Olympia Reign back on the court, with NBA experience
Olympia's coaching staff of Vladimir Stepania (L) and Khalid Hicks
With a renewed commitment to community involvement, the Olympia Reign are back for another season in the International Basketball League, this time backed with NBA experience.
Big things are sure to be in store for the Reign this spring as the team will be led by new head coach Vladimir Stepania, who formerly played in the NBA for four teams, most notably the Seattle Sonics and Miami Heat. He was a first round draft pick of the Sonics in 1998.
Stepania is excited to have the chance to work in the community and to help develop players, “this is a great opportunity to be recognized for both the players and myself as a coach. I’m just starting out, but it’s great to be giving back in this way. I want it to be a good stepping stone for our players. I believe in having resources to help you get over the hump, and I think I can provide that as a coach for the Olympia Reign,” Stepania says.
Joining Stepania on the bench as Associate Head Coach will be Khalid Hicks, formerly of The Evergreen State College men’s basketball program.
Currently, Stepania is at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a hot bed for young players who are looking to showcase their skills. In regard to his own Olympia Reign squad, Stepania is looking forward to assembling the roster. “We will have a tryout here real soon, but we plan on giving players an equal opportunity to join our team. Winning will be important, but we also want to help our players develop, and improve their game for other professional playing opportunities.”
Stepania added, “I’m also glad to be staying close to home, my mother is 73 years old and it’s important for me to be around. I’ve really enjoyed living here in Washington, and I’m looking forward to the IBL season.”
Founded in 2008 by Mark Felton, the Reign are actively seeking sponsors and community partners to ensure the longevity of the team and success on the court. The team’s most successful season came in 2012, when they reached the semi-finals of the IBL playoffs and were contenders for the IBL championship that season.
The Reign will play eight games during the 2014 IBL season, including four games at their new home facility, the South Sound Sports Center in Tumwater, in May and June.
They debut to the court in 2014 with back-to-back games against the defending champion Bellingham Slam on Friday, May 9 at 7 p.m. in Bellingham and Saturday, May 10 at 7 p.m. at the South Sound Sports Center.
Blake Poole ready to help guide Bellingham yet again
by Gino Pilato
Poole will be back with Bellingham following his third season in Germany
6'5" center Blake Poole has been a member of the Bellingham Slam’s impressive back-to-back championship teams the past two IBL seasons, and has parlayed that success into a rewarding career overseas in Germany.
Poole will return to the Slam for a third consecutive season, and has never been in a better place regarding his overall game. Fresh off a stint in Germany’s Pro B League, Poole capitalized on a healthy campaign to lead the entire league in rebounding. In 36.4 minutes, Poole averaged 20.6 points (eighth overall), and 12.2 rebounds for Hertener Loewen.
According to Scorers First Sport Management’s Director of Public Relations (Poole’s agency), Wendell Maxey, Poole’s time in the IBL has paid off tremendously, “the IBL has been beneficial to Blake, it has allowed him the ability to stay in a rhythm, and to remain in great condition. Training camp opens in August here (Europe), and there’s no doubt he’ll be ready to go again after his time in the IBL,” Maxey said.
Maxey added, “Blake has gone about things in a very professional manner, it’s allowed him to become a double-double machine, and to lead Pro B in rebounding which is impressive.”
Those familiar with Poole’s dynamic play in Bellingham have grown accustomed to seeing the former Division II Saint Martin’s standout perform at a high level. The reigning 2013 IBL Finals MVP averaged 20.2 points, 8.5 rebounds in 34.5 minutes last season for the Slam. With a stellar season in Germany to his credit, it’s safe to assume Poole will increase upon his averages from a season ago.
As Maxey commented, “Blake established his name in Pro B this season, teams are well aware of his capabilities.” After cementing his name in the minds of those in Germany, Poole will look to do the same yet again in the IBL this season.
As Poole gets set to return with the Slam, and help the squad (which will be guided by first year head coach Tyler Amaya) to a third consecutive championship, Poole will also have the opportunity to fine tune his skills even more, and perhaps draw looks from overseas teams who reside in higher levels. Poole will be one to watch this season, and will surely be a player head coach Amaya will lean on as the season progresses.
Head Coach Navarro confident about his young Vancouver Volcanoes squad
Head Coach Joe Navarro and Mike Ward discuss strategy on the sideline
One would think losing not one, but two high profile players during the off-season would derail hopes of an IBL championship run, but not for Vancouver Volcanoes head coach Joe Navarro.
With two of his top players from a season ago set to play overseas during the IBL season Navarro will expect winning results from a more youthful roster, including a highly touted prospect from Concordia University, Adam Herman. “We got a little younger, with 6'8" F Jake Carlisle retiring, both 6'6" F Chehales Tapscott and 6'4" F Paul Hafford going to Australia, we’re going to have to rely on our younger guys this year,” Navarro said.
Navarro returns to the Volcanoes’ bench after spending time in Hiroshima, Japan where he set up a basketball academy, and promoted a new team in which he will coach this fall, a part of the Basketball Japan Challenge League. Navarro enters the 2014 campaign confident though, “we like what we have right now, we generally bring in 18 players to training camp and get it down to around 12 guys for the season. I like having 12 guys because you never know what’s going to happen,” Navarro commented.
Despite the departure of Tapscott, Hafford, and Carlisle, Navarro further added, “we're excited about being able to return a battery of players for a second season. We usually have so much turnover in our roster from season to season it's hard to maintain continuity. We're returning eight from our roster last season, and six that were big minute guys.”
With a peppering of experienced and newcomer talent, the veteran Vancouver coach alluded, “we will probably start two rookies, I haven’t done that in quite some time. It’s a really big difference for college players coming in and playing right away in the IBL, the overall pace is difficult to adjust to. However, you find guys who can make the switch.”
One of the new players Navarro will look to lean on early is the aforementioned Adam Herman. Herman, a 6’6” forward from Concordia University (Navarro’s playing alma mater), averaged 22.4 points in his 2012-2013 season. As Navarro stated, “he’s very similar to Chehales our other undersized power forward, who was the IBL MVP last season.” It seems that Herman will enter the season with high expectations, but given Navarro’s sense for finding skilled players, there is plenty of reason to think they’re justifiable for Herman.
As an experienced, and former IBL champion head coach, Navarro and the Volcanoes will enter the 2014 season as a true contender, and will surely provide plenty of excitement all season long for the Vancouver faithful.