Story by Tom Nelson, Photos by Abby Grey
After 14 years, a professional basketball team will once again take the court in Northwest Oklahoma as the Enid Outlaws of The Basketball League tip-off their inaugural season at the Stride Bank Center in April.
The Outlaws will play a 24-game schedule (12 home games) in April, May, and June, bringing pro basketball back to Enid for the first time since the Oklahoma Storm played in the United States Basketball League from 2000 to 2007.
A new era in professional basketball in Enid begins at the regular-season opener on Sunday, April 18 at 4 p.m., but fans will get a chance to get a sneak peek at the Outlaws during an exhibition game on Friday, April 2 at 7 p.m. “I can’t wait to show everybody the product that we’ve been working on for so long.” Outlaws Team Market Owner and President Jonathan Reed stated. “For me, it has been a couple of years of hard work. For me to actually see my dreams for this team and this city to come alive…It’s going to be amazing!”
The Basketball League is a circuit of 35 teams in eight divisions of four conferences spread from coast-to-coast. The Outlaws will compete in the Plains Division of the Central Conference and will build rivalries with the Little Rock Lightning, Midtown Prestige (Wichita KS), and Omaha’s Finest.
The Southwest Division of the Central Conference is based in Texas and Louisiana and features the Dallas Skyline, Lewisville Leopards, Houston Push, Shreveport Mavericks, and Waco Royals.
The Basketball League began play in 2018 and was in the middle of their 2020 schedule last March when it was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They are planning to come back bigger and better than ever in 2021, expanding from 12 teams last season to the current 35.
“YOUR ENID OUTLAWS!”
A native of El Reno, Reed had a long career playing pro basketball around the world. In 2009, he earned first-team All-Irish Superleague honors and was named “Guard of the Year.” After his playing career, Reed came back to El Reno to open OnPoint Academy which is in its tenth year. Reed also continues to play for the Oklahoma Outlaws semi-pro team as well as coach AAU and train students of the game.
“My goal is for guys to come home and play in front of their people,” Reed commented. “I wanted something special for Oklahoma because I was one of those guys that played overseas and didn’t get to play in front of my home crowd.”
General Manager Brian Jamison is an Oklahoma native who is excited to bring pro basketball to Enid. A graduate of Putnam City High School, he played at Southern Nazarene University and has spent much of his career working turning kids into athletes and better people. He spent 25 years in the fitness industry managing, coaching, and training staff and building relationships, which serves him well now.
“I have always been involved in basketball just from an aspect of what it teaches from a leadership standpoint. Jamison said. I’ve felt as though my journey, my path was to bring back what was given to me and to share with kids that have those dreams, hopes, and aspirations of someone believing in them.”
Jamison met Reed after Reed’s professional playing career had come to an end and was impressed by the young coach.
“Jonathan and I came across each other as we were coaching travel basketball on an AAU level. I immediately saw the passion Jonathan had and we have always stayed connected. Jonathan called me one day and said ‘Hey, I’m thinking about doing this. What do you think?’ I thought it was a terrific concept and he said ‘Well, why don’t you join me?”
“When (the Outlaws) came up, Brian was the first guy I thought about,” Reed stated. “I like to have fun, and he likes to have fun with this and I thought he was a great fit. It’s cool to do this with him!”
Jamison has been impressed with what he has seen in Enid and is excited about the possibilities. ”I continue to hear about the athletic atmosphere that Enid has. It’s a sports town, and the entire community has been nothing but wonderful to us. It’s been easy for me in Enid, just because of the community that has embraced us.”
When the organization went looking for a head coach, Reed had a good idea about what he was looking for and he found Ed Corporal. “Coach Corporal is the perfect guy for this job.“ Reed asserted. “He has experience in the league, he has experience with high-level players. He’s not going to be intimidated either way and he comes out to win. I like his attitude toward the game. I like his preparation. I wanted a veteran coach that can make the players better as both people and basketball players.”
Corporal has been a head coach in the TBL before, guiding the Kansas City Tornadoes for two seasons, the first as an assistant, the second as the head coach. Last year he was the head coach of the Gulf Coast Lions, leading them to a 4-4 record before the pandemic ended the league schedule. He was the Associate Head Coach of the Arkansas RimRockers when they won an ABA championship in 2005 and also spent time as the head coach of the ABA’s Arkansas RiverCatz. “Enid, I feel, will be the place to be in the TBL” Corporal said. “The Stride Bank Center is a great venue and atmosphere for professional basketball. We are going to put a very competitive team on the floor that is built to win a championship right away and we want the city of Enid to be a part of it.”
It’s very important to sell tickets and corporate sponsorships, and the Outlaws have a solid team working in the community to generate some revenue in Jamison and longtime Enid resident Cathy Nulph. It’s not easy to get people in the seats and sell sponsor signage in the arena if you don’t have a quality product on the floor and the Outlaws are working hard to find quality players. You might think that getting good talent to come to Enid would be difficult, but anybody who cheered for the Oklahoma Storm knows better. The franchise featured past and future NBA talents like Ira Newble, Reggie Slater, Willie Burton, and Brent Price and incubated coaches who went on to the NBA, including Bryan Gates, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Roy Rogers, and 2020 NBA Coach of the Year Nick Nurse. Players come to Enid because of the opportunity…and the fans.
“We tell the players that they will be playing in probably the best arena in this league,” Jamison commented. “The atmosphere is wonderful, the arena is beautiful and you have a community that is embracing you. It is an easy sell for us.”
While the entire team will come together in the next few weeks, some quality talent is already making plans to spend their spring in Enid. Wayne Runnels Jr. was a four-sport standout at Watonga High School before beginning his collegiate career at NOC-Enid, where he was Region 2 Player of the Year, a second-team NJCAA All-American, and is still on the Jets all-time scoring and rebounding lists 12 years after he graduated in 2009. He finished his collegiate career at Creighton University in Omaha, NE, playing his junior and senior campaigns with the Bluejays.
Since then, he has been active playing in independent and Native American tournaments. In 2018, while preparing to go to training camp with the TBL team in Kansas City at the time, Runnels suffered a knee injury. After a year of rehab and an unexpected Covid delay, he is more than ready to play again. “I had surgery and was out for 2019 and in 2020, Covid hit.” Runnels recounted. ”It was a setback. When I first saw that this team was being created it was kind of a “calling home” type thing. At Creighton, my family wasn’t able to come to watch me play. That is the thing that excites me the most. Being able to play in front of my family and friends in Enid. Having the chance to play professional basketball is exciting for me!”
Another exciting avenue bringing players to Enid has something to do with the Covid-19 pandemic. The NBA “G-League” developmental league is playing a shortened season in a “bubble” in Orlando. Normally, all NBA teams have G-League affiliations, but this year, some NBA franchises elected not to send their G-League team to Orlando. That allowed the Outlaws to grab Madit Tieny Dak, a 6’11 center from the African country of South Sudan, from the Texas Legends, the G-League affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks.
Dak was the third player taken in the first round of the 2019 G-League draft then played six games for the Legends during the 2019-20 season. NBA Scouting Live reports that “Dak is somewhat of a mystery man as he has yet to be tested in the G-League, but he is a promising prospect that could end up swiftly moving up draft boards if he plays well there.” Fans in Enid will get a chance to watch him develop this spring.
He has only been in the country for three years and after a year of high school basketball, he decided to forgo college and take a shot at the G-League.
Dak could have taken the opportunity to go overseas when the Legends opted not to play this spring, but he decided to stay in the United States to work on his game and further prepare for his ultimate goal, the NBA. “I could have gone overseas, but I decided to come and play here. Dak commented. “I’m working hard to get ready for the (NBA) summer league. I’m just trying to focus on my game. My defending and my rebounding is pretty good, but I’m working on my shots.”
Getting players from the G-League and making sure they have a positive experience while they are here is very important to the Outlaws franchise. “The Legends coaching staff is telling me that they want to put their players in a situation where they are going to get better,” Reed said. “(These players) are not going to come here and just play. I put these guys through a rigorous workout. I’m going to have them on those weights. I’m going to have them eating right. We are going to take really good care of the players. That’s why the Legends are going to send them to me.”
While you might think it is all about the performance on the court, Reed and Jamison understand that a big part of the equation is the sizzle on the sidelines.
Kolby Lofton, a native of Seminole who danced and cheered at Oklahoma State University, has been tasked with helping to build a cohesive dance team and having them ready for opening night. The coach of the dance team is Haylie Morris who brings NBA experience as a Thunder girl in Oklahoma City. “Jonathan reached out to me because he said he liked my style,” Lofton said. “Starting a new team, building it from the ground up, is probably the most fun because you can make it whatever you want.”
Cheri Edwards is the Outlaws Director of Operations. Edwards is a native of Tecumseh and played basketball at Oklahoma State University. She will be involved in all facets of the team including coaching, training, managing finances, and event coordination. She has been a big part of Reed’s organization for years, coaching his semi-pro team to a championship and earning Coach of the Year honors.
The proverbial elephant in the room is the fact that the Outlaws are trying to navigate their first season in the middle of a global pandemic. It has brought challenges never before faced by anybody in the sports marketing business. Based on the local attitudes toward Covid-19, Enid may prove to be one of the best places to start a pro sports franchise right now.
“Even during these times that are challenging with Covid, people want to be involved with us,” Jamison stated. “We will make sure that the community is safe. That our players are safe, and it is still an atmosphere that everyone enjoys themselves. We consistently fine-tune the seating numbers, fine-tune the spacing, fine-tune the sanitization…from the lobby to the bleachers to the court, keeping the place as clean and germ-free as possible.”
Stride Bank Center General Manager Kevin Boryczki agrees that the safety of his guests, on and off the floor, is paramount. “It’s a little different for our industry right now because customer service, and the customer, has always been first. Whatever the customer wants, we do. That has changed a little bit because, with Covid, it’s really ‘safety first’ and making sure that we provide a safe environment.”
The hardwood that the Outlaws will play on has an interesting story as well. Shortly after the Stride Bank Center opened, a portable basketball court that had been used for just one weekend during the NCAA Tournament was purchased. The NCAA mandates that new floors are used for the tournament each year and then sold after that year’s tournament. One of those courts (nobody knows what tournament site used it) has been a stage for area high school, collegiate, and now professional athletes at the Stride Bank Center for eight years.
Boryczki said that bringing professional sports franchises to Enid and giving them a home has been a high priority since the arena opened in 2013. “It’s something from day one when our company (Spectra Venue Management) came in here and started managing this facility, we’ve talked about “tenant teams.” It started with the football team (Oklahoma Flying Aces of the Champions Indoor Football League) and now, adding a professional basketball tenant is awesome.”
The Flying Aces are scheduled to play their 2021 schedule at the same time as the Outlaws, which will make for a VERY busy Stride Bank Center staff this spring. After a year of pandemic induced inactivity, Boryczki is ready to take on the challenge. “We are looking forward to the synergy between the basketball team and the football team. They are going to have overlapping seasons. It’s going to be great to watch how everyone can work together to make Enid a cool sports town from April to June.”
HERE’S THE SKINNY ON THE BASKETBALL LEAGUE
TBL teams operate on a budget ranging from $125,000 to $250,000 per year, with player salaries ranging from $1000 to $4000 per month. In previous years, the league played a schedule that started in January but is getting off to a late start this season due to the pandemic. That could improve the quality of play league-wide as starting later in the spring gives players who play during what is considered the “normal” winter season in other leagues and overseas, an opportunity to come home and play in the United States during their offseason.
The TBL is managed by Evelyn and David Magley. Besides being a rare wife and husband team, Evelyn Magley is the first Black female CEO of a male professional sports league in North America. David played collegiately at the University of Kansas and Evelyn went to KU as well.
The Commissioner of the TBL is Carlnel Wiley, Jr. Wiley has plenty of professional basketball experience and was named the TBL “Coach of the Year” when he coached the Mesquite Desert Dogs.
After the regular season, the Outlaws’ goal is to qualify for the TBL playoffs. The Yakima (WA) Sun Kings were regular-season champions in 2018 and 2019, with the Sun Kings winning the playoffs in 2018 and the Albany Patroons capturing the playoff title in 2019.
The top two teams in each division at the end of the regular season will qualify for the playoffs. That will, no doubt, enhance the budding rivalries with Little Rock, Wichita, and Omaha. Two teams will make the playoffs…two will not.
Tickets are available online at stridebankcenter.com or by calling 855 TIX-ENID. The box office is located on the second floor of the Stride Bank Center Convention Hall, off Independence Ave. in the administration office on non-event days. On event days, the box office is located on the southwest corner of the Stride Bank Center arena.
As opening night gets closer, the excitement for Boryczki and his staff is building. “We’re really excited,” Boryczki stated. “I wasn’t here when the Storm was here but it was very popular and I think that people want basketball. It’s pretty cool that this is the 100th anniversary of Convention Hall and a big part of that history IS basketball. For it to now return, I think, is really cool.”
And for Jonathan Reed, there is one challenge that he has faced since he started the Outlaws. A challenge he has worked hard to overcome as opening day looms. “It’s about getting the people to see the correct vision and to see what I want to do with this. It’s about having people buy into the fact that it’s going to be a community team. It’s about having the right kind of people in our organization…It’s about giving Enid and Northwest Oklahoma something to be proud of.” Not only will the Enid Outlaws likely be a source of pride, they will also be a great source of entertainment that area basketball fans have missed for 14 years.
CONFERENCES AND DIVISIONS
The Basketball League is separated into four conferences with two divisions in each conference. 35 teams will play a 24-game schedule, 12 home and 12 away games, focusing on division and conference play.
Little Rock Lightning
Midtown Prestige (Wichita KS)
South Shore Monarchs (Boston MA)
Tri-State Admirals (Jersey City NJ)
Gulf Coast Lions (Sarasota FL)
Tampa Bay Titans
Upper Midwest Division
Lower Midwest Division
Indy Express (Indianapolis IN)
Pacific Northwest Division
California SeaKings (Seaside CA)
San Diego Guardians
West Coast Breeze
2021 ENID OUTLAWS SCHEDULE
Fri 9th – @ Omaha Finest, Nebraska
Sun 11th – @ Little Rock Lightning, Arkansas
Fri 16th – @ Houston Push, Texas
Sun 18th – vs Lewisville Leopards, Enid, OK
Fri 23rd – vs Omaha Finest, Enid, OK
Sun 25th – vs Midtown Prestige, Wichita, KS
Sat 1st – @ Little Rock Lightning, Arkansas
Sun 2nd – vs Waco Royals, Enid, OK
Sat 8th – vs Midtown Prestige, Enid, OK
Sun 9th – vs Houston Push, Enid, OK
Sat 15th – @ Dallas Skyline, Texas
Sun 16th – vs Omaha Finest, Enid, OK
Sat 22nd – vs Shreveport Mavericks, Enid, OK
Sat 23rd – vs Little Rock Lightning, Enid, OK
Fri 28th – @ Omaha Finest, Nebraska
Sun 30th – @ Little Rock Lightning, Arkansas
Sat 5th – vs Omaha Finest, Enid, OK
Sun 6th – vs Little Rock Lightning, Enid, OK
Fri 11th – @ Lewisville Leopards, Texas
Sun 13th – @ Midtown Prestige, Wichita, KS
Fri 18th – @ Shreveport Mavericks, Louisiana
Sun 20th – @ Midtown Prestige, Wichita, KS
Sat 26th – @ Waco Royals, Texas
Sun 27th – vs Dallas Skyline, Enid, OK