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Manchester welcomes new semi-pro basketball team

MANCHESTER — While there may be a current shortage of many items in America, there is one area in which there is a major surplus — good basketball players. There is no skill position shortage around a basketball hoop.

That’s why it didn’t take Hartford Shockers owner-coach Donovin Ford-Hayes of Windsor Locks long to stock his roster with talent after moving the East Coast Basketball League team from Plaistow, N.H., to Manchester’s East Catholic High in time for the 2022 season. The team is in the Mid-Atlantic Conference of the ECBL.

“If you want to watch some competitive basketball, this is the league you should definitely want to check out,” said Tylon Smith of Manchester, who was an all-league selection in the past with the Western Massachusetts Zombies but decided to hook up with the Shockers this season.

“This is home,” said Smith, who played his college basketball at Southern Connecticut State University and has been a semi-pro player for four seasons. “There is a tremendous amount of talent across the board. There are many high-level players in this league — All-Americas from Division I, II and III. We’ll put this league up there with any other semi-pro league in the country.”

Ford-Hayes, who graduated from Windsor Locks High in 2011 and played his college hoops at Becker College, is excited about bringing the team to Manchester.

“It is a big deal for me because this is my home state,” Ford-Hayes said. “This is where I’m from, and this is where my support system is. I think it’s very important for us to be here.”

Manchester Mayor Jay Moran agreed. Moran was at East Catholic Thursday, along with Phillip Nemphos, the chairman of the board of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, to officially welcome the team on Media Night.

“This is great,” Moran said. “Especially coming off of COVID, we’re all looking for some type of sporting activity. I think basketball junkies will love this league. When you have a good sporting event in the neighborhood, it’s good for everyone.”

The season gets underway Feb. 19 with a 5 p.m. home game at East Catholic against the Lehigh Valley Flight.

Assistant coach Ryan Aeschliman, who is also head coach at East Granby High, said the team will be playing a fan-friendly brand of basketball.

“We’re going to be physical, we’re going to go up and down the court, we’re going to score a lot of points and we’re also going to defend,” Aeschliman said. “I think we’re going to rebound very well because of our size, and our guard play is going to be very special.”

That’s where Smith comes in. The guard averaged 26.6 points per game during the exhibition season.

“This is one of the deepest teams I’ve ever played with,” Smith said. “There’s just so much talent, and that gives us so many options. This will be a very unique team.”

That’s why Smith keeps playing.

“Basketball is still my first love,” Smith said. “This gives me a chance to play basketball while I’m going for my master’s degree. You can’t be more blessed than that.”

Ford-Hayes thinks he’s blessed as well.

“We have a lot of different players from a lot of different areas,” Ford-Hayes said. “Our practice time is limited because almost all the players have full-time jobs. The key is putting everything together and becoming a unit.”

If Ford-Hayes is successful in doing that, he thinks his team will be capable of doing some big things.

“Our goal just isn’t to win our conference, but to win the Super Cup, which is given to the best team out of all the conferences,” Ford-Hayes said. “We just have to stay healthy. Nothing can drag a team down quicker than a bunch of injuries.”

Ford-Hayes knows he has talent. Now he has about two more weeks to turn that talent into a team.

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