“Manny was an Honors student at St Marks, Xaverian and Marist. It’s possible , if a kid can manage his academics and athletics, he or she can one day be a successful professional player or be successful at whatever career he or she chooses.” Ian Thomas (Manny’s Father)
When Garrett Kelly, in charge of basketball operations for the Canadian Basketball League, set out in the off season to sign prospects for the league a certain criterion stood out in his selection process. It was important for candidates’ I.Q. to transcend beyond the court and it was imperative that they have the ability to represent the league in a positive light.
Brooklyn native Manny Thomas seemed to check all of those boxes and has been doing so since he first picked up a basketball at the Brooklyn Children Basketball Association dating back to his formative years when swimming , soccer and a little bit of kickboxing crowded his leisure time pursuits. But once the basketball bug hit Thomas in Grade School nothing stopped his appetite for ball, leading him to sign his first professional contract in Canada where he is now is an integral part of the Durham United team.
“Manny was taller than the players his age and also had a physical edge, “announced his father Ian who recalled that his son was blessed with physical attributes that made basketball a natural connection. But he also reported that Manny was a quick study in anything he pursued. At the age of 10 Thomas attended his first Five-Star basketball camp at Delhi State University and the impactful experience opened his eyes to what was needed to develop his game. “I definitely believe that Five-Star basketball camp was a life changing experience,” announced Thomas. “The camp developed my drive for the sport because this is when players started to get ranked and nationally recognized. It is also when I started to take individual work more seriously,’ he stated.
Thomas combined playing Grade School basketball with his first traveling team – the Brooklyn Patriots. He later moved to the Long Island Lightning organization in Hempstead, NY where he played AAU ball under the guidance of coach Nick Akoumanakis – a coach considered to have an unusual system for developing young players. “Coach Nick was very unorthodox at his coaching, practiced maybe twice in four years of Manny being on the team,” reported Ian Thomas. “Coach Nick did play several games during the week and on weekends that exposed ‘us’ to several neighborhoods in the borough of New York and other cities,” added the elder Thomas. It was this exposure through the extensive schedule of games that led to Thomas’ notoriety as a youth player and subsequently offers came in from Boarding Schools across the region hoping to enlist Thomas’ services.
In 2007 Thomas enrolled at Xaverian High School – a member school within the highly respected NYC CHSAA Catholic League. The CHSAA is arguably one of the top high school leagues in the States and has produced such basketball legends as Chris Mullen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mark Jackson , Kenny Smith to name a few. Thomas was a three year starter at Xaverian but of greater significance he was a dedicated student awarded for his academic excellence.
Recently retired Xaverian Head coach Jack Alesi enjoyed coaching Thomas and knew that success would follow his talented big man who in 2011 was selected ‘first team all- league’ subsequently gaining significant attention from college recruiters. “As a high school player, Manny was a cerebral player, someone who recognized his God-given talent but worked hard to develop them into skills both on and off the court,” explained Alesi who describes Thomas as having a rugged demeanor on the Court but that of a gentleman who is committed to learning off of it. “He truly understood the meaning of being a ‘student athlete’, a term that is often applied without merit to so many players. His success academically at Xaverian was absolutely as important to him as his accomplishments on the court. That was the direct result of the way he was raised by his parents, his biggest supporters,” Alesi added.
It was at Xaverian that Thomas shed some of his ‘prototypical big man- back to the basket’ habits and developed his shooting as well as all around guard skills. Thomas eventually moved on to the acclaimed New York Gauchos AAU program where his profile further attracted college scouts. Offers came in from such places as Long Island University, Fairfield, Princeton, Mt St Mary, Robert Morris, Wagner and Marist College. He chose Marist of Poughkeepsie, New York as it was the first school to approach him during his sophomore year of high school and the Marist coaching staff followed him to every one of his major tournaments throughout his high school career.
Despite a decorated University career that saw Thomas garnish All-Academic team honors for four years his basketball life was unsettled as Marist went through three head coaching changes during Thomas ‘ tenure as a Red Fox. It was during his senior year at Marist that Thomas demonstrated that he was a true asset to the basketball program. He played in every game during his senior year, setting career highs in scoring and three pointers. With Marist’s three top scorers missing due to injury for a significant stretch of the season Thomas was called on to lead the team. The Red Foxes even went on and secured a win in the MAAC conference tournament. Coach Mike Maker lauded Thomas for his competitive drive, toughness and knack for taking charges. He eventually graduated from Marist in 2015 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Accounting but he is not giving up his academic pursuits. He is now completing his Master’s Degree in Security Management.
With the itch to further his basketball career Thomas enrolled in the exposure camp offered through the McNeil Sports Group – a place where prospects hope to get scouted by professional teams across the globe. In attendance at the New York City camp was the CBL’s Garrett Kelly who was familiar with Thomas during his coaching tenure at Siena College.
Kelly was impressed with Thomas’ 6’5” frame and his ability to defend the wing position – something he was taught to be invaluable when building a team. “Manny struck me as an intelligent wing defender, he’s also a good kid and would be a good representative of the league (CBL) in the community,” Kelly explained.
On December 5 Thomas got the invitation by Head Coach Milt Palacio to join Durham United in the CBL. On December 6 he landed on Canadian soil to become a pioneer in this upstart league. “I believe the CBL is off to a great start. The fact that we have televised games, are playing in quality gyms and are being paid on time is crucial for a new league,” he reported of his time in Canada where he shares accommodation with his teammates in North Oshawa. “Although I have never had a conversation with Butch Carter (the CBL’s founder) all credit to him for setting such high expectations for this league,” he said.
Thomas has kept himself busy with the team’s regiment of training under the experienced eyes of Coach Palacio; dedicating himself to his last class for his Master’s Degree, eating healthy and finding time to challenge any takers in a game of FIFA, Call of Duty or Battlefield.
Coach Palacio reports that his Brooklyn recruit has brought energy to the team and has been instrumental in developing comradeship among his teammates. But Coach Palacio cautions that Thomas’ “great positive energy” needs to be met with developing himself as being a knock down 3-pt shooter and defensive stopper.
For Manny Thomas the immediate goal is to bring a championship to Durham United followed by playing professionally in Europe. But the Brooklyn native also knows that his playing days will eventually come to an end. His bold prognostication: “Ultimately I want to prove to a job recruiter and the human resources department that not only did I play basketball professionally I was able to multitask to complete another degree.”
Canadian Basketball League: The Encore
After a tried and tested inaugural campaign the Canadian Basketball League readies for a second season.
There are many adjectives to describe Butch Carter. The Founder and General Partner of the Canadian Basketball League (CBL) has been described as being determined. Others who have rubbed shoulders with him have described him as being relentless. But there is one thing for certain about a man who is on a mission to see a professional development basketball league thrive on Canadian soil. He is certainly not a ‘ one and done’ type of fellow. He is not aborting his journey to see the CBL find a niche within Canada’s dynamic and ever changing sports landscape.
Prior to the inaugural CBL season Carter came armed with concepts from years of research as well as dialogue within the basketball and business communities. This summer he brings a year of first hand experiences after a season of trials and tribulations from four trailblazing franchises within the CBL’s single entity blueprint.
Carter is a firm believer that the league was very professional in how they set things up for the players. “Our living accommodation for players were very good and I think that players liked the way games were handled and set up,” he explained.
The league invested a great deal of its resources and energy into the television product and Carter was not disappointed. “Our partnership with YES TV was a resounding success,” he proclaimed. “Our Numeris ratings for our three products (CBL in 30, live CBL games and CBL in 30 -post game in Alberta) reached 300,000 people,” he added. Carter is hopeful that he will be able to broadcast 10-12 games throughout the 2017/18 season.
Although he noted that the talent level was better than anticipated he reported that he would like to retain 20 players from last season while adding an additional 15 young talented players to last season’s pool. He admitted that; “because we started late with funding last year there were about 15 players who shouldn’t have been in the league.” CBL teams will be holding as many as 20 tryouts in Canada and in the United States with the hope of inviting a talented pool of players to a super camp where roster spots will be finalized. He is hopeful that the G-league’s (Formerly the D-League) new rule prohibiting players without NCAA D1 experience from playing in the G-league unless they have FIBA experience will entice some players to the CBL. He is steadfast in the quality of player he saw during the first season. “I don’t think we have an NBA player but we have a couple of guys who have the length and I Q to give themselves a chance,” he announced.
Garrett Kelly (Scarborough) and Mark Anderson (Hamilton) will be returning for their second seasons as head coaches while Milt Palacio is looking at new challenges in the NBA’s G-League. But Carter reports that in March he assumed a new role within the NBA where he is responsible for mentoring retired NBA players who are looking to move into coaching. Under the NBA’s new collective agreement 14 former NBA players must be hired by the league as interns. Carter has identified potential new coaching candidates for league vacancies extending his search to such places as Portland, Oregon and Halifax, Nova Scotia. He believes that Garrett Kelly has set the bar pretty high in his expectations of what a young coach can bring to the league and he is confident that Kelly will some day be headed to greener pastures.
Carter admitted that the long gap in time between the end of last season and the tip off for next season has been problematic. Many CBL players have expressed concern over the lack of information passed their way regarding their future in the league during the off season. Many CBL players , however, are locked up by two year contracts. Carter fully understands that one of the shortcomings of the league is the lack of a training facility based in Southern Ontario to offer players off season training or the lack of a trainer to travel to each player’s home town to offer a training regiment. He sees this connection as being paramount for player development – especially those interested in trying out in the in the G-league.
Carter’s improved relationships with facility managers throughout the CBL’s four existing markets should result in a seamless return to the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre in Scarborough , the Guelph Griffin Athletic Centre , the Campus Recreation Centre at UOIT and the David Braley Athletic Centre at Mohawk College. He reports that the TPASC in Scarborough, a facility that he describes as being “world class”, has even asked him to bring in two teams. He describes the Durham Region as being an area of significant growth and a region where the league needs to increase its focus.
Expansion is not out of the realm of possibilities for the CBL as Carter is confident that a fifth team will appear in Ontario for the 2017/18 season. But he envisions Western Canada ripe for a new CBL conference down the road. He describes provinces west of Ontario as being facility rich with several new builds among CWUAA schools.
On March 18 the champagne was flowing at the Guelph Griffins Athletic’s Centre after Scarborough captured the first CBL crown. But for Butch Carter and the rest of the CBL thinks tank the encore will be far more important than the prelude.
Troy Taylor: The Hammer’s New Talisman
Hamilton United’s Troy Taylor is always a blur when he steps onto the court. He is lightning quick and a physical specimen unrivalled in the Canadian Basketball League. He is a player who would run through a brick wall for his team and the wall would come out second best. But it has been Taylor’s basketball savvy away from the hardwood, not just his physicality, that caught the attention of CBL Founder and General Partner Butch Carter.
Taylor enjoyed a distinguished NCAA Division 1 career at the University of
where he completed four productive years as the floor general, leading the Purple Aces through the competitive Missouri Valley Conference. The highlight of his university career came in his senior year when the Purple Aces made it through to the semi-finals of the CIT tournament.
It was, however, the time after his College playing days had concluded that the Indiana native’s basketball life had reinvented itself. It was a time away from the glitz and pageantry of being a D1 athlete Stateside when he took stock in his other strengths. Pining for the opportunity to play ball beyond college Taylor joined a group of local players to play for the Anderson Legends – a semi- professional outfit named after Kojack Fuller, a legendary local high school coach. Taylor was not just the team’s point guard but he was responsible for marketing the team and forging relationships with the Anderson community. Like many small American cities, Anderson and its shrinking population of 55,000 is a community in flux. Having lost General Motors, its main employer, several years ago the city had fallen on challenging times. The Legends, however, were an instant hit and the local community embraced the team and the fact that they represented one of the city’s major exports- high school basketball players.
“They were filling high school gyms here for a summer”, explained local Sports Editor George Bremer who has covered sports in Anderson for decades. “It was really fun and a chance for fans to see local kids playing together at a high level”, he added. Bremer reported that the team didn’t disappoint, winning most of their games with scores that consistently surpassed 100. “Troy basically ran the marketing of the team and it was a real grassroots operation that resonated throughout the community,” Bremer reported to CBLinsider.
Although the Legends didn’t affiliate themselves with any league Taylor reported that the team regularly invited teams from other leagues to their gym for a series of exhibition games. The outcomes of the games usually favored the Legends ,including victories over teams from the ABA, UBA and CBA. The results subsequently led to invitations by rivals for the Legends to join their leagues.
It was a year before the CBL bounced its first Molten ball when the 27 year old crossed paths with Butch Carter and ever since they have fostered a mutual respectful relationship. Taylor admitted that he had a lucrative offer to play in Lithuania but has no regrets that he has been a pioneer with the CBL, making the trek from basketball-rich Indiana to what many fondly refer to as ‘The Hammer’ and Southern Ontario. “I see a lot of him (Butch Carter) in me, he’s a hard worker, I understand his vision and I like being around guys like that,” explained Taylor who will be entering the second year of a two year contract with the CBL. “It’s a great opportunity and it’s more than just the money, it’s about relationships,” he added.
He described the inaugural CBL season as being “solid” in many ways. “I was treated really well as were the other players, the money was always deposited in our accounts on time or early and I like the guys I played with in Hamilton”, he announced. Taylor was also able to network with local Hamilton businesses, securing some minor sponsorships for the team.
During the off season Taylor has been assisting league officials with their talent evaluations as it has been a primary goal of all involved with the league to have the best talent scouted before the league tips off in December. He recently joined CBL Director of Operations Garrett Kelly and Mark Anderson, his coach from Hamilton, to look at a small group of prospects who gathered in Pittsburgh. Kelly believes that the Anderson, Indiana native has a “good mind for the game” and is quickly learning the business side of the league. It is this side of the game of basketball that Taylor embraces. “I love all the behind the scenes stuff,” he explained.
Although a head coaching position does not appeal to Taylor as his primary goal in basketball he admitted that he has been spending some of his off season helping train members of the Indiana Fever of the WNBA. “I watched enough tape as a player, I don’t want to watch it again as a coach,” he proclaimed.
For Troy Taylor he has no regrets about joining the Canadian Basketball League, believing that he is well positioned in the future as his relationship with the CBL and his shared vision with Butch Carter will pay long term dividends. “I love what I’m doing and I have been put in a great position,” he stated emphatically.
Joey Puddister: Hard Hat
My road to the Professional Basketball and the CBL has been all about work. I’m from a small city called North Bay in Northern Ontario. It’s my home and I love that place but that being said there hasn’t been a whole lot of 6 foot white guys from North Bay who play pro basketball. In fact I think I’m the only player from North Bay to ever play pro ball. I have never been crazy talented or super athletic like most of my teammates are here in this league. I just got here from working hard.
My yellow hard hat (pictured) has been in my room since I was about 15. At first it was there because I needed to wear it to my bricklaying job with my uncle every day. But over time it became a symbol for me. It represents all the people in my life that taught me what it means to work. I’m very lucky to have been surrounded by these people.
My mom was is one of the toughest and hardest working people I’ve ever met, being a single mom raising three kids and working to support us could not have been easy. She is one tough lady and that hard hat represents her.
My uncles are all extremely hard working people that I learned a lot from. I worked for my uncle Dave for 6 or 7 summers doing construction and landscaping. From roofing to bricklaying to shoveling gravel. As hard as it was that job is the best thing that ever happened to me. After spending sometimes 12-13 hours in a day laying bricks or shoveling, one more sprint, ten more reps or extra time in the weight room seems like nothing. It taught me so much about what real work is. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and his employees because they really know hard work.
My college coach saw the hard hat one time and asked about it. He liked the idea and actually brought a hard hat to practice where it became a tradition of everyone touching it before practice. It was sort of our way of clocking into work.
I have had great coaches throughout my career. I played for my hometown university and was lucky to be coached by Chris Cheng, He was starting his first university coaching job and was determined to not be out worked by anyone. We first became close after my first bad practice at training camp. It was our 2nd practise of the day and it went from 6pm-8:30pm. I had a bad practice and I wanted to stay at the gym until I felt better about it. He stayed at the gym with me until midnight shooting and going through drills. After that we had an immediate respect for each other and our respective work ethic. I learned a lot from coach Cheng.
My first coach growing up was Mr. Tougas. He was an extremely dedicated and enthusiastic coach that hated losing. He brought together 8 guys at a really young age and stuck with us. We started playing OBA together in grade 7 and stayed together as a team with the same guys for 6 straight years until we all graduated high school. Today I consider these guys my brothers. We spent so much time together growing up that it made us family. We were always on road trips for tournaments and when we went we lived at each other houses for years. That group of guys was and still is extremely humble and hard working. Every one of them went on to be successful in sports and in life in general. I think each of us feels satisfaction when a person within the group accomplishes something because we feel like we have all played a part in it. My hard hat is a reminder of these guys because i know they will never let me live it down if I don’t work as hard as i can at this opportunity.
The last person the hard hat reminds me of is my old boss at this Chinese food restaurant I used to work at in North Bay. His name is Frankie, He owned the business and was the head cook. This man is a different kind of worker. A large part of his job is cooking and food prep for the next days. The restaurant is near my house and there is a window that looks right into the kitchen so when I drive by I could always see who is working. I would see him in there around noon every day. He would work from early afternoon until 2 or 3 in the morning, every day, 7 days a week for 20 something years. I have never heard of him complaining and I don’t even think he knows how. Whenever I would feel tired or worn out from school and basketball I think about Frankie and how it’s ridiculous for me to ever complain about being tired if he never does.
I brought my hard hat to my new place here in Toronto. It still sits on my desk as a reminder to make the most of this opportunity. My teammate Eric saw it and asked about it so I explained to him that I want to play basketball as long as possible so I don’t have to lay bricks when I go home to North Bay. Now before and during games he just looks at me and says “hard hat.” Basically saying go hard and shoot my shots reminding me about how hard i worked to get here and how much hard work it’s going to take to stay here.
Playing in the CBL is an incredible opportunity for me. I look around at the talent level of this league and it’s crazy. These guys are gifted, whether it be natural basketball ability or physically gifted with athleticism or both. They are just flat out gifted. In my case I don’t have all the natural gifts and abilities that these guys have but I try to bridge the gap by getting in extra lifts and shots as often as possible. Trying to go to work every day with a blue collar mindset that I learned from my family in North Bay
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