By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
With the World Basketball Association Exposure League playoffs starting tonight, the Tupelo Rock-N-Rollers have already silenced their critics during the expansion team’s first season.
“We’re 7-3,” said Rock-N-Rollers and former Ole Miss player Jason Smith. “We were picked last.
“A lot of people in the league weren’t expecting us to come in the first year and do that. We are really proud of that.”
As the second seed in the four-team, single-elimination playoffs, the Rock-N-Rollers will face the Decatur (Ga.) Court Kings tonight at Buford, Ga.
The Tupelo club lost 77-71 at home to the Court Kings in both teams’ season opener in May. The Rock-N-Rollers avenged their season-opening loss with a three-point win in Decatur nearly two weeks ago.
“Basically, both of these games have come down to the last two minutes of regulation,” said Rock-N-Rollers head coach Brian Alexander. “The first game, they made the plays when it counted; the second game, when we were at their place, we made the plays when it counted.
“So, these two teams are pretty evenly matched.”
The winner will play the winner of tonight’s other semifinal between the top-seeded Buford Majic and the fourth-seeded Cartersville (Ga.) Baseline Warriors in Friday night’s championship game.
Buford swept both games against the Rock-N-Rollers during the regular-season. Tupelo beat Cartersville in the teams’ only meeting this season.
“Any time you start a new franchise in any sport, your first year normally doesn’t go very well win-or-loss wise,” Alexander said. “So, for us to come out here and be 7-3, it’s a big deal.
“It’s a big deal for our franchise. It’s a big deal for Tupelo.”
What makes a Rock-N-Roller
What is also a big deal to the Rock-N-Rollers players is the chance to play for another club during the winter. By playing in the WBA, players such as Courtney Bradley and Smith are, in a sense, auditioning for other clubs.
“I played in France my first year out of college,” said Rock-N-Rollers guard/forward Courtney Bradley, who played collegiately at Jacksonville (Ala.) State from 2005-07. “I played in the ABA, and now I’m playing in the WBA trying to get back overseas.”
Smith, 31, sat out this winter after playing previously in Iceland, Venezuela, Belgium and, most recently, Romania.
“I got back in this league to get in shape, to see if I still had a competitive nature,” Smith said. “I still have it.
“I was thinking about hanging it up. Then, this team was coming to Tupelo and I just wanted to see if I still had a little bit in me, and I still have a lot in me, actually.”
The WBA is currently a six-team league with its main objective as being a stage and stepping stone for players seeking to advance their careers professionally.
“It’s a good league,” Smith said. “It’s definitely above college because of the talent in the league.
“The guys are hungry at this level, real hungry to get a job overseas. I think there are going to be a lot of guys that will get called to go have a job somewhere.”
For now, the players are hungry to win the WBA title.
“These guys that are going to make this trip with us on Thursday are very hungry and their attitude is good and they want to win,” Alexander said.