Warriors hit court in hopes of winning games and fans

When the new South Carolina Warriors of the ABA tip off their inaugural season Friday night at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, they will be facing more than the Carolina Jaguars.

They also will be battling for the hearts and support of local basketball fans who have been fooled before by fly-by-night sports franchises that have landed on the Grand Strand with a mighty thump.

We’ve had semi-pro football franchises (men’s, women’s, indoor and outdoor), basketball teams (including one from a proposed all-white league) and even the old Myrtle Beach SeaDawgs soccer squad – all of which folded with more fanfare than substance.

After having their hearts broken so many times before by unstable ownership and sham leagues, are local residents ready to give another team a chance? Warriors coach Chris Beard certainly hopes so.

“I have coached basketball for 17 years and I’ve had a lot of had success,” said Beard, who recently served as an assistant at Texas Tech. “I wouldn’t have moved to Myrtle Beach and left my family if I didn’t believe in this.

“At the end of the day, I’m not the owner, I’m not an investor, I am the coach. But I have made a commitment to this team and our players to be their coach and that’s what I’m going to do. We’re going to put a great product on the floor and I believe if our fans get to know our players, they will come out and support them.”

Many of the names on the Warriors roster are familiar ones, including six former Coastal Carolina players, two from the College of Charleston and two more graduates from Grand Strand high schools – Josh Fowler of Socastee and Brendan Knox of Georgetown.

But their stories, except for the common love of the game and desire to play professionally, are varied. Former CCU sharpshooter Jack Leasure has played overseas since leaving Conway, while reunited teammate Colin Stevens has been working as a bank officer in Myrtle Beach.

“They are all great guys and each one of them is chasing their dream,” Beard said. “Most of them aren’t going to make it to the NBA. They just love playing basketball and they are using this opportunity as a stepping stone for their careers.”

Coincidentally, the ongoing NBA lockout could be the wildcard that helps the Warriors gain a foothold in the hearts of locals. With no NBA on TV for the foreseeable future, hoops fans may flock to the upstart franchise to get their fix. Who knows, the ABA could get an infusion of NBA players looking to earn a paycheck.

Even they would have an adjustment period to the screwball rules of the ABA, which include a 4-point shot line,and  a special light that goes off following a backcourt turnover that gives the receiving team the chance to earn bonus points.

But for all the bells and whistles, the success or the failure of the new ABA franchise will be based on its ability (or lack of) to be embraced by local fans who have been burned before. Putting their minds to rest and their butts in the box seats are the real goals they are shooting for.

“The biggest thing we have to offer is our players,” Beard said. “We’re going to be a young team, but we’re also going to be an exciting team to watch. It’s definitely worth spending 10 bucks for a ticket.”

How many local fans agree, and how many return, will determine whether the Warriors can crack a tough Myrtle Beach market.

– For a full roster and schedule, visit www.scwarriorsaba.com

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