The Sea Dawgs begin their sixth season on Sunday. They begin play in the Tobacco Road Basketball League, the fourth league since the franchise was formed.
All of the leagues members are based in the Carolinas, and the regular season runs through the first day of June.
“I think we’ve finally have the model right for the team and the league,” Sea Dawgs owner Peter Gratale said. “It’s taken a while.”
The Sea Dawgs’ transition has included stops in the American Basketball Association, the Premier Basketball League and the Continental Basketball league. Each one was closer to what the franchise wanted, but all required too much travel, had too lengthy of a schedule or faced too many organizational problems.
Gratale thinks those problems will end with the TRBL. The League’s western and eastern ends are at Rock Hill, S.C. and Jacksonville.
The shortened season also doesn’t conflict with college basketball or the NBA playoffs and has allowed for better players – many of whom play overseas or in other leagues, but want to keep their skills sharp in the offseason.
“The team that we’re playing Sunday night, they’re stacked,” Gratale said. “They’re stacked with known names, guys that coaches in North Carolina know. So we’ve got to be able to compete if we want to keep our fans entertained, we’ve got to win.”
The Sea Dawgs do feature several North Carolina players who have professional playing experience: Shelton Carter, formerly of Winston-Salem State, played in the ABA last year; Damien Brown of Averette College played professionally in Hungary. Even former New Hanover and Rutgers standout James Beatty briefly tried out.
The organization of the league is familiar to the Sea Dawgs – Gratale and Cary Invasion owner Marc Janas were once business partners and remain close. Both were closely involved in forming the TRBL.
The champion will be determined based on a point system, and the winner will play in a national tournament for semi-pro teams.
Gratale added that the changes and adjustments are tailor-made to increase community support for the franchise – especially after the frequent scheduling conflicts of last season caused fan support to wane slightly. Gratale said that the Sea Dawgs’ high attendance numbers are a point of pride.
“We may not have as many pro basketball players living here in the off-season, but we fill up our gym,” Gratale said. “None of the other teams in this league or any other league we’ve been in did that. Wilmington has been incredibly supportive of the Sea Dawgs. This year we’ll be back to our previous years of where it’s difficult to find a seat.”
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