Semi-professional basketball is a game of passion. It’s not flashy, and there aren’t any crowds of reporters or lucrative endorsements or contracts for players.
But there sure is a love for the game.
That’s why although the Nisqually-based Quad City Flames will only return half its squad from last season, the team as a whole feels confident they’ll be able to make a successful run in the American Basketball Association.
This is the Flames’ fourth year in existence, Head Coach and Owner Marcus “Doc” Stancil said, and many of the team’s players are veterans of either the league or of other semi-pro endeavors.
Many of the Flames’ new faces did help catapult the team to win the 2019 Minor League Basketball Association Championship last August after joining the team late in the season. It was players such as shooting guard Kwame Bates and point guards Jamaal Miller and Kyle Thurston who picked up after substantial turnover.
The Flames will play in the ABA November through March. Tickets for home games, which are hosted at the Nisqually Youth and Community Center, are available online through the team’s website.
Stancil said this team is by far the franchise’s most talented and he believes they are capable of the overarching goal of winning the league title. Despite the team being 17 players deep, with five on injury reserve and eight of them new, Stancil said there’s depth and experience on this that is priceless and contributes to confidence.
“It should be fun. Should be exciting,” Stancil said about the upcoming games.
The ultimate goal is to get his players overseas, Stancil said. Minor league basketball in other countries, such as China, is more widely revered and can lead to some promising opportunities.
The Flames’ most veteran player is guard Will Causey, 46, from Yelm.
Causey has been in many ways the glue that’s helped the fresher faces transition into the program after about a month’s worth of practice for the season.
Overall, Causey said he’s looking forward to leveraging the talent the team has this year.
“With the talent we got, we’re hoping to win,” he said, adding that he likely won’t have to “work as hard” thanks to all the younger players on the court.
One new addition to the team is 27-year-old Lonnie Pearson-Piper, who’ll likely assume the small forward position.
Pearson-Piper comes from the rival Kitsap Admirals and brings a wealth of information to his new team. The former Rainier Beach graduate played for a brief stint at Central Arizona College and played on two Chinese tours.
Although from the surface it may seem that Pearson-Piper is out of place, he says the transition has been healthy.
“I honestly used to say I’d never put on a Quad City jersey. I bet (Stancil) I never would. But I owe him now,” he said.
Pearson-Piper said he’s found some mentorship in Miller, who’s also spent time playing ball overseas, more specifically spending seven years on multiple tours throughout the Middle East and Asia where he was close to the top in scoring.
“To me, it’s about seeing these guys blossom,” Miller, 36, said. “And to fire on all cylinders by the time playoffs come ... I’m just playing basketball for the passion.”
But Miller isn’t the only one who thinks he has fire power. Pearson-Piper believes he could contribute a lot to the team as well.
“I rebound, shoot, dribble, guard guards,” Pearson-Piper said. “I feel like I could bring a little leadership ... I expect us to go far. We have a good group, a good team.”
Many of the team’s players travel a great distance out to the Nisqually Reservation for games and practice. Stancil said the furthest someone commutes is from Spokane.
Bates, 30, commutes multiple times a week from Seattle and said he’s excited to contribute to the team in his first year.
“It was good. I love basketball and it was pretty much just a chance for me to prove my ability,” he said.
Many on the Flames believe they’ll have a chance to make a run this season at the ABA championships.
Thurston, 28, said he’s excited to get back into competitive play after coaching youth and high school basketball for a couple years.
For the Vancouver, Washington, native, this break is exactly what he’s looking for to help fulfill a dream of playing overseas. Thurston said back when he played at Clark College, he had a path lined up to play ball in Australia. An injury ultimately delayed those plans.
Now, he’s looking to build up this team, which he’s characterized as filled with “high character,” and make some big moves.
“I feel like everyone is pulling in the same direction. We all want to see each other succeed,” Thurston said. “I really just want to put my foot in the door. But at this point, I’m just happy to be playing basketball again.”
The Flames are 2-0 to start the season. Their next game is at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, against the Lakewood Panthers at the Nisqually Youth and Community Center. It will be Military Appreciation Night, so entry will be free with military identification.
The next game after that will by at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, when the Flames will take on the Seattle Mountaineers.
Learn more about the ABA at abaliveaction.com.
Learn more about the Flames at https://www.hometeamsonline.com/teams/?u=QUADCITYFLAMES&s=basketball.