Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Live From Boise ...

Hello from Boise, Idaho, where I spent the afternoon and evening at the D-League Showcase. All 14 D-League teams have come together here in Boise to play two games apiece starting Monday and ending Thursday. I popped my head back in Qwest Arena well after tonight's action was over and saw a neat sight - all 14 teams gathering on the court for a group picture.

I overheard another writer describe the Showcase as "summer league in the winter," and that's not a bad way to explain it - albeit without the allure of top draft picks and other young NBA players. (And without the warmth - it is cold here.) The arena is crawling with scouts and members of NBA front offices. Former Sonics Head Coach Bernie Bickerstaff is here, and I swear I saw an incognito Gregg Popovich. I also spotted Sonics Director of Player Personnel Bill Branch.

Qwest Arena is a neat venue, and a unique one at that. There is no concourse per se; the walkway is inside the arena, so fans never are away from being able to see the action. There's just one row of courtside seats on each side of the court, and the rest of the space is taken up by tables surrounded by chairs where groups of fans can get together to chat and take in the game. The most unconventional feature is that the arena is built into the neighboring Grove Hotel. Some of the rooms open up into the arena, a la the Skydome in Toronto. How closely connected are the hotel and the arena? Well, I was able to make it from my seat on press row to my room and back in less than two minutes of game action.

There's a Sonics slant to the presentation of these games, with former co-worker Pat Walker producing the Showcase. Sonics basketballs are being used in some of the in-game contests, and the Dunking Ushers showed off for the crowd at halftime of tonight's final game.

The headline story in the Idaho Statesman today about the Showcase was titled "Everyone has a story," and plenty of those stories include, at least tangentally, the Sonics. There are names I recognize from ties to the Sonics, whether it was playing for a summer-league squad (Will Blalock, Tony Bobbitt, Elton Brown and Kaniel Dickens) or making an appearance in training camp (Eddie Gill, Darryl Watkins). Jelani McCoy is playing for the Los Angeles D-Fenders. Idaho's Randy Livingston has spent two stints in Seattle, including last April. Desmon Farmer also spent time with the Sonics last year. It's actually probably surprising there aren't more Seattle guys here, but Roosevelt High's Marcus Williams is playing for the Austin Toros.

The marquee game of the night was, naturally, the hometown Idaho Stampede facing the visiting Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Stampede got a scare in the end, but held on for a 93-89 victory, their 10th in a row. Idaho is 11-0 at Qwest Arena this season, and at 15-5 second in the D-League overall.

Sonics center Mouhamed Sene put together a strong performance off the bench for the Stampede, helping them take the lead in the second quarter and build it after halftime. In 21 minutes of play, Sene had 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots. His size really changed the game.