By Chuck Miller
Don’t look now, but the sleeper team in the CBA’s National Conference could be the Butte Daredevils. Patrick O’Herron’s club has played their opponents strong all season, and their 10-7 record has allowed the Copper City five to move past Oklahoma for second place in the division. Along with a strong core of Western Kentucky rookie guard Benson Callier (15.6 ppg) and former ABA all-star guard Aaron Cook (12.9 ppg), the Daredevils re-acquired last year’s team points leader, 6’4″ small forward Odell Bradley. Bradley immediately paid dividends for his returning squad, earning Player of the Week honors after dropping 35 points in a Butte win over their in-state rivals, the Great Falls Explorers.
Butte head coach Patrick O’Herron is no stranger in finding ways to win games – in 2006, he coached the ABA’s SoCal Legends to the championship game; when O’Herron replaced Scott Carson as head coach of the Daredevils last season, the Butte team won three of their last five matchups with the eventual CBA champion Yakama Sun Kings.
Remember Moochie Norris, who sported some of the NBA’s greatest haircuts? He currently plays for the Yakama Sun Kings, where he averages a league-best 6.9 assists per night. Norris actually began his career in the CBA, playing in the league from 1996 to 2000, mostly for the Fort Wayne Fury. His most productive season in the CBA was during the 1999-2000, the Isiah Thomas owned CBA season, where Norris averaged 20.1 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists per game; that season, Norris played in the 2000 CBA All-Star Classic and was named 1st Team All-League. Of course, Norris later played several seasons for the Houston Rockets. This is actually Norris’ second season with the Sun Kings; he played four games for Yakama last season before going over to Europe.
As for the Sun Kings, their 14-game winning streak ended Friday night with a 92-89 loss to the Minot Skyrockets. With the loss, however, Yakama tied the 1990-91 Albany Patroons for the best season start in league history; both teams notched 14-0 starts. The Sun Kings’ home winning streak (20 games, stretching back to last season) was also snapped. The last time the Sun Kings actually lost a home game was December 23, 2006, when they lost 90-81 to the Butte Daredevils. Since then, the Central Washington quintet went almost an entire calendar year without losing another home contest.
Micheal Ray Richardson’s CBA coaching career has been as volatile as his NBA playing career. Richardson (pictured above) started the year as the new head coach of the expansion Oklahoma Cavalry. Right off the bat, the Cavalry won their first five contests, with stars like 6’6″ forward Daryan Selvy (a University of Oklahoma product who previously played his pro ball with the USBL’s Oklahoma Storm), and 6’7″ forward Marvin Phillips (who went from Division II Claflin College to become one of the CBA’s top rebounders of the season).
But after a 5-0 start, the team struggled, losing three of its next four games. And suddenly, Richardson was out of a job, replaced by former CBA assistant coach Cliff Levingston. While the Cavalry reported that officially Richardson was released due to “internal issues,” Richardson later told the Albany Times-Union that he was fired because he told the league the players hadn’t been paid. “(Cavalry owner Baron Hopgood) got rid of me because I called the league and explained to them there were insignificant funds so he (Hopgood) fired me,” said Richardson to the Times-Union.
However, with Richardson’s firing, the Cavalry underwent massive player turnover. Center Walt Waters was traded to Rio Grande Valley for future considerations; guards Albert Robinson and Adam Spanich were waived; guards Malcolm Johnson and Curtis Haywood were placed on Injured Reserve. In two road games against the Pittsburgh Xplosion, the Cavalry only dressed seven players. Three of those players – former ABA journeymen Lamar Castile and Randy “White Chocolate” Gill, and former CBA/USBL Gary Steelheads forward Marlowe Currie – were signed as emergency replacements. The result – Pittsburgh thumped the Cavalry 117-97 and 99-87, with both games 7-0 quarterpoint sweeps. Oklahoma’s jerseys mysteriously disappeared; the team was forced to wear Pittsburgh’s practice gear for the game. Originally in second place in the CBA’s National Conference, the Cavalry have been surpassed by the surging Butte Daredevils, and are only five quarterpoints ahead of the fourth-place Great Falls Explorers.
But the season is still young, and the Cavalry still have two more games on the road before returning to the Great Plains Coliseum for six of their next seven contests.
The CBA will announce their All-Star lineups very soon; the game will be played on January 22, 2008 at the Yakima Valley SunDome, home of the Yakama Sun Kings (that’s not a typo; the city is Yakima, Washington, but the team is named for the Yakama Nation, the Native American tribe that purchased the franchise three years ago).
Obvious candidates for All-Star Game consideration for the American Conference have to include East Kentucky’s Josh Pace and James “Boo” Jackson; Pittsburgh’s Shaun Fountain and Antonio Graves; Albany’s Amal McCaskill and Nat Burton; Minot’s Ronnie Fields and John Strickland; and Atlanta’s Zeck Marbury and Terrance Hunter. The National Conference lineup could include Yakama’s Jason Sasser, Jason Forte and Moochie Norris; Butte’s Odell Bradley, Aaron Cook and Benson Callier; Rio Grande Valley’s Mike Dean; Oklahoma’s Daryan Selvy; and Great Falls’ William Maupins and Keith Salscheider.
A Long Distance Shootout (3-point contest) and Slam Dunk contest will also be held – I’m hoping the CBA will also consider bringing back the “One on One” competition, if for no other reason than to watch AND1 Mixtape star Grayson Boucher (Atlanta Krunk) going up against Randy Gill (Oklahoma Cavalry). Come on – the Professor against White Chocolate. Can’t get better than that.