Former Albany High and Florida State hoops star Al Smith talks to a crowd at the Albany Civic Center on Tuesday after he was introduced as the first head coach of the newly founded Albany Shockwave, an ABA-sanctioned professional basketball team that will debut in November.
Shockwave games at Civic Center ‘won’t conflict’ with city high school contests
ALBANY — Two years ago, high school basketball made a triumphant return to the Albany Civic Center, moving some of the biggest matchups in Southwest Georgia to a venue that could accommodate the increasingly overflowing crowds.
And despite the Civic Center’s recently announced deal with a new ABA professional basketball team, the Albany Shockwave, those popular games are not in danger of being lost, according to Dougherty County Director of Athletics Johnny Seabrooks.
“We gave the Civic Center our dates late last year (and well before this new team was announced), so it won’t conflict,” Seabrooks told The Herald on Tuesday. “We’re only going to have four sets of games this year, and the new team shouldn’t affect any of those games.”
Seabrooks added that the Civic Center prep hoops schedule was also returning to just featuring the four city schools and their matchups with one another. Last year’s broadening of the schedule to include teams outside of Albany did not draw enough crowds to warrant their return, he said.
ALBANY — Christopher G. Pike casually flipped the red, white and blue basketball up in the air as he waited for Tuesday’s press conference to begin.
When the new general manager of the equally new Albany Shockwave finally stepped up to the podium, he couldn’t have been happier about getting the ball rolling on the city’s newest professional sports team.
Pike, also an Albany City Commissioner who has come under fire in recent weeks for issues related to his primary occupation, officially announced the city’s new ABA professional basketball team, unveiled the logo and answered questions about the inaugural season, which begins in November.
His biggest announcement, however, was when he named Al Smith head coach of the team.
“When folks found out we were bringing a team to Albany, everybody named the same person (as to who should be our head coach),” Pike said, referring to Smith. “Two months ago (Al) came down from Atlanta and we talked and had lunch. He said, ‘You don’t have to look for anybody else. I am your coach.’ ”
Smith, an Albany High graduate who was inducted into the Albany Sports Hall of Fame in 1999, played collegiately at Florida State and Jackson State and played professional basketball overseas for 18 years. He was a player and coach for Albany’s last professional team — the short-lived Albany Sharp Shooters/South Georgia Blues in the early ’90s — and said he is moving back home from Atlanta to help build the city’s new franchise.
“We are looking forward to a grand, grand entrance into the American Basketball Association,” Smith said of the Shockwave, who will be Albany’s first pro hoops team since 1993.
Pike and Smith also introduced the team’s logo — a blue and red crest with a large letter “A” on top of a basketball, or as Pike put it, “an old-school feel, kind of like the (Philadelphia) 76ers.”
Pike also explained why he chose the Shockwave nickname.
“It’s something unique,” said Pike, whose team he also co-owns will play all its home games at the Albany Civic Center. “Shockwave isn’t something overly-used like the Lions or Cats or Trojans. We also looked at the marketability of the name as well.”
When news broke of the team’s arrival late Monday and was first reported by The Herald, Pike insisted that maintaining his duties as a city commissioner — while also serving as the GM of a professional basketball team — wouldn’t be an issue.
“The team is not affiliated with the city whatsoever, so it’s fine. They’re separate entities,” Pike said Monday. “It’s something I’m doing through my business company.”
But the way Pike and his company, Urban Pulse, do business has come under fire in recent weeks.
The Albany Hilton Garden Inn filed a legal action last week in Magistrate Court that contends Pike’s Albany Black Business Expo owes the hotel more than $11,000.
Filed last Wednesday in Dougherty County, the civil suit contends that Pike, who represents Ward III on the City Commission, has not paid catering and event rental bills owed to the Hilton. The suit says that Pike signed a contract on March 9 with the Hilton to furnish meeting rooms and food for the expo at a value of $11,253.33.
“Make no mistake about it, I will get these issues resolved,” Pike said when contacted by The Herald about the matter last week.
In the meantime, he’ll be turning his focus to returning basketball to the Good Life City.
Pike said he has envisioned reintroducing professional hoops to Albany for several years and felt the time was right because of the recent success the Albany Panthers arena football team has had, including two straight league championships. The Panthers typically drew around 5,000 fans per home game at the Albany Civic Center.
Two decades ago when Albany was home of the Sharp Shooters (1991-92) and the Blues (1992-93) from the Global Basketball Association, attendance became an issue. According to a 1992 Associated Press report, the Sharp Shooters had 3,500 in attendance for their season opener but that number quickly dropped to 1,000 just four games into the season.
Pike, however, is optimistic that his Shockwave will thrive.
“Basketball has been on my radar for two or three years, because Albany is a big sports community, specifically basketball. We have been talking back and forth with the ABA and worked out some ways to get a team here. They were very excited and tried to get in this market (in 2007) before and weren’t successful. We were able to work with them and make that happen,” said Pike, who began working on bringing a team to Albany around March.
“Having the (now-defunct South Georgia) Wildcats and Panthers here and seeing their success has shown that other sports teams can do well here. The key is having people used to and accustomed to coming to professional sports. I think the Panthers kind of opened that up for something else to come,” Pike added.
Smith said a key to the franchise’s success will be signing local talent, and he already has his eyes on some Albany natives after watching the team’s first tryout that took place little more than a week ago.
“Having such a local presence and local flavor that I envision, I think (the players) will be highly accepted (by the community),” said Smith, who played for the Sharp Shooters 20 years ago. “One of the things is — and I can’t do any name calling now — but I have four or five local guys right now that I want to (make a part of this team). They just don’t know who they are.”
Smith added that it will be important to have local athletes on the team because it will allow fans to identify with the players. The Shockwave have two more tryouts scheduled — Aug. 11 in Americus and Aug. 18 in Tallahassee.
The team will play 15 home games at the Civic Center and will compete in the ABA’s Atlantic South Division this season, which begins Nov. 16 in Albany against the Savannah Grizzlies. The Shockwave are one of 14 teams in the Atlantic South Division and one of more than 100 teams in the entire league.
The current ABA was founded in 1999 and is not affiliated with the original ABA, which merged with the NBA in 1976.
However, there are several similarities between the two leagues, including the use of the iconic red, white and blue basketball. And just like the original ABA’s creativity by using and popularizing the 3-point line, the new ABA has several unique rules, including a “3D rule” that adds extra points to buckets depending on certain criteria, a half-court 4-point shot and unlimited personal fouls without foul outs.
Tickets for Shockwave games at the Civic Center will range between $5-25, Smith said Tuesday.
“It’s affordable for everyone,” Smith said. “People look at the economic impact of our times, and now we have made it affordable for anyone to attend. It’s $3 cheaper than a high school game for a general admission ticket. And these aren’t nose-bleed seats.”