Monday, February 26, 2007

Examining the Minor Leagues: The EBA

Few have heard of the Eastern Basketball Alliance, a minor league located throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Even though it does not attract as much attention as some of the more popular leagues, it still provides some entertaining basketball.

The February 24th game was between the North Jersey Lakers and the Schuylkill Firedogs. Here were the rosters of each team (note: there may be a player or two missing because they played in that game, but were not listed on the roster):

North Jersey Lakers
Wayne Bucknor
Chris Hendershot
Jeff Houser
Mark Stanley
Mike Scott
Scott Hoffman
Christopher Morgan
Alfonzo Thomas
Tim Corrigan
Bobby Jorgensen
Wade Walters
Ish Nyilas

Schuylkill Firedogs
Erik Henrysen
Jason Sims
Charles Jackson
Kelvin Fleming
Nick Miskar
Tyrone Rucker
Ngola Santos
Paul Gaskin
Mark Jamerson
Byron Diggs

This game was held in probably the nicest church gym I have ever seen. Both teams played with a great deal of intensity and demonstrated a clear passion for the game. At the very beginning of the contest, the Lakers came out strong, using their team chemistry to get the ball in the hands of an open perimeter shooter. But, as the quarter progressed, number 42 scored some key inside baskets to put the Firedogs within striking distance. The Firedogs's Charles Jackson then sparked another run, which tied the game. From then on, Schuylkill built a small lead.

The Firedogs opened the second quarter on a serious run. The game tempo was now a faster style of play; therein the Firedogs possessed a clear advantage. Jackson was scoring on all cylinders- using his ball handling ability to craftily maneuvered around big men- Chris Hendershot and Wade Walters in particular- to score easy layups. Tim Corrigan kept the Lakers in the game with a key three point basket and some nice midrange shots. Walters also scored inside during pivotal points. But, late into the second quarter, the Firedogs began pulling away. Jackson continued scoring inside and number 42 matched Jackson's production with a nice array of post moves. Despite their intensity at the beginning of the game, the Lakers were down by 8 points at the half- the score was 59-51 Firedogs. They had built on their first quarter lead and it seemed as though the Lakers were going to lose by a large margin due to the shift in momentum.

And, to reinforce this premonition, the Firedogs opened the third quarter with some quick points. But, the Lakers were not willing to give up in this contest. Roughly two minutes into the third quarter, the Lakers mounted a comeback. Corrigan and Alfonzo Thomas attacked the inside- allowing for easy putbacks. By the end of the third quarter, the Lakers had come back from a large deficit and now had an opportunity to win this game.

The fourth quarter was easily the best basketball of the day. Despite the excellent defense played by each side, both teams scored on possession after possession- employing their excellent team chemistry to secure some a temporary lead. Corrigan emerged as the centerpiece of the Lakers' offense and North Jersey relied on him to carry them throughout the quarter. Late buckets by Chris Hendershot and a three pointer by Mark Stanley gave the Lakers a small lead late in the game- for the first time since the opening minutes. But, the Lakers quickly responded. Erik Henrysen took it upon himself to lead his Firedog squad. He attacked the rim and got to the free throw line on several occasions late in the game. Number 42 also played with a great deal of heart and intensity. His late free throws finally gave the Firedogs the victory. The final score was 121-116 Firedogs.

This contest was a hard fought battle and both squads displayed an evident passion for the game. For example, Henrysen and the coach of Schuylkill constantly bickered with the referees over certain calls. The refs warned the coach that he would receive a technical foul if he continued to speak to officials in such a manner. Also, number 42 displayed excellent emotion on the floor- yelling at himself for missed inside shot attempts despite drawing the foul. For the Lakers, you could tell that they were a cohesive unit. During their timeouts, they huddled together in a team circle and discussed various techniques they could use in order to get back in the game. Overall, I enjoyed the entire EBA scene- the professional aspect of the sport, the competitiveness, and the talent on both squads.

While the Firedogs and the Lakers employed many weapons on both ends of the floor, two players really stood out in this contest. I believe that if Charles Jackson or Tim Corrigan attended open tryout for a more established minor league like the ABA, they would make the cut.

Charles Jackson displayed an excellent first step- one that is not all too common. His outstanding agility and body control allowed him to cut to the basket. This gave him the option of either continuing to attack the basket for an open layup or kicking it out to his teammates for an open three point shot. He complemented his slashing ability with a nice midrange game. Jackson was such a weapon because he could pull up and hit a key jumper or he could blow by his defender. Overall, I was impressed with his leadership on the offensive end. Despite his overwhelming scoring numbers, Jackson had the court vision necessary to play the point guard position. On the offensive end, I noticed some weaknesses. He does not shoot from long range as often as a player of his caliber should. Also, he could stand to add some weight if he wanted to compete at the next level. Defensively, he had very quick hands and the necessary footspeed to keep up with his man. I can recall several instances where he would steal the ball and take it the length of the floor for an uncontested layup. At a higher level of basketball- though- I wonder if his thin body will be able to defend more physical guards. At times, he seemed complacent on the defensive end of the floor- he should have kept up the defensive pressure even during their lead. Nevertheless, Charles Jackson was the best player for either team and his 30 points gave the Firedogs the victory.

For the opposing squad, Tim Corrigan displayed an excellent set of post moves that would allow him to play several different positions at a higher level of basketball. He had the necessary strength inside to play as a small forward. And, he had the outside shooting ability to effectively play as a guard. Corrigan was a true leader who brought a great deal of intangibles to his squad. He attacked the basket on key possessions and knew when to give the ball up. His long range shooting ability allowed him to move inside for a layup or to step out for a shot; thereby, he stretched the defenses. In regards to his offensive weaknesses, he is somewhat of a tweener. He does not possess the necessary ball handling ability to be an effective guard and he was not tall enough to permanently play inside as a center or power forward. If he perfects this ability, I think he will be able to play the small forward at a higher level of basketball. Defensively, his foot speed was ordinary at best. He was not the best man-to-man defender, but he worked hard to corral loose balls, thereby giving his team an advantage. Corrigan's 29 points were the most vital contribution to the North Jersey Lakers' comeback.

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