Friday, December 14, 2001

N. Ky. ProCats claw into ABA

Basketball team's first game Dec. 26

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        CRESTVIEW HILLS — Pro basketball has come back to Kentucky.

        The Kentucky ProCats, the newest franchise in the resurrected American Basketball Association, announced plans to play in the league's second season, which begins Dec. 26. The ProCats will play at Thomas More College's Connor Convocation Center.

[photo] The ProCats feature local stars, such as Western Hills High alum David Shelton (left) and Holmes High alum Jack Jennings.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        The new team and its roster — including former University of Cincinnati, Xavier University and Western Kentucky University stars — were unveiled Thursday.

        Five former collegiate stars well-known to the Tristate were introduced as ProCats: Holmes High and Western Kentucky product Jack Jennings; UC's Melvin Levett and Damon Flint; Xavier's Gary Lumpkin, and Western Hills High star David Shelton, who played at the University of Tulsa.

        “This is going to be great for Northern Kentucky,” said Mike Mangeot, president of the ProCats. “Cincinnati doesn't have a professional basketball team; Northern Kentucky does.”

        Officials with the team think local ownership and playing a few miles south of the Ohio River are enough to turn a profit.

        The ProCats debut in Anaheim, Calif., against the Southern California Surf and play the first of 21 home games against the Indiana Legends on Dec. 30.

        Mr. Jennings, 32, led Holmes to the 1988 Ninth Region title and later played in Israel, The Netherlands and Argentina. He said he was about to return to Argentina before he changed his mind.

        “A lot of my family and friends have never seen me play professionally,” Mr. Jennings said.

        Though team officials say a small profit is possible, cracking the Greater Cincinnati market will be tough.

        The Cincinnati Stuff of the International Basketball League folded, as did the Cincinnati Slammers of the Continental Basketball Association in the 1980s.

        The Kentucky Colonels, who played in Louisville Gardens folded along with the previous ABA in 1976.

        But ProCats officials think they can succeed in Northern Kentucky for three reasons — local connections, lower expenses and cheaper tickets.

        Mr. Mangeot is not the only one in the ProCats organization with ties to Northern Kentucky. Vice president Lanny Holbrook is a prominent local attorney, former Covington Grant High, UC and Boston Celtics star Tom Thacker is director of player personnel, and head coach Ralph Underhill graduated from Lloyd Memorial High School in Erlanger.

        It cost $250,000 to join the ABA, which also fields teams in Kansas City, Detroit, Phoenix, Chicago and Tijuana, Mexico. Salaries range from $3,000 to $5,000 a month.

        Tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for students.

        ProCats games are scheduled so they do not conflict with University of Kentucky games.

        There are three rules that separate the ABA from high school, college and the NBA:

        The 3-D. If a team steals the ball in the backcourt and scores on the ensuing possession, it gets three points for a two-point shot and four for a three-pointer.

        The “Super Foul.” When a team commits its 10th team foul in a half, the opponent may elect to attempt an unguarded 3-point shot.

        The “Shirted Player Foul.” In the NBA, players must leave after six personal fouls. ABA players may stay in the game after five, the foul limit, but opponents get two free throws and the ball.

        Others on the ProCats roster include: Isaac Spencer, who was the Ohio Valley Conference Most Valuable Player the last two years at Murray State; Duane Simpkins, who started three years at point guard at Maryland in the 1990s; and Sean Dougherty, a 6-foot-11-inch center who played collegiately at Wisconsin and professionally in Europe the last three years.

        In addition, General Manager George Spencer said he is trying to sign former University of Kentucky guard Jeff Sheppard.

        Mr. Underhill said fans will see a team that presses all over the floor on defense and plays an up-tempo game on offense. Mr. Thacker said that style will be popular south of the river.

        “I think Kentucky appreciates basketball more,” said Mr. Thacker, who won two NCAA titles at UC, two NBA crowns with the Celtics and four with the old ABA Indiana Pacers. “They live and die with it more.”


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- N. Ky. ProCats claw into ABA