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From one inaugural season to another

LITTLE ROCK -- Less than six months after the Arkansas
RimRockers began their inaugural season in the American Basketball
Association, officials announced Tuesday the team is one of five
new franchises joining the National Basketball Development League.
Larry Crain, the owner of the RimRockers, said it is an
important step for his organization to join the NBA's 11-team minor
league. The RimRockers finished a 32-5 campaign by winning the 2005
ABA championship in their first year of competitive play.
"When you put the NBA on something, obviously it is so
well-known worldwide and it has such a presence," Crain said.
"You can see what that will do for the product."
The NBDL was founded in 2001 and serves as a source of players
for the NBA's 30 teams. Unlike major league baseball, the NBDL
teams are not attached to the individual franchises in the NBA.
Instead, the NBA allocates the players to fill each of the minor
league teams' 10-man rosters. The NBDL has sent 34 players directly
to the NBA since its inception in 2001, while no ABA player has
gone directly to the NBA since 2000.
Last season, the RimRockers had mostly of players with ties to
the state, including former University of Arkansas stars Oliver
Miller, Todd Day and Kareem Reid. RimRockers General Manager Otis
Birdsong said that he is looking at four or five players on last
season's team, to continue playing for the RimRockers. Meanwhile,
Crain said that Joe Harge, who coached the team in its inaugural
season, would be at the top of his list to direct the team in the
NBDL.
NBA commissioner David Stern, who joined a news conference by
phone, said he hopes that the RimRockers will be able to maintain
local character while helping the NBDL prepare players for the next
level.
"That's going to be a work in progress," Stern said. "We like
the idea of local color and we like the idea of a sense of
continuity. We want to temper that with the sense of a true
development league in which players are playing with more shot or
their first shot to play in the NBA."
"The tension will be between getting local players and making
sure that there are players whose best days are ahead of them,"
Stern said.
Since late January, when talks with the NBDL were first
initiated, Arkansas was looked at very closely to be part of the
league's expansion efforts, which include new franchises in
Albuquerque, N.M., Fort Worth, Texas, Tulsa, Okla., and Austin,
Texas. Stern said he would like to see the league grow to 15 or 16
teams by 2007, as the players' union considers an age limit for the
NBA that could affect the minor league. Currently, the NBDL
prohibits players younger than 20 from signing with its teams and,
if a similar cap is put on the NBA, that restriction would go down
to 18.
Phil Evans, president of the NBDL, said even with the changes
the RimRockers should easily become assimilated into the league's
structure. The fact that the RimRockers were a well-run
organization in the ABA and played in the cushy 18,000-seat Alltel
Arena made them an attractive option, according to Evans.
"We are looking for strong, local business owners in markets
that we believe will support professional basketball and markets
that have a facility like to go," he said. "It makes perfect
sense for us to be here in Little Rock."