, the length of the schedule, when teams play. That is the duty of the league.”

Frustrated with the unwieldy nature of the ABA — the league had swelled to as many as 35 teams two years ago — and a league-wide lack of resources that saw 10 of those teams fold, Doyle joined Dr. Sev Hrywnak, owner of the Rochester (N.Y.) RazorSharks, the 2006 ABA champions, in forming the new league. At the start of its inaugural season, the PBL named former NBA star Kenny Smith as its commissioner and will feature 10 franchises. In the East Division, the Jacksonville Jam and the Reading (Pa.) Railers will join Maryland, Rochester and Wilmington. In the West Division, the Arkansas Impact, Chicago Aztecas, Dallas Defenders, Quad City (Ill.) Riverhawks and Rockford (Ill.) Fury will battle for postseason spots. All teams will play 10 games at home and 10 games on the road, before the playoff tournament kicks off in March.

‘‘Having spent three seasons in another league, we knew we were not going to play in that league ever again,” Doyle said. ‘‘At the same time, we knew what we have created with the Nighthawks, and fortunately there were others that felt like that. That was the genesis of the Premier Basketball League. We are very proud of how far we’ve come and we want to look to the future.”

The Nighthawks start this season with several new faces that will use this league as a stepping stone to the future as well. Among the new crowd is Tamir Goodman, the Baltimore native also known as the ‘‘Jewish Jordan.” After a storied high-school career, Goodman had spent the last five years living and playing professional basketball in Israel, where he did not have to play on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. Figuring that he would never be able to play professional basketball in America, Goodman was content to play out his career in Israel, where he was most recently with Maccabi Shoham, a second-division team that plays near Tel Aviv. That is, until the Nighthawks came calling, and guaranteed that all their home games would be played after sundown on Saturday. The team also plans to make travel arrangements for Goodman that align with his religious requirements, so that he may join the team on the road as often as possible.

‘‘Really, this is more than a dream come true,” Goodman, a 6-foot-3 point guard said. ‘‘It has broken down all barriers.”

Some local products will also join the Nighthawks this season, as a way to fulfill some dreams of their own. After finishing his playing career at Harvard University, Good Counsel graduate Kevin Rogus, 25, spent a little over two years working 100-hour weeks on Wall Street working in portfolio analytics. Whenever he had a spare minute, though, he found himself back on the court. The 6-5 guard, known for his shooting ability, decided to attend a PBL tryout combine in August, and was the final pick of the first round of the PBL’s initial draft in October.

‘‘The last couple of years, I figured out what I wanted to do post basketball, and positioned myself to do that,” Rogus said. ‘‘But the entire time, I had a nagging itch that basketball wasn’t really done for me. This was a perfect opportunity to go back and try basketball and see where it goes.”

Rogus already has a built in fan base of local family and friends, as does Magruder graduate Johan Matos, who was selected by the Nighthawks as the 11th overall pick in the draft. Matos, who also played at Montgomery College, is familiar with the Nighthawks, though mostly as an adversary. Two years ago, Matos played for the ABA’s Baltimore Pearls, and last year he played with the New Jersey Express. Joining the Nighthawks and the PBL gave Matos a chance to come home.

‘‘It was a dream to play professionally close to home,” Matos said. ‘‘When the opportunity came I took advantage of it. I always wanted to play with the Nighthawks.”

One carryover from the ABA that the PBL will still hold on to is the fan-player interaction that takes place at the end of games. Postgame meet-and-greet sessions will take place at the end of all contests, and fans are encouraged to seek autographs. However, Doyle and the rest of the PBL’s owners plan on taking a more active role in marketing the league, including Internet broadcasts of games. In addition, the PBL has been aggressive in signing ‘‘household” names here and abroad. The Nighthawks signed AND 1 mixtape star Tyron ‘‘Alimoe” Evans last month, and recently added Ratdech Kruatiwa, a member of Thailand’s national team. Known as ‘‘J.O.” in his native country, Kruatiwa may be the first of several international players on the Nighthawks roster.

‘‘This is a great day for the PBL,” Hwrynak said in a release on the Nighthawks Web site (www.marylandnighthawks.com). ‘‘Not only will fans in the United States be able to see the talent that J.O. is, but the people of Thailand will be able to watch all his games over the Internet.”

The man in charge of getting all this disparate parts working together will be an old face in a new role, as former Archbishop (D.C.) Carroll and Syracuse University star Lawrence Moten takes on his first head coaching job. After a stint in the NBA that including time with the Washington Wizards, Moten played overseas, and then joined the Nighthawks during their first two seasons. After serving as a vice president of player development last year, Moten added the head coach title in the off season. As his old team prepared to face a brave new world, Moten conveyed a sense of calm about the impeding challenges.

‘‘Coaching was something that I told myself that I would when I finally retired,” Moten said. ‘‘It’s something that I have been doing all my life and even though this is my first official coaching job, I don’t think it’s going to be a problem because I have played the game. I know what to expect.”