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League in turmoil: Versions differ as to demise of ABL - Apr 2, 2013

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In Jules Jones 20-year basketball career as a player, scout, coach and agent, hes never witnessed anything quite like the debacle that was the inaugural season of the American Basketball League.
At least not in America.
Definitely not in the States, said Jones, who played professionally overseas for four years and now serves as the agent for former Panama City Breeze player Arnette Hollis (6'5''-G/F-88). I mentioned to Arnette that it would be a different story if the young man was overseas. You hear stories of playing overseas and worrying about not getting paid. The situation this young man has gone through has been ridiculous. I would have never guessed that on the way they tried to sell this league.
Jones admitted that he bought into ABL CEO Steve Haneys sales pitch for the ABL, and Hollis wasnt the only one of Jones clients playing in a first-year league billed to compete with the NBA Developmental League and prepare its players for international opportunities overseas. Players competed using FIBA rules, and Jones noted a key selling point was that, unlike in the D League, players would not have buyout clauses in their contracts and would be free to take a job overseas should one arise.
The overall business plan was sound, Jones said, but he contends that the league suffered mightily under Haneys stewardship. Jones said Hollis, like many other ABL players under contract throughout Florida and Texas, never received one cent from the league.
They were pouring the Kool-Aid, and I took a sip, Jones said. It was just a bad deal. I didnt want it to bring a young mans hopes down because he has a lot of potential. When it turns out to be something like that, its just a sad situation. Ive got to deal with players and talk with their families and try to keep everyone somewhat positive.
Two of Hollis teammates on the Breeze, Clifford Clinkscales (6'1''-PG-84, college: De Paul) and Larry Bastfield (6'0''-G-90, college: Morgan St.), were very reluctant to come forward late last week and discuss how they and other teammates living in their shared home are facing eviction this week after the league failed to pay the rent on the home as the players allege they were promised. Clinkscales and Bastfield both expressed their concerns during an interview that Haney would ultimately try to blacklist them and deny them chances to play elsewhere.
Hollis, after speaking with Jones, elected to share his story after moving out of that house and returning to Los Angeles nearly a week ago. Hollis described his situation as a nightmare, and it began literally seconds after he learned he had earned a roster spot on the ABLs Emerald Coast Knights in Destin following the teams preseason veteran camp.
Their coach (Wayemon Powell ) told me that beside their draft picks, I was his No. 1 guy to get on the team, Hollis said. I was excited. Anybody would be. The deal was that we got calls on a Sunday morning, and they would tell us the situation, whether we were cut or could stay on the team. At 9:45 a.m., I got a call from Wayemon Powell , and he says, Arnette, I have good news and bad news. The good news is you made the team. The bad news is that we are going to trade you. That made no sense to me. If I was your No. 1 guy, then why trade me? I hadnt spoken to my agent. Coach Powell told me, I have spoken to Steve Haney, and he knows about you. Heres his number, and hes expecting your call right now.
At this point I had never heard of Steve. I call Steve two or three times, and he doesnt pick up. I was totally in the dark. I didnt know what was going on.
Hollis said Haney finally sent him a text message after a few days.

Just stay put

He said, Dont worry about it. Ill get you on a team. Just stay put, Hollis said, alleging that multiple weeks passed without a resolution. I asked (Haney) point blank if I should go home or what. At this point I was fed up. Me and my agent were fed up. I sent (Haney) a long text message, saying Im tired of playing these phone games and phone tag. Should I go home or stay here?
This went on for two weeks, staying in a hotel room after he had told me three days after (camp) that I should stay. I stayed for two, 2 weeks at $40 a night, not including food. Im paying out of my own pocket, and nobody can get in contact with Steve. Not me, not my agent, not nobody at the hotel.
Hollis finally caught a break after three weeks in his hotel room when roster spots opened with the Breeze, and he said he paid $100 to take a shuttle from Destin to Panama City, where he met Breeze coach Ty Fisher (who said he cannot comment on the record because of pending litigation). Unable to get any time in the gym during his hiatus in Destin, Hollis said he knew he would need a little time to work himself back into game shape. He said he was sitting with Fisher when the coach received a call from a league official, and Hollis listened in to the conversation.
He says to (Fisher), If that guys not in basketball shape, cut his f------ ass. Get his ass out of there, Hollis said. He says that kind of stuff to them to see what kind of people they are. From Day 1 its been a crazy, horrible nightmare.
Haney responded to interview requests twice via email. He declined requests to conduct a phone interview.
Im not terribly interested in equal air time now, he said in an email delivered to The News Herald on Monday night. I think the damage is done.

Lack of promotion

In his first reply to an interview request received Friday night last week Haney placed blame of the leagues failure squarely on the teams. He alleged that the Breeze didnt do enough to promote their team.
The league has spent a considerable amount of money leaguewide for teams who seemingly ignored our direction, advice and business model, Haney said in his first email after Clinkscales and Bastfield first came forward. In Panama, not one single season ticket was sold all year long, and team promotions and marketing were absolutely non-existent. The players and management were contractually required and obligated to promote and market the team, but it was easier to do nothing with the misunderstanding that the league would bail them out, and if they dare not then subject the league to threats of extortion and misrepresenting the truth to the press, which they ultimately have done. In situations like this, the easy and cowardly thing to do is point fingers, threaten to go to the press and not share in the responsibilities we all had in operating a sustainable sports organization. If you have 40 people at your home game, obviously your efforts of promoting the team in the community are beyond woeful, and blaming the league for your failure is pathetic. Its my understanding that the team this year did not even make one single appearance at a school, boys club or a youth group.
That allegation simply isnt true, said Arthur McMurtry, who served as an unpaid volunteer helping the Panama City teams promotional efforts throughout the community. The Breeze organization is owned by the ABL, and as such doesnt have a front office, let alone a public relations team. McMurtry, who works full time at the Hilton Garden Inn in Panama City, said he first met Fisher when he drove the Breeze coach to the airport to pick up a rental car.
We got to talking, and the next thing I know Im doing public relations for them, which I really enjoyed, McMurtry said. My role was to get the Breeze familiar with Bay County and get Bay County to fill up the bleachers. I went out to different functions, got them hooked up with the newspaper and the TV stations. And it was not a paid position, mind you. I did it for the love of the game and the love of people. It was fun. We went to the Boys and Girls Club, and we went to some of their games with the players. We went to the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. We went to an event at Frank Brown Park and had a booth set up. Those were the types of things we were doing in the community. We talked to a lot of potential sponsors, and theyd say things like, We kind of like this and would like to get involved, but were going to hang back a bit and see how it goes.
Hollis echoed Clinkscales and Bastfields versions of events dating through the past few weeks. A seven-day eviction notice was placed on the players front door last Friday, he said. A rental company has been arriving regularly with moving trucks to haul away the players beds because the league didnt cover those costs, either, the players said. The beds represent the players only furniture in the house aside from a few folding chairs in the living room. Clinkscales and Bastfield described themselves as stranded in Lynn Haven. Clinkscales said he received a $400 check at the end of January, less than what he said he was supposed to be paid, and he hasnt been paid since. Bastfield said he hasnt been paid one time.
Any allegations we have stranded players in Panama is nonsense, Haney said. Not one player has communicated that to the league. I will note that one players overt attempts to extort money from the league will be referred to law enforcement. The league will continue to operate, and we seek to continue to bring professional basketball to Panama City. In such future endeavors we will more carefully seek business partners who understand the rather simple concept of grassroots marketing and involving the basketball team with the community. In terms of contractual matters between coaches and players, such is legally confidential and obviously we cannot offer comment, but allegations that players have not been paid this year are untrue, and we will seek legal action against anyone making such statements.

Chaos in Corpus Christi

Those threats did little to deter Hollis, his agent, or Corpus Christi Clutch coach Johnny Moore , who played in the NBA for nine seasons during the 1980s. Moore, in an interview three weeks ago with KRIS-TV in Corpus Christi, Texas, said half of his players were not paid and he also is owed money. Moore suggested that Haney was dodging his phone calls as players grew more anxious about not receiving their money.
I called him twice Monday, three times Tuesday, four times Wednesday and nothing, Moore said. Then I finally called him star-67 (blocking his phone number from caller ID) and he answered, so you know its that type of non-communication. Steve Haney owns the league, owns the Corpus Christi Clutch, owns a majority of the teams in the league. I think the only privately owned franchise is the Houston franchise. Twin City had a private owner and they dropped out. I asked about it, and Haney made it very clear if a team was having a problem that they had the money to sustain the league for the duration of the year.
In response to those allegations, Haney lashed out at Moore in a subsequent interview with KRIS-TV. Haney said the team had been shut down because of on-court incidents.
Witnesses were at the gym that day, which included a pastor and a woman who had a youth group there, Haney said. They heard the head coach using the word motherf----- repeatedly in front of children. A player called a young Mexican-American girl a fat b-----. And the coach and players were yelling at a referee, Speak English motherf-----. And thats why they were terminated, and thats why were revisiting whether or not we should continue to move forward in Corpus Christi.
Although Haney claimed the league has spent a considerable amount of money leaguewide, the Panama City Breeze failed to honor the terms of an agreement with Rutherford High School for the use of its gymnasium, The Ram House. Jerry Lassiter, an administrative assistant at the school, said league and school officials settled on a cost of $500 per game. The team would be allowed to use the facility for practices, too, Lassiter said, adding that players and coaches were required to go through background checks before they were allowed to practice or compete on campus.
Where I made my mistake is I should have asked for the money up front, Lassiter said. This money, some of it was going to help (Rutherfords boys basketball program), and it also was to help sports that dont produce as much revenue and help all athletics. I thought it was a real good deal. I think they used the facility and closed down after seven games. They had paid for three. The league had sent a check for three games. All that went to the book keeper. I try not to get into the money loop, so I had to go back and check. They didnt pay for the last four. We were a little disappointed we didnt get that.
We dont really go after people as far as legal action. We want to try to give people an opportunity and give people the things they can use. Sure, it helps us. Were on TV, were playing games in our gym, the students can be proud, and the community can be proud to have a facility like that. Basically, it was a positive experience, and the only bad thing was we didnt get paid for those other games.
Jones doesnt expect a fair resolution for the players and coaches in the league.
To be honest with you, he said, these kids wont get any money. I doubt if any coaches will get any money.
Jones said the league was beneficial for one reason: It gave the players a chance to stockpile game footage they can use to market themselves in their pursuits for other, more lucrative, opportunities. He said he hopes that the players who endured this experience in the ABL are able to move on. Jones said other leagues such as the Premier Basketball League and the International Basketball League remain quality options for players trying to sustain their basketball careers after college.
(Haney) already made the league look bad when he said players in the league are pathetic or whatever, Jones said. I mean, come on. What kind of boss says that about his employees and expects those employees to work for him. It shows what kind of person he is. You get these young men, and they dont have to feel like they let somebody down. They didnt do anything wrong. It does put a damper on a lot of kids. The thing is they shouldnt have to be put in a position like that where they kill their dreams. These are just dreams to kids, and theyre just trying to get there.

Courtesy of News Herald

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