by Zagrieb Zano
Kelley Avery has proven that he has to chutzpa to manage a WBA team. In the heartland, people have noticed his ability to craft a competitive team. The biggest challenge is getting the top talent to agree to come and live there. Perhaps it is due to their key sales pitch “Come to Omaha, Must love Corn!” Their best player (a known corn lover) Vincent Miles has bought into the Omaha way of life. Signing a huge contract. He will be looked on to lead a team that doesn’t have many big names on it. Unfortunately this may be the one mistake that the Wild have made during the off-season. The contract is an albatross for the foreseeable future. At least Vincent will be able to buy a lot of corn, he is young though and perhaps he will live up to his contract in 3-4 years. On the court Herman Burke will be one of their top scorers. The 6’6” PG is a nightmare to guard, he’s really more of a PG in a SG body. The elder statesman will be counted to lead the time. He will get help from Antonio Gleason also at 6’6”. The young shooting guard is terrific from midrange. He is only going to get better as time goes on. Avery will need to figure out what to do at the center position. Both Peska and Cushman will get time. Neither is a scorer but both play solid defense and can rebound. It’s too bad they can’t be merged into 1 person. Gerhold Verholm has youth on his side. He could be the future of this team hitting the blocks. He will benefit from being on a team that has no great players at the post. He is big and very strong. His numbers will be a little bit inflated for the next season or two, but he should grow into a good player.
Salt Lake City Fanatics:
The Fanatics are something of a peculiar team. Originally the Indiana Shakers, before moving to Salt Lake. GM Brad Bangerter, love him or hate him, you will respect him. While some tabloid style writers may claim his incompetence over the years. GM Bangerter knows how to cultivate talent for a smaller market team. He is known as a very shrewd GM, never accepting a trade deal that leaves his team weaker. This is partially due to his study of the game and players. And this is how he has turned around a fledgling franchise into a team to be reckoned with. One doesn’t simply earn Executive of the Year by accident. Salt Lake is starting to become a destination place. It is arguable that they may have the best starting 5 in the league. While I think they need another scorer to really be dangerous, this team understands what it means to play defense. Don’t be surprised if the Fanatics finish near the top of the league for team defense. It all starts with Cordell Parks, the graduate of NE Moscow State University. He has many defensive awards, but his offensive game is starting to come around. He could be one of the leagues next breakout stars. Sean Ashman and Wally Birkhead are very physical players on both sides of the court. I suspect that Ashman will play some PF to help him get outside a little bit. He’s a big man with a nice 3 point shot. LaMaitre and Williams in the backcourt are as good as it gets. Perhaps the only thing that will truly slow this team down is significant injuries as the starting lineup will play 35+ mpg. Do the Fanatics win the championship this year … maybe, but I think they are a year away. Despite being last season’s Executive of the Year, perhaps the only real blemish on Bangerter’s front office career is the draft choice of Eric Falk. This 19-year-old doesn’t deserve to be a late first round pick. Maybe Bangerter knows something that the rest of the league doesn’t.
Nebraska Sun Warriors
This once great and proud franchise has been reduced as an afterthought. Perhaps the most telling of their demise is the fact that they have 20 players on the roster, hoping that a couple of them will actually be good. Their center Simeon Hill has the chance to be a star, but stars usually need to score. He doesn’t do that. He does everything else well, and he will be with Nebraska for quite a while. They are hedging their bets on Jeremy Aarons, signing him to a max deal. I think this was a mistake, he does have some good upside but only time will tell if he belongs in this league. Roy Base teams up well with Hill, but he won’t be with Nebraska for long. Rumor has it he would like to go back east once his contract is up. Nebraska needs a GM that will give this team direction. Until that happens, they will be lucky to sniff .500 for the season.
This team has many of the same issues that Nebraska has. Pat Stephenson is a cagey veteran that can still put up double doubles every night. Dan Kincaide is a nice young wingman who will punish teams from outside. They need a floor general, Cole Bayo and Justin Kruger are suitable journeyman players, but they are not going to lead a team deep into the playoffs. The biggest challenge is 80 % of this eam won’t be around next year, and nobody is signed past next year. With this lack of long-term planning, it is difficult to predict good fortunes. They could compete for the playoffs, and perhaps that will help them in the off-season, but they need to find a nucleus to build around. You can’t do that with their older players. Perhaps, Kincaide will be the cornerstone in the future. They do have 4 picks in the draft, although 3 of those are 2nd rounder picks.
Colorado used to be one of the most feared teams in the WBA. With the change over ownership and front office, recent years have not proven to have the same amount of success. They are led by Charlie Daidone at the point, which his stellar backup Mark Carr. They often play both point guards at the same time which causes have for slower SG’s trying to keep up with the speedy ball handlers. They have solid combo players to create mismatches, but their approach to cover each position by committee is not likely to work in the long run. Jaxon McCall longs for his glory days, and while he will still light it up from time to time, the consistency has been affected by his age. Colorado will still be competitive this season, and with 2 first round picks next year, they may be able to start a younger generation that can grow up with Carr.
This division used to be one of the more competitive divisions in the league. Currently, not so much. SLC leads this division on talent alone. And really it is more of a matter who will finish after them. The other four teams are much closer in skill.
1: Salt Lake City Fanatics: 55-27
2: Omaha Wild: 43-39
3: Colorado Pioneers: 40-42
4: Nebraska Sun Warriors: 31-52
5: Arkansas Stingers: 20-62