Santa Cruz Warriors will figure into Golden State’s success in surprising ways.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Though they have yet to touch their own floor for as much as a brief three-man weave, Santa Cruz Warriors enjoy a hometown edge over their NBA Developmental League competition.
“Say you’re on [fellow D-League team] Idaho Stampede,” club President Jim Weyermann says. “You’re waking up to a cow outside your window. No matter how attractive that cow is, when our players look out their window and see bikinis, volleyball nets, 70 degrees and the tide rolling in… ”
That’s not by accident, he adds: “It’s designed in our strategy. What people don’t understand with players and free agents is that there’s a ripple effect. If they’re talking about Golden State’s D-league players in suites over the ocean, it makes a statement about an organization.”
Another statement: The speed with which the Santa Cruz Warriors’ brand new new temporary stadium has risen – not unlike Warriors’ spring-loaded rookie Harrison Barnes near the rim. In 10 short weeks, it’s gone from a parking lot to a complete exoskeleton. Powerful floodlights and an enthusiastic Santa Cruz City Council have helped expedite things, but it’s been local builders and 14-hour days that have kept things moving along an inelastic timeline that culminates in a Dec. 23 home opener against the Bakersfield Jam (see box, p. 26).
Where the arena and its seven-year lease sit, no more than a few full-court chest passes from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, SCW spokesman Matt De Nesnera points out blue paneling being attached to the sides of the stadium (which seats 4,000 for end-stage shows, 2,500 for hoops), and marvels at the response from the community.
“People run into the office every day saying, ‘What are the Santa Cruz Warriors? Is the team moving?’” he says.
Some surprise is understandable, because of the suddenness of the stadium and the fact the NBA’s developmental league can go unnoticed – with 16 squads like the Reno Bighorns, Fort Wayne Mad Ants and Canton Charge – even though more than a quarter of NBA pros have played for one of them.
But what may surprise basketball fans more is how much the Santa Cruz farm team reflects the new Oakland leadership’s willingness to do things their own way (see story, p. 20).
First the team bought the then-Dakota Wizards, then moved them within an hour-and-a-half drive of Oracle Arena, so that younger, rawer players can practice with the big leaguers in the morning, and blossoming players needing reprieve from the big-boys’ bench can get invaluable playing time at night.
The Wizards changed names to share Golden State’s, which is reflective of a more ambitious and strategic integration, and the only example of the D-League team claiming the same mascot. Santa Cruz’s players will run the same plays with the same names, which allows players moving up (or down) a chance to come in and contribute immediately.
“The club provides coaching staff tremendous flexibility,” Weyermann says, “and game time for those who need it most. You can’t duplicate the speed of a game in practice.”
Only a fraction of the D-League teams are currently owned by NBA teams, but that will change as more teams see the benefits of more completely cultivating their own players, coaches and personnel.
“Once everyone catches on to how teams are manipulating their minor-league team to help the big club,” Weyermann says, “every team in the NBA is going to want a development team. It only creates additional opportunities.”
Whether or not Weyermann knows his way around the lush Wednesday Santa Cruz Farmers Market, he knows farming. He ran the San Jose Giants, S.F.’s A-league team, for six years, earning a nod as Best Minor League Franchise in America and – more importantly – helping develop more than 10 kids who earned World Series rings.
Aiming to replicate that grow-your-own-players pedigree is part of the ownership’s philosophy: to set league standards rather than try to meet them. That can sound lofty and cliché, until you see how alive it is at all levels of the Warriors’ actions.
“From the top – and what Bob Myers is doing – to the bottom, and what we’re doing,” Weyermann says, “it’s some of most elite thinking in sports.”
That translates to a Santa Cruz-appropriate spirit of communication. Wide-open dialogue across departments doesn’t seem so radical for Northern California, but is for pro sports. The Oakland franchise shares resources and Santa Cruz provides reinforcements.
“We know how they operate up there,” De Nesnera says. “If they need a helping hand in anything, we can supply that, for both basketball and the front office.” That’s the kind of depth that occupies coaches’ dreams.
For all the appeal of the Pacific, there’s a dearth of winter draws and other sports entertainment on the Central Coast (sorry, roller derby) – and a surplus of strong high-school basketball programs from Soquel to Seaside. That makes Santa Cruz a marketing mine that couldn’t be tapped until there was a facility. Basketball will star in the pop-up stadium, but dance-for-your-dinner, musical chairs, fan-cam and half-court shot shtick will embrace a family-centric fan base.
Weyermann, who’s launched teams across the West, says only one, the Seattle Rain in Washington, rivaled the response on Monterey Bay. As the new stadium has ascended, so have ticket sales and page views at www.santacruzbasketball.com – in part driven by hits from the Philippines after the Warriors drafted Japeth Aguilar, a 6-foot-10-inch cult hero back home, where he most recently played for the Talk N Text Tropang Texters (he’s since been released). In fact, even as the stadium is unfinished, passersby come away confused and parking remains a work-in-progress, the Warriors are already third in total season revenue league-wide, behind only the Texas Legends and Bakersfield.
And they’re rising toward second – with a certain speed stadium watchers will recognize.