At the end of last year’s IBL season, the Chill blew out of Edmonton just as quickly as they blew in.
Despite having a great first season with a respectable record and a talent laden squad that included three league all-stars, the Chill were forced to cease operations thanks in large part to a shady owner that had taken the money and run.
With that as the prelude, the local basketball community banded together to resurrect the team. Now like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Edmonton Energy has gone on to be the best team in the International Basketball League posting a league best record 17-3.
The Energy have made their best attempt at making the Chill experience a distant memory and the force of the team both on the floor and in the board room has been local basketball stalwart Paul Sir. Coach Sir has been a fixture in the provincial and local basketball scene for what seems like forever and has helped to keep the now first-year IBL franchise at the top of the league standings. I had a chance to talk to Coach Sir about last year, this year and the future of the Energy.
Ray Bala: There was a pro basketball team Edmonton last year. How does this season compare to last season?
Coach Sir: From a team standpoint, last season the players were good but we are a better team this year. We have a better mix of players this year than last, but we were still a very good team last year. (They’re all) just a great group of individuals to work with.
The problems we had were off the court with an owner who was less than honest and honorable who at the end of the year had left town with people’s hard-earned money. After the season was over I spent a great deal of time dealing with the problems that existed. We saw last year that there was a great connection with the team and the community so we got an ownership group together this year of very good business people who were committed to the team and we decided that it was important to rebrand the team and not go with the Chill. We came up with the Energy and we’re excited to have the team going again and we’re looking forward to finishing the year up and preparing for next.
RB: Now was there a transition with getting people back on board with the Energy after last season? Was there a period where people were still skeptical of the team?
CS: Oh yes, to a certain extent people still are (skeptical). Minor league sports, that in itself raises skepticism for good reason. Last season we had the Edmonton Cracker-Cats Golden League baseball team that was very poorly managed. So you (essentially) had two minor league franchises that failed (the same year). I think we’ve gone a long way this year in building the community trust in what we’re doing (this year).
RB: How do you feel the public have come out to support you guys this season?
CS: Our crowds have been disappointing, to be honest. We’ve been surprised but we feel this is all correctable. We know we have made some mistakes in terms of marketing the team and we’ll review all of our systems and process at the end of the season. Our website has had over 600,000 hits on it and that’s astronomical. But for some reason we have not connected with the public to get them to come to the games in numbers that we would like to see. Now having said that, 300 to 400 people are at every game and that by some standards for minor league sports is not bad. We envision one and two years from now where there will be many more people when we apply the lessons we learned this season from our experiences.
RB: Now you mentioned two and three years down the road. Was there long-term planning since the team’s inception this season?
CS: Yes. Everyone who got involved made a commitment to make this (team) a long-term part of the Edmonton sports community.
RB: With the team in mind, how do you balance the role of businessman/GM with basketball coach?
CS: I think I have the good fortune of being number one, old, and that means that I have a lot of experience. My background is in business, I have owned my own business for 20 plus years, so I have a lot of business experience. And during that time me and my wife were balancing my life coaching at various levels of basketball. Eventually I phased into coaching university basketball so I don’t have a difficult time seeing both the business and coaching side of it.
RB: That’s great! Having that background obviously helps you with whatever you have to do when it comes to decisions for the team or the players. Most people don’t have the balance of basketball or business when it comes to a dual role in a minor league franchise and that tends to doom a lot teams from the start.
RB: Was it hard for you to find or even get local talent to come out for the Energy for this season?
CS: In terms of wearing the GM hat, the foundation of the team is local talent. Players like Steve Sir, JR Patrick, Andrew Parker, Alex Steele, these are all players that born and raised and have come up through the Edmonton basketball system. Then trying to build around them with more Canadians who can contribute and then bringing guys who compliment them. Kevin Shand was a friend of a fellow who assisted the team last year, Lunzaya Nlandu works out here in Edmonton and the wild card was Skousan Harker. Skousan was good friends with Will Funn who he played with in England who plays with us. I feel fortunate and proud because I think the pieces I’ve picked have managed to come together.
RB: With regards to last year’s team, are there any holdovers from last season’s squad?
CS: We kept a strong nucleus together from last year [Note: the Energy have six players from the roster that the Chill had last season] and we made it better with the additions of Kevin and Skousan. Now we did lose Rashaun Broadus who but he had a great year in Romania. He did intend to come back for this season though.
RB: Now looking at the team you have, this looks like one of the better minor league basketball teams out now. The Energy has a lot of star power and the team looks like it’s coming together. It’s good to see that there’s a minor league franchise that’s being successful in Canada because so few of them do get to this point.
CS: I appreciate it very much. That certainly has been our goal and objective. I really wanted to do everything I could that was based on fundamental business practices but with a team that was truly a team. I have always liked tougher, grittier kinds of teams, teams made up off people with character who put team and community first. We’re really trying hard to entrench this team into the community. We want this to be something that kids look up to and say "I want to be like that someday."
RB: Now after last season, the team has overcome some challenges as far as the situation last season with the Chill. Now have there been any other challenges that you feel you’ve also overcome?
CS: I think you summed it up well. I think it’s the progression of taking baby steps to rebuild something that we knew was very positive for the community. But also having the willingness of the ownership group to take on that challenge and risk and then work in tandem to give it a foundation from a business standpoint to allow me to put the team together and for the team to go out but not only play on the court but also reach out to the community. I think that we’ve laid in many respects solid groundwork to progress in the future.
RB: And the future definitely looks bright, by record alone. Now I’m wondering what goals you’ve set for the team this year and have you hit them?
CS: I think we’ve hit our goals to date. Our goal is to win the IBL championship this year. But the way we believe we have to prepare to that is to lay track every day and do our best on that given day to be a better player individually and a better team collectively. Now we’ve tried not to get ahead of ourselves and tried to not interpret our success in any way other than it being a part of a bigger plan. Our record is great but going into the next game the only thing that matters is the 48 minutes. That’s our philosophy and the guys have bought into this.
RB: What are your hopes for the team going forward after the season is done?
CS: The hope for the team is that this helps prepare guys for their pro careers next year. And beyond that the planning will start and then the execution of that plan for next season. Raising the profile of the team and keeping the name in the community, build momentum up. Once again we’ll be looking to compete at a high level again next year and fill the stands.
RB: Thanks for taking the time Coach. We’ll look forward to hearing great things from the Energy in the near future.
For more on the Edmonton Energy please check out www.edmontonnrg.com or www.iblhoopsonbline.com
R. "the OG" Bala