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Columbus ABA semi-pro basketball teams moving operations to Albany, tryouts today at Turner Gym

ALBANY -- A new chapter is about to be written in Albany's rich basketball history.

Led by founder and head coach Alton Hicks Sr., the American Basketball Association -- which is home to 90 semi-professional men's and 32 women's teams across the U.S. -- is bringing not one, but two squads to Albany this fall: The Riverballers and Ladyballers.

The Riverballers, who have been based in Columbus for the last three years, and the Ladyballers -- a first-year franchise -- will be making their new home in Southwest Georgia, according to Hicks, who will hold tryouts today at Turner Gym. Tryouts for the women's team will be from noon-4 p.m., followed by the men from 5-9 pm.

"We're very excited about coming to Albany," Hicks told The Herald this week in a telephone interview. "It's been a good run in Columbus, but we have new owners there in Albany and we feel it's a great move because there's a lot of talent in the area."

Hicks added that he had not met the new owners, but that he planned to meet them for the first time this weekend, then sit down with them, along with ABA officials, and determine the teams' 2011-12 schedule, as well as where they will play their home games.

But while the ABA's semi-pro players are paid for their involvement with the team -- anywhere from $200-$300 a game, depending on whether you're a starter or rank in the Top 10 in the league in categories like scoring, assists, rebounds and steals -- the tryouts are not free. The tryout fee for women is $75, while the men's is $100, and Hicks said he's only looking to field a roster of 12-15 players.

"You're allowed (by the ABA) to carry a roster of 15, but you can only dress out 12 for each game," said Hicks, a former U.S. Army tank commander who spent 20 years in the Armed Forces and made the All-Army Basketball teams several times while stationed at Fort Hood, Texas and Bamberg, Germany, according to his bio. "But because so many of our players get picked up by teams overseas, we usually sign more players than that to field a practice squad in case someone up and leaves (to play professionally overseas)."

While the Ladyballers will be new to the ABA this season -- the ABA added a women's league (WABA) after Hicks said he pushed for it this offseason and was subsequently named Director of the WABA Southern Region -- the Riverballers are coming off their best year since they were founded. They went 19-4 last season, won the Atlantic South Division title and finished 2010 ranked No. 4 in the nation. They enter the 2011-12 season ranked No. 11, according to Hicks.

"I think (this team) a great thing for Albany because I know we can draw a lot of talented players from right there in Albany, as well as places like Cairo, Thomasville and Fitzgerald," said Hicks, who added that the Riverballers and Ladyballers will be holding a second tryout some time before the teams' season openers Nov. 19 against the Atlanta Experience. "The games are exciting if you've never been to one, and we hope once we get going, the folks (in Southwest Georgia) will come out to support us."

The ABA and CEO Joe Newman last attempted to bring a semi-pro franchise to Albany in 2007, but were unsuccessful after failing to negotiate a deal to play their games at the Albany Civic Center before the ABA's deadline to start the season.