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Team dreams

Feb 16, 2015 11:34AM ● Published by Kerigan Butt

Courtesy photo University of Delaware President Patrick Harker, Delaware Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Delaware Governor Jack Markell joined with Philadelphia 76ers representatives to welcome the 87ers to the First State.

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

Twenty years ago, the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a Single-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals,  inaugurated their first season in the Carolina League, resurrecting a long-gone tradition of professional baseball in Delaware. By the middle of the first home game at Frawley Stadium in April 1993, they were welcomed as a member of the family.

Twenty years later, a new professional sports team is about to take its first steps in the First State. The Delaware 87ers, the Development League franchise for the Philadelphia 76ers, will soon call the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark their home base. Beginning with its first home game on Dec. 8 against the Canton Charge, the “Sevens,” as they will be known, will be the newest kids on the Delaware professional sports block.

Brandon Williams was named the general manager of the 87ers in September, after spending eight years in the National Basketball Association's league office, and several years playing in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors, as well as in the Continental Basketball Association and professionally overseas. His role in running the franchise is informed by his many years spent in the minor leagues of basketball, which he said will allow him to relate to the young roster of players looking to make the ultimate jump to the big time.

“This may be a year of teachable moments,” he said. “I've asked myself, 'What part along the journey did I want to be general manager, and how can my experiences benefit other people?  What can I contribute to our game?' More than anything, I've learned that you always have to be ready, if you're serious about accomplishing what is statistically improbable (making the NBA), you have to do everything you can and hope to get lucky. It all begins with getting an opportunity. For these players, the 87ers is that opportunity.”

Courtesy photo The team will make its local debut on Dec. 8 at its new home, the Bob Carpenter Center.

Much like the Blue Rocks, watching a Sevens game at the Bob will allow fans to see up-and-coming talent on their way to the big time. Founded in 2001, the Development League is a 17-team league that has earned a strong reputation among NBA scouts as a source of future NBA talent; 27 percent of NBA players in the 2011-12 season came from the “D” League.

And, much like the Blue Rocks, attending a Sevens game at the Bob will provide a family atmosphere that's priced right. Kid's Zones, placed directly behind the baskets, will give children the opportunity to see their new heroes up close, and single-game tickets are priced as low as $9. It's all a part of what marketing director Nicole Pender sees as the team's campaign to integrate itself into the community.

“We don't want to just play basketball and leave,” said Pender, who sees team members and staff becoming involved at events like local food banks, coat drives, and working with local charity groups. “We want to be known even when we're not on the floor. We don't have to invent where and with whom we partner, because the foundations are already firmly here in Delaware. We merely want to highlight what already exists in our state.”

If the primary goals the 87ers franchise has set for their 2013-14 season will be to showcase the talents of its young players within a fan-friendly atmosphere, then right behind on its to-do list will be to develop the careers of everyone within the organization.

“So many people are aspiring to becoming analytics to basketball operations,” Williams said. “As much as I'm excited about seeing some of our players potentially make the leap into the NBA, I'm going to be equally excited with some of our staff being called up. Everybody in the 'D' League wants to be someplace else, but what is the mentality and approach to accomplishing that?  One needs to increase his or her aptitude, develop skills, and invest time and resources.

“In the Development League, there are no guarantees, so every dreamer has a chance,” Williams added, and pointed to the team's opening night game against the Canton Charge on Dec. 8 as an important date in the team's young history.

Courtesy photo Team General Manager, Brandon Williams.

“That day is going to mark the start of a long relationship, not only with the franchise but with me," he said. "In order to love us, you have to identify with dreamers.  I hope for that day to be be a big day for our players, our coaches and our fans. This is going to be the place where all the dreamers want to be.”

To obtain season, partial-season, single-game and group tickets to all Delaware 87ers games, call 302-504-7587, or visit www.sevens.com.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com.

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