ATLANTIC CITY – DeShawn Ward tried his luck bringing the Gambits pro basketball team from Atlantic City to this resort town.
The first win comes Tuesday night with a playoff game.
The Gambits (17-6) will host the Syracuse Stallions (17-6) in Game 1 of a best-of-three series in the Northeast Division of the Professional Basketball League. Tipoff is 7 p.m. at Atlantic City High School, and tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children. Game 2 is Friday at Syracuse and Game 3, if needed, is Saturday at Syracuse.
“I think it’s been amazing,” Ward said of the season. “It’s been great. It’s more than I expected. We received support from fans, the community and the city.
Gambits are operated by Ward and others with connections to Atlantic City.
Ward is the market owner for the Gambits team. He has made a name for himself by successfully running the Stay Hungry Summer League in Atlantic City for the past three years. Atlantic City resident Kamau Johnson is president of basketball operations. Former Atlantic City High School star Frank Turner serves as player/general manager. Elijah Thorpe, who was born and raised in Newark, is the head coach.
People also read…
Ward took over the Gambits six weeks before the start of the season. Still, Atlantic City clinched the third and final playoff spot in the league’s Northeast Division.
“It wasn’t like we had a chance to hold a bunch of tries,” Ward said. “We just had to make sure we had transportation and a list. We had two tries and two days of training camp.
The Gambits gave Turner a chance to play in his hometown. Turner played point guard for the 2005 Vikings, who became the first team in program history to win a state title.
After graduating from Atlantic City in 2006, he played at NCAA Division I Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, where he scored 1,769 career points. Turner then played professionally overseas for 11 years.
“It was a great feeling to come back and play in front of people who have known you all your life,” Turner said. “It’s definitely something to finish my career that I’m proud of.”
Ward compares the level of play in League Basketball to somewhere between Division I college basketball and the professional minor leagues. Jachai Simmons, a 6-foot-7 Gambits swingman from Plainfield, Union County, who played at the University of New Mexico, played in the league’s All-Star Game.
“I think it’s the players who didn’t have that look in college,” Turner said. “Maybe they weren’t ‘that guy’ for their team. This is an opportunity for them to show their talents that they couldn’t show in college.”
Many sports franchises have struggled to succeed in Atlantic City.
Ward said the Gambits have averaged around 150 fans for home games this season.
“We hope to one day have 2,000 every game,” Ward said. “We hope to get 300 or 400 people for the playoffs and continue to build on that.”
Ward judges the team’s success by more than the bottom line.
“The success of the season is not measured in dollars,” Ward said. “It’s measured by the impact we have on these young men. If you could show me a new business that makes a profit in the first year, everyone would jump on it. It’s just not realistic. Most companies don’t make a profit until the third or fourth year. We’re just trying to keep putting players on a bigger platform, so they can continue their careers.
Ward wants to get more sponsors in order to attract high quality players. He got engaged in Atlantic City.
“We intend to be here for the next 10 or 20 years,” Ward said.
As for this season, the Gambits had won three of their last four games heading into Sunday’s regular season finale on the road against the Lehigh Valley Legends.
“We’re ready,” Turner said of the playoffs. “The guys are ambitious. They are hungry.”