Storm set for 1st year in APBL

Posted: October 31, 2012

Special to The Winchester Storm

Winchester Storm players Derrick Copeland (from left), Lamar Bentley and Mouktar Fawehinimi get ready for the season at a recent practice at the Mt. Carmel Family Life Center Gym. The Storm open the season against the NOVA Hawks on Nov. 10. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Winchester’s Mitch Dudley (left) defends against Antonio Wright at a recent Storm practice session. Dudley is one of four former Shenandoah players on the team. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — The Winchester Storm may be in a new league this season, but the semi-professional men’s basketball team still holds the same immediate goal: To compete every game and win along the way.

The Storm played in the Eastern Basketball Alliance last season and posted a 5-7 record. This season, the organization’s third, the Storm is a member of the American Professional Basketball League (APBL), which is based out of New York City. With 10 players returning from last season’s team and a new head coach leading the way, the Storm is eager to show what it can do when the season tips off on Nov. 10 with a home game against the NOVA Hawks out of Chantilly.

“We’re just trying to work on camaraderie right now,” said forward Onyie Onunaku, who has returned to the team after a stint in another semi-pro league in Michigan last season. “This year we’re going to try and be more up-tempo, get the ball up the floor and try and get quicker buckets. On the defensive end, we’ve got to focus on rotating and stopping the big man down low and do a better job of boxing out than we did last year.”

The Storm hopes to bring plenty of excitement to the floor each night, and with returning guards Mouktar Fawehinimi, Tyler Crawford, Derrick Fields, and Tyrone Roach around to lead the fast break, points could come in droves.

A former backup at Georgetown, Crawford led the Storm in assists (6.0) last season. Roach torched teams both inside and out and averaged 25 points per a game. Fanehinmi, who is one of four former Shenandoah Hornets on the roster (Onunaku, and forwards Mitch Dudley and Lamar Bentley are the others), was a steady influence on the court for the Storm during the 2011-12 season, averaging 14.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists.

“Everybody has the same goal to win it all,” Fawehinimi. “We’re not playing just to play or play in games. Everybody has the same common goal — and that’s to win it all.”

Fawehinimi said he enjoys the chance to play alongside some of his former Shenandoah teammates and he hopes fans in the area will take more notice of the team this winter, which has switched its home games to Denny Lee Gymnasium in Jim Barnett Park after two years at Admiral Byrd Middle School.

“This is the third year [of existence] now, so we pretty much are known by more people in the community,” Fawehinimi said. “It should be easier than last year to get people to come to the games.”

Taking over for Jason Morgan as head coach will be former player/assistant coach Josh Reichert. Storm general manger Norman Blowe said Morgan will still serve the team in another capacity and that Reichert has connected well with the team so far.

“He’s doing pretty well,” Blowe said of Reichert. “We’re just trying to rotate [the coaching change] in to give the guys a different look. The guys have been [receptive] to the move. He comes to practice and he actually runs some stuff and puts [other] stuff in. I think he is more of a player’s coach.”

The Storm has added 7-foot center Mike Anderson (Lane College), but no other player is taller than 6-foot-5. That means guys like the 6-foot-3 Bentley will have to get position and rebound consistently underneath to help the Storm stay steady on defense.

A key substitute off the bench last season (15.5 points a game), Bentley seems ready to handle more of a load this season.

“My role with this team will definitely be leadership,” Bentley said. “Being a floor general. When things seem to be getting out of sync with the team, I’m able to bring all the guys together as a team. Being a veteran, bring everybody together and keep them all on the same page.

“Whatever the coach needs me to do, I’m his guy. We have a lot of great athletic individuals on this team and I want to be able to work with these guys and give them my all to win games.”

Two other forwards will try and make the inside game work — Dave Karlson (6-foot-5) and former Park View High School (Sterling) standout Roscoe Johnson (6-foot-4).

“I think we’ve all made pretty good improvements,” said Onunaku, who worked his way into the starting lineup for the Lake Michigan Admirals after leaving the Storm last winter following a handful of games, but then moved back to the area recently.

“We’re always in the gym focusing on getting better, shooting, passing, working on defense. We’re all going to try and bring that to the table this year.”

The Storm will play a 16-game regular season schedule, which includes eight home games. All home games will be played on Saturdays and start at 7 p.m. The Storm will be in the Colonial Division of the Southern Conference in the APBL, joining the Bay Area Shuckers, NOVA Hawks, and the West Virginia Monarchs.

Blowe said former West Virginia University center Kevin Pittsnogle, who played the last two seasons with the Storm, is dressing out with the Monarchs this season. The Storm will host West Virginia on Dec. 15.

“I anticipate a good season,” Blowe said. “Keeping the same core of guys is big. These guys play together all the time.”

Admission prices to the games will be $7 for adults 18-and-over, $5 for anyone 17-and-under, and free to youngsters 3-and-under.