November 24, 2011
NEW HAVEN — Their first official basket, just 10 seconds into their existence, came on a John Winchester 3-pointer from the corner. The fun was just beginning for the Connecticut Topballerz.
Shortly thereafter came an alley-oop dunk from Bobby Moore to Roosevelt Lee, one of the many highlights of a thoroughly entertaining, high-scoring 48 minutes of basketball at Albertus Magnus College.
The Topballerz, the first-year New Haven-based entry into the American Basketball Association, cruised to a 122-104 victory over the Jersey Express in their inaugural game Friday night. Moore finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and five assists and was named the game’s MVP, Lee and Anthony Davis each added 17 points and Joe Dorseet-Jeffreys netted 14.
More importantly, the Topballerz, comprised mainly by former high school and college stars from the area, seemed to truly delight the crowd of about 700 inside the Cosgrove Marcus Messer Athletic Center.
“We want to represent that we aren’t just a basketball team,” said Moore. “We want to bring excitement for everyone to come see us play and enjoy themselves.”
The night couldn’t have gone much better, according to head coach A.J. Huston.
“It was amazing. It’s great to bring basketball back to Connecticut, it’s great for Connecticut to see the talent we have, and for us to come out and put on a show like we did tonight. All the hard work and preparation we put in really paid off.”
Keep in mind, this isn’t your father’s ABA. Julius Erving or George Gervin aren’t walking through that door anytime soon. But the up-and-down style, combined with the local flavor of the team, makes the Topballerz a fun watch.
There are also some interesting quirks to the league. For one, any shot made from halfcourt or beyond is worth four points. Then there’s the “3-D Rule,” which adds an additional point to any basket made after the opponent turns the ball over on a pass from backcourt, or loses possession of the ball (violation of foul) before player control is established in the frontcourt.
Winchester’s 3-pointer kicked off a 13-4 Topballerz start that was highlighted by Moore’s alley-oop pass to Lee.
“Me and Rosey have been playing together for so many years, that’s our specialty,” said Moore.
The locals jumped out to as much as a 21-6 lead, but the Express battled back and were within eight (53-45) at halftime.
“I’d like us to play a little more on the defensive end,” Huston said, “but our athletic ability is going to be a huge key to drawing fans. The alley-oop – the crowd went nuts. That’s what the fans want to see, and that’s what we’re going to show them.”
Winchester added 11 points for Connecticut and Lee and Davis each hauled in 11 rebounds. Japhet McNeil had four steals. Jersey’s Darnell Braswell led all scorers with 37 points.
The evening started off with New Haven’s Kaseem Johnson dedicating the season to the memory of T.J. Mathis, the former Hamden High star who was fatally shot in September. Flowers and a framed Topballerz jersey No. 10 were presented to his family.
Did the entire night go off without a hitch? No. There were some troubles with the microphone and P.A. system, and other assorted glitches associated with an opening game.
But overall, the Connecticut Topballerz’ debut was a rousing success – both on the floor and off.
“It was a good atmosphere,” said Moore. “The fans were behind us, they picked us up, and we did what we needed to do.”