The Alexandria Avengers were having too much fun in the little-known Eastern Basketball Alliance — once scoring 152 points — so the startup semiprofessional franchise decided to join the National Professional Basketball League, thus extending its season through early June.
The Avengers are the Alexandria Wind Jammers (and the Alexandria United before that) reincarnated. But in the organization’s second season, the team corrected many of the mistakes that were made in trying to join the American Basketball Association as a naive rookie organization.
Ignoring their botched ABA attempt, the Avengers instead started small within the eight-team EBA, a low-key league with a reasonable $1,500 entrance fee. It was there, that Alexandria parlayed its early success — the Avengers won four of their first five games — into what team officials consider being a burgeoning minor league franchise.
“We learned a lot about being part of the Alexandria Wind Jammers,” said Daryl Owens, who is part-player, part-general manager. “It’s was a great organization, and it helped us out because it gave us time to put a plan together [with the Avengers] versus with the Alexandria Wind Jammers where we didn’t really put a plan together.”
Comprised of local standouts, Alexandria finished a game behind the Harrisburg Horizon, winners of seven straight championships, in the final EBA standings. In league play, the Avengers won one game by 48 points, and according to Manuel, the Avengers sent a tandem of players to a minor league team based in Guadalajara, Mexico, while the league’s leading scorer was shipped to Saudi Arabia.
In the EBA, defense wasn’t a top priority as seven Avengers averaged double-digit points, including Brian Carter who averaged better than 18 points and 11 rebounds per game.
<b>TEAM ORGANIZERS</b> were content to be a charter EBA member, but when an opportunity to join the wider known NPBL was presented to the team in January, team owners had little problem extending their season by three months and forking over the $2,500 league entrance fee.
“I’m not going to say the EBA was a tune-up, but it definitely groomed us from another league,” Manuel said.
Owens, who averaged a league-best four steals in the EBA was a bit more frank
“We set goals,” Owens said. “We said, ‘we’re going to build our fan base with the Eastern Basketball Alliance.’ The NPBL is a serious league from the organizational standout, from the player personnel standpoint. It’s a larger market.”
But team organizers still have plenty of hurdles, including securing sponsors and continuing to market to the community. The Avengers picked up a new part-owner in Rudy Davis, who is a disc jockey on 93.9 FM. Both Manuel and Owens admit the marketing aspect remains the biggest challenge, and five-hour trips up New York and Pennsylvania.
“It’s a hard grind, but it just makes us a stronger organization,” Owens said.
But Owens still has a reason why as a 32-year-old, he’s isn’t about to complain with putting a professional jersey back on — even if he isn’t being compensated.
“A lot of these kids can’t make it to a Wizards game…a lot of people can’t go out and touch Gilbert Arenas,” Owens said. “It’s just a touching feeling when the final buzzer goes off and you have a pack of kids around you and you just sign autographs for 30 minutes. That’s what drives me to play hard every time I step on the court.”
Last weekend, the Avengers played the First State Fusion, an ABA team based in Delaware, and still won by 31 points.
“We’re not supposed to be an ABA team,” Owens said.
Alexandria lost its NPBL debut against the New York Strikeforce, 111-108. The Avengers travel to take on the Hudson Valley Hawks (N.Y.) on April 5, but will have their NPBL home opener on April 6, when Alexandria hosts Fan Appreciation Day at Francis C. Hammond Middle School. Ticket prices will be $2, with tip off set for 3 p.m.
“Each game, more and more fans found out about it,” Manuel said.