NBA Development League
The Austin Toros of the NBA Development League begin home action Friday evening against the Tulsa 66ers at 8 p.m. at the Cedar Park Center. The Toros opened the season last Saturday at Frisco, defeating the Texas Legends 101-96 behind the strong play of point guard Justin Dentmon (29 pts, 7 ast), who was recently acquired by the Toros from the Legends on draft day. Second-year Toros forward, Lance Thomas (Duke) added 25 points and 6 rebounds for the Toros. Carldell Johnson scored 25 as the Toros pulled away in the fourth quarter, outscoring the hosts 33-25 to start the season 1-0.
The Toros relocated to the Cedar Park Center last season after playing in the Austin Convention Center since 2005, when the Columbus Riverdragons first moved the club to Austin and renamed them the Toros. In 2007, the San Antonio Spurs acquired the Toros, and Austin became the second franchise to be owned by an NBA team after the Los Angeles Lakers bought the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
The Toros have been fairly successful on the court, making the D-League playoffs three of the six years the team has been in Austin. While last year's eighth place finish was not their best season, the Toros expect to make the playoffs this year with the acquisition of Dentmon and 6'11' center, Luke Zeller (Notre Dame).
We spoke to the Toros COO, Peter Lubell today about the Toros' prospects for the upcoming season, the NBA lockout and why they love playing in the Cedar Park Center.
Culture Map (CM): Congratulations on the season opening win in Frisco. What is the overall season outlook this year? Is a D-League Championship a reality?
Peter Lubell (PL): Every year a championship is a possibility, because every year each team comes to the table with a fresh team. For us, you kind of go into it with the mindset that we have the best team in the league. It's not until you get into the games and see how everyone else looks that you get a sense of where you are at.... In addition to that, our team's roster changes 15-20 times throughout the season. The challenge to our coaching staff is to make adjustments through all those changes... You'll see that at the start of the season maybe the play isn't as sharp.... you end up having a much better team at the end of the year than you do at the beginning.
CM: Which players should Toros fans be watching this year? Who are the standout players?
PL: Our starting five is going to be pretty good. First and foremost, we traded our second pick in the draft to Texas for Justin Dentmon. Justin is a point guard who played at the University of Washington; he's got a really quick first step, makes his teammates better and is a sharp shooter from behind the arc. I think he's a guy who'll be an instant prospect watch for the NBA.
Another guy is Lance Thomas. He's returning for his second year. He's a 6'8" forward out of Duke. Lance has really become a center point for our team. Great on the defensive side of the ball. Awesome rebounder. This is his second year. He really spent the first year working on his offensive game. Actually came out and scored 25 points in the first game. So it's obviously paying off. I think he's another one with a very, sharp, high basketball IQ, who really understands the game and was well-coached growing up.
A third person is Luke Zeller, who we traded for as well in the offseason from Bakersfield. A 6'11' center, he can step out beyond the three-point line and shoot so he really extends the floor and defense.
CM:The team just moved to the Cedar Park Center last season. How has the move been and has the fan experience improved at the new venue?
PL: Our move to the Cedar Park Center was probably one of the best moves we have made as an organization. Not to say our relationship with the City of Austin wasn't fantastic, which it was and playing at the Austin Convention Center was great, but the Cedar Park Center is configured perfectly for a D-League team. It has all the creature comforts of a state of the art arena, it's got an HD video board, it's got a lot of choices for concessions, it's got wonderful parking, there's no bad seat in the house.
And in addition to that, moving up to Williamson County allows us to really build our relationship and target that core family demographic that is our audience... When people move down here from out of state, they tend to look towards the suburbs and Williamson County where there are a lot of great schools, a lot of great activities for kids and for us that's exactly where we need to be and who are audience is.
CM:So, have you seen attendance increase since the move?
PL: Yes.After our our move from the Convention Center we saw a 43 percent increase in our attendance.
CM: Fans may not understand the relationship between the Austin Toros and the San Antonio Spurs. Could you talk a bit about that?
PL: Sure. Back in 2007 the San Antonio Spurs purchased the Austin Toros from a group of local investors for the purpose of developing young basketball talent and having them only an hour and a half away. So that's really the reason for the Spurs getting involved in the NBA Development League. Once they did purchase the team, they started to realize they had a business opportunity up here as well to strengthen the Spurs sports and entertainment brand in Central Texas... In relation to the rest of the league, there are 16 teams in the NBA Development League. We are one of nine teams that have a direct relationship with an NBA team.
The NBA D-League has a smartphone app that allows fans to keep track of their team's progress throughout the season. Fans can even watch games on NBA D-League Furturecast. Tickets for tomorrow's opener are available for purchase online. Ticket prices are inexpensive, starting at $5. As Mr. Lubell pointed out in our conversation, it can actually cost less for a family of four to attend an Austin Toros game than taking the family out to the movies.
Home opener: Tulsa 66ers vs. Austin Toros
Date: Friday, Dec. 2, 2011
Location: Cedar Park Center (map)
Time: 8 p.m.