Heartland Eagles soar into action
Allen Moody | Highlands TodayAVON PARK - The Heartland Eagles of the American Basketball League will kick off the league's inaugural season tonight when they host the Emerald Coast Knights at South Florida State College.
Published: January 19, 2013
Published: January 19, 2013
Unlike other leagues that have tried to take off in the Heartland, the Eagles have some big names behind them.
Perhaps no name is as big as Eagles head coach Wayne "Tree" Rollins, the 18-year NBA veteran, noted for his defense and shot-blocking ability.
Rollins said he's looking forward to the challenges ahead.
"It's the first game of a new league so we'll have a few kinks," he said. "Hopefully by the second or third game we'll have them all worked out."
The ABL is geared toward preparing players for international play, so there will be a few rule differences than most fans are used to.
"One of my favorite rules in the FIBA is there's no goaltending," Rollins said. "As a big man I enjoyed that."
Rollins said the team's opponent, Emerald Coast, has some solid talent.
"The first quarter could be a little bit ragged, but by the time both coaches feel out each other and are able to put a hand on the team, it should be a pretty good game," he said.
The game will feature four 10-minute quarters, keeping in line with the fast pace.
"The league is small as far as height," Rollins said. "If you see a 7-footer, I think that's going to be rare. We have a guy who says he's 6-11.
"It's not a big man league like the NBA is, so there will be a lot of fast-paced ball. The small guys will push the ball and can make the outside shot. The 3-point line is reasonable, so hopefully there will be some high-scoring games."
One of the recognizable names on the Eagles' roster is Nate Miles, the top recruit on Connecticut in 2008.
"He had a deal over in China and for whatever reason that didn't go through, so he's back with our team," Rollins said. "We thought we had lost him — he was one of our draft picks."
Rollins said the key will be to keep things simple at the beginning and introduce more complex concepts as the season progresses.
One thing the Eagles take seriously is their partnership with the community.
"We will be a part of the community, by that I mean if there are any nonprofit groups out there — or even any paying groups out there — who want us to make an appearance, our doors are open," Rollins said. "Our practices are open and, of course, we really want people to be at the game."
Rollins said putting an entertaining team on the court will help attract interest in the team.
"Hopefully we can get a good product on the floor and be a part of the community," he said. "That's one of the things that will help us gain fan support, and of course, winning. Everybody wants to win. No matter what league you're in, fans want to see you win if you're the home team."
The Eagles will have tables set up after the game for fans to interact with the team.
Rollins' NBA travels took him to Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston and Orlando, but he's most at home in a place just like the Heartland.
"This is a perfect community," he said. "I've been here a good two weeks and I love it. I'm from a small town myself, it's a lot smaller than this, and I love it."
Tonight's game is scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. at the South Florida State College gym. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children.
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