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Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Patroons are back!

A view of the Washington Avenue Armory during Saturday's game
photo by my old buddy Hans Pennink, stolen from the Times Union
Good-sport spouse and I attended the home opener of the new Albany Patroons professional basketball team on Saturday, and we had a great time. Like the glorious Patroons of old (circa 1980s), this team plays in the Washington Avenue Armory, a well-lit venue with character, history, and a quite good-looking hardwood court.

While technical difficulties marred the franchise's North American Premier Basketball League debut (i.e. no scoreboard or shot clock, and a truly insipid buzzer), it was still a pretty successful launch, with an announced crowd of 1,507 and a solid win for the home team. One of the beauties of the Armory, and the source of its legendary intense atmosphere of past Patroons success, is that it's small enough so even 1,500 people can warm it on a frigid night, and 3 or 4 thousand will positively rock the place. I don't think even the most optimistic boosters expect such numbers any time soon (or ever), but I do think the quality of the experience has the potential to draw healthy crowds if management can work out the kinks.

Coach Rowland directs his team
Hans Pennink/TU
Meanwhile, the legacy is alive in the form of Head Coach Derrick Rowland (aka Dr. D), a stalwart team member in the Pats' heyday, and one of the top players in the history of the old Continental Basketball Association that fostered the original franchise. Rowland leads a crew of athletes with a range of professional and college playing experience who delivered a very entertaining game, replete with speedy play, smooth long-range buckets, and rim-rattling dunks.

After a raggedy first period in which the Rochester RazorSharks seemed to have the upper hand, especially on defense, the Pats gathered themselves and, by the start of the third period, had gained a lead they did not relinquish. The play was fast and physical, the officiating was iffy (though spiffy, uniform-wise), and the player rotation allowed every starter and bench-warmer plenty of opportunity to make a strong first impression on expectant fans.

I attended just about every home game played by the champion Patroons of old, and I'm not about to say that this roster could compete with the likes of Tony Campbell or Mario Elie (to name two of many former Pats who went on to have significant NBA careers), but I was not at all disappointed by what I saw on Saturday. Among the standouts, ex-Los Angeles Laker Smush Parker ably led from the point, rocketing some beautiful passes along the way; rangy forward Torren Jones earned my respect, and a double-double, with great play in the paint; and local hero Lloyd (Pooh) Johnson buried several threes to help ice the game. And that's without currently sidelined Siena product and 2012 NBA D-League Rookie of the Year Edwin Ubiles, who should prove to be among the team's best players when his back feels better, and former Patroon Jamario Moon, a crowd-pleaser with scads of NBA and international hoops cred, whose presence will help to sell more seats if they can convince him to sign on.

So, I'll be back, with high expectations, and the hope that this thing gets some traction and regains a little bit of the old glory - or at least brings back the crazy fun of a filled-to-the-rafters Armory vibrating in the Albany night.