SANTA ANA PUEBLO – Now it’s official: The Basketball League will have a team playing its home games in the Rio Rancho Events Center in the 2024 season, which runs March to July.
“This is an exciting day — professional basketball is coming back to New Mexico,” exclaimed Kevin Banks, vice president of sales and community affairs for the yet-to-be named team.
The league owners, minority team owners and other officials, including Santa Ana Pueblo Gov. Nathan K. Garcia, were at the Santa Ana Star Casino’s Legends Sportsbook the morning on Oct. 18 to make the announcement.
Most of those in attendance at the announcement knew pro teams have come and gone: Albuquerque Silvers (CBA), New Mexico Slam (IBL) and the New Mexico Thunderbirds, who played their final season (2010-11) at the Events Center, have all come and gone.
TBL, for “current” players ages 18-30, is tiered under the National Basketball Association’s G-League and has been in existence for six years. There will be 52 teams when the 2024 season tips off, criss-crossing North America: from Oregon to Florida, from Connecticut to California, and with teams in Newfoundland and Quebec, Canada.
The new team’s general manager and coach, Cliff Levingston, spent the last three seasons building and coaching the Kokomo BobKats. He is a seasoned NBA veteran, who was with the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan for championship seasons of 1990-91 and 1991-92.
Levingston said he’s happy to be “part of something special” here, which he predicts will be a “gemstone,” and said he hopes players in that 18-30 age bracket will show up for the first set of tryouts at the Tamaya Wellness Center, 225 Ranchitos Road on the pueblo, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 28.
Or, as managing partner Neil Holmes said, “current players that know how to play — how to ball.”
The team debuting in the Events Center doesn’t have a name yet, but a name-the-team contest will begin once a new website is up and running; details will be announced later.
TBL teams play 24 regular-season games, which means Metro area hoops fans will get a dozen games to see in the Events Center, which has hosted state high school tournament games since the D-League New Mexico Thunderbirds were sold and moved to Canton, Ohio, in 2011.
This team promises to bring more than wins and losses to the area, with “community” and “family” involvement stressed several times, as well as “Our guys are almost all college graduates,” noted TBL President David Magley, indicating that the players will be around to also serve as mentors.