Timberjacks return in new league

MEDORA — The dream dies hard. The number of basketball players seeking to extend careers with professional money can’t all fit onto the rosters of NBA teams.

So they pack suitcases for towns where the lights aren’t as bright, in the G League, in Europe or in The Basketball League, the new affiliation of the Medora Timberjacks this year.

Have jump shot, will travel.

Carl Brown, a 6-foot-4 guard who played for Cal-State Northridge, was in southern Indiana over the weekend trying to earn his way onto one of the 44 teams in this league by showing his stuff to the Timberjacks.

He traveled most of the night from Los Angeles to Indianapolis to Jackson County.

“I had three hours of sleep,” Brown said.

It didn’t seem to affect him. Even if he had to take some deep breaths, Brown had stretches where he nailed a jumper, passed off for an assist, collected two rebounds and made a steal, all in the space of less than 2 minutes.

There were 20 players inhabiting the court at Medora High School seeking to impress General Manager Joey Sichting and coach Mark Morin, who planned to keep 12 on the roster as the start of the season approaches March 6 versus a team from Owensboro, Kentucky.

Guys who finished playing high school ball and completed their college years still want to play, to find someone to pay them to make a living in their favorite sport.

“I’ve had so much film sent to me,” Sichting said. “I think we’ve got some really good guys. These guys are slammers-jammers. They all can play.”

A year ago, Medora, population roughly 700 (with a gym that holds 1,200) embraced the Timberjacks, who participated in the four-team Hoosier Hardwood Basketball Association and were known as the Southern Indiana Timberjacks.

Now, the name change reflects the community, and the league affiliation broadens the opposition.

“This league was more organized,” Sichting said of the switch to The Basketball League.

The president of the TBL is Dave Magley, a 1978 Indiana Mr. Basketball from South Bend who as a 6-8 forward starred for Kansas and briefly played in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

A member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, Magley also played for the Albany Patroons and the Wyoming Wildcatters of the Continental Basketball Association.

Magley met the Timberjacks players over the weekend, helped Morin conduct practice and tryouts and gave the players an overview of the league. At times, he was on the court throwing the ball to players in drills and exhorting them. “Let’s go!” he encouraged at one point.

The Basketball League has budgeted player salaries at $1,500 to $6,500 a month for 24 regular-season games, plus playoffs. Team budgets are $125,000 to $250,000. The league was founded in 2017.

Players went through double sessions of drills and scrimmages Saturday and Sunday in Medora, shooting, passing and especially running. There was no downtime during two-hour periods.

“These drills might not make you better basketball players,” Morin said.

But he said they would reveal what kind of shape the hopefuls were in. The first hour of up-and-down the court prior to a water break supported Morin’s plan. The pace was steady. He wasn’t kidding about the running.

“I know it,” he said.

Andrew Epps, 24, who played for Central Christian in Kansas, played minor league hoops in Wichita and traveled to Indiana from Oklahoma City to become a Timberjack. A friend told him about this squad.

“It’s small,” the 6-7 forward said of the locale. “It’s a better opportunity. I want to either keep playing in this league or overseas.”

D.C. Cole is a 6-10 center who played at Jacksonville State. There were some applicants with ties to Mississippi and Arkansas. Distance seemed to be no obstacle all-around.

It’s not clear if Sichting and Morin will consider which players to be a perfect fit or which guys with what skills might not mesh with other guys’ skills. They have to make an impression in a hurry, but there are ways to do so, Brown said.

“You’ve just got to play the team game,” he said. “I’ve never forced it. Do everything exactly right. Listen. You can’t make mistakes.”

Guards Markell Bradshaw, 6-1, out of Delta College, and LaJuan Whitney, 6-0, who is an exercise science student at Indiana University after playing at Pike High School, spent some time with the Timberjacks last season.

Whitney, 21, lives in Bloomington and plays for the IU men’s club team, which may not be as heralded as the official school team but does face opponents from Purdue and Louisville.

“Everyone has their own story,” Whitney said of the gathering of such itinerant players in tiny Medora. “I’ve been playing since I was 3. It’s a goal of mine to keep playing. It’s really handy I can drive down here.”

Breon Kinnie, 24, is from Fort Wayne and is a senior at IU majoring in sports management with the aim of becoming a sports agent. The 6-4 guard is fascinated by the dynamic of out-of-town ballplayers mingling with the local residents in such a small place.

At one point Saturday, Kinnie sat in the bleachers talking with members of the Medora boys team. He said athletes are always looked at as role models.

“You’re always in that spotlight,” he said.

When he enrolled at IU, Kinnie said he walked on trying to make the Hoosiers team but was cut.

“That humbled me,” he said.

Kinnie plays on the same club team with Whitney. He wants to learn how franchises such as this level of pro basketball are operated, too.

Growing up in Fort Wayne and being in school in Bloomington, ordinarily, Kinnie wouldn’t know where Medora was on the Indiana state map. But he sees opportunity in coming to the town.

“I want to continue to develop my game and my craft,” Kinnie said.