The Quad City Flames minor league basketball team has many hopes for 2021. Among them are plans to hit the hardwood once coronavirus restrictions are lifted, expand its personnel and management staff and move into a more lucrative summer league.
Despite COVID-19 bringing their season to a screeching halt last March, Flames owner and coach Marcus “Doc” Stancil said they’ve been staying busy in an effort to stay prepared for the moment’s notice when they can play again.
“We don’t want to take that chance where we get one of the players sick and they take it home to their families,” Stancil said of not holding any games or practices since the virus outbreak.
Without COVID-19, the Flames — a Pierce County-based team that practices and plays at the Nisqually Youth and Community Center — would be close to a dozen games deep into regular American Basketball Association (ABA) league play.
Last year, the team went 12-4 in their regular Pacific ABA division, and at one point rode a seven-game win streak.
The Flames, through all 16 games, were able to sustain three-digit scoring numbers and lost by deficits no larger than 7 points. The team ultimately ended the season as the third seed in the Pacific division and 20th overall in the ABA.
The season was cut short though when the virus hit American soil in March.
The ABA quickly cancelled the remainder of its 2019-2020 regular season, with ABA CEO Joe Newman saying “the health concerns of fans, players, coaches, personnel are far more important as all sports leagues, entertainment and other industries take these measures to fight the spread of coronavirus. This will pass.”
The league back then had expected to pick back up in the fall with regular play, and that’s just what a small number of the league’s teams did.
According to the ABA, it’s estimated only about a quarter of the league’s more than 150 listed teams are playing due to “venue limitations and fan restrictions” put on from the ongoing COVID-19 virus.
Many of the teams currently playing are able to due to the willingness of the colleges that host them, Newman later said. But Quad City isn’t one of them — they don’t want to risk it and know their venue, based on Nisqually native land, doesn’t either.
“A few guys say that they miss it, but a lot of guys say they didn’t miss it,” said Will Causey, a Flames shooting guard, referring to away games. “It’s largely the younger guys who say they miss it.”
At 48, Causey, a Yelm resident, is one of the team’s older players. He played in every game during the 2019-2020 season and admits that the weekly trips up and down the West Coast can wear a player thin.
But, he said, “a lot of the guys on the team were really looking forward to playing.”
Enter The Basketball League — a newly-formed minor league, formerly known as the North American Premier Basketball league, based out of Florida. Players and Stancil are looking to raise enough in sponsorships to be able to cover league costs and join the nascent league, which provides a monthly stipend to players.
“It’s a different opportunity,” Stancil said, emphasizing the league’s lucrative connections. “It’s getting recognized by NBA players and the NBA. It would benefit some of the guys we have to be seen on that kind of stage.”
The Flames already compete in two leagues: the winter ABA league and summer Minor League Basketball Association (MLBA) league, of which they were crowned the 2019 champions.
If their hope to transition comes to fruition, the Flames plan on playing in The Basketball League during the summer, Stancil said, with a consideration to move the summer team to a new facility up north.
“It’s kind of like guys playing overseas — It’s a high level of ball. It’s nothing like the ABA… They do look forward to playing in that, if we get in,” said Causey, who has played in multiple minor leagues overseas where the competition is tougher and the offers more lucrative.
But whatever the result, the Flames have been excited to get involved in the community, Stancil said. The franchise has teamed up with a couple youth programs in Olympia and Federal Way, and are in the process of developing basketball training videos for the Nisqually-area youth.
Despite all the challenges brought on by COVID, Stancil knows one thing: His team is hungry and ready to compete.
“We’re going to be a scary team, that’s for sure,” he said.