WILMINGTON – On a recent Sunday afternoon, several hundred fans arrived in Southbridge to cheer on what is rapidly becoming one of Delaware’s most successful sports teams: the Delaware Blue Coats. The NBA G-League affiliate ...
[caption id="attachment_218594" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] The Delaware Blue Coats have started the 2021-22 season as the best team in the NBA G-League. | DBT PHOTO BY ERIC CROSSAN[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_218597" align="alignright" width="327"] Delaware Blue Coats GM Prosper Karangwa, left, and Coach Coby Karl have helped make the Wilmington team among the best in the NBA G-League. | DBT PHOTO BY ERIC CROSSAN[/caption]
WILMINGTON – On a recent Sunday afternoon, several hundred fans arrived in Southbridge to cheer on what is rapidly becoming one of Delaware’s most successful sports teams: the Delaware Blue Coats.The NBA G-League affiliate for the Philadelphia 76ers won three playoff games last year and played in last year’s league championship, losing to the Lakeland Magic. It was the first playoff appearance for the team since it moved to Delaware in 2013, and it came amid a shortened season with nearly half of the league not participating.After the run, the head coach left and the Sixers replaced the general manager, leaving local fans wondering if the success could be repeated.The answer? So far, the Blue Coats are 10-1 in the 2021-22 season and sit at the top of the Eastern Conference.Much of that credit goes to new General Manager Prosper Karangwa, Assistant General Manager Jameer Nelson and Head Coach Coby Karl, all of whom are retired professional basketball players themselves.As the NBA’s developmental league, many teams in the G-League focus more on developing players for the higher level than competing for titles. The new Blue Coats leaders don’t see the task that way.“I think it's important that you develop people in a winning environment, because ultimately that's why we play sports,” Karangwa said. “We do this to win games, and hopefully win a championship. So, I think to do it with that kind of mindset is a win-win.”Karl, the son of retired longtime NBA coach George Karl, agreed, noting that the team spends a lot of time working with players on skills that will translate to needs on the Sixers’ roster. Doing so has led to success at the G-League level.Karangwa, who also serves as the Sixers’ vice president of player personnel, said that Karl was a great fit for the Blue Coats, as the team sought out an experienced voice who could one day coach at the NBA level. Adding Nelson, who also played in the 2009 NBA Finals, brought in a veteran voice.“I learn from them every day. That's the beauty of this; we all get an opportunity to learn from each other,” Karangwa said. “[Jameer] has been unbelievable to the players. His ability to connect with the players, to talk to them, has been very helpful.”
[caption id="attachment_218596" align="alignleft" width="200"] Delaware Blue Coats Assistant GM Jameer Nelson, an NBA veteran, has helped give guidance to the G-League players. | DBT PHOTO BY ERIC CROSSAN[/caption]
Nelson, a Chester, Pa., native and a College Player of the Year at St. Joseph’s University, had always wanted to play for the hometown Sixers and jumped at the opportunity to join the front office when asked by Sixers President Elton Brand. He complimented Karangwa’s easy-going nature for setting the tone of the organization and allowing him to impart his advice to players.“Everybody's not going to make it to the NBA, that’s reality, but part of our job is to push them to try to extract as much as we can out of each and every individual,” Nelson said.The Blue Coats have already helped develop talented players like Shake Milton and Paul Reed, with more coming in the wings. Aiding that development are the team’s resources at the Chase Fieldhouse in Wilmington.“Across the league, I would say we're easily a Top 3 or 4 facility in the league,” Karangwa said, noting the brand-new Fieldhouse home as well as ample nearby apartments and restaurants. “It makes it much easier for guys to practice and play with us and be able to be on the bench [for the Sixers], which has happened quite a bit already this year.”Karl noted that it’s not uncommon for other G-League teams to share their facilities or have to search out a rec center or community college for practices.The success of the Blue Coats and Fieldhouse is also part of larger plans to redevelop the surrounding area such as Riverfront East. Much like how the Wilmington Blue Rocks helped draw visitors to Riverfront West, Megan McGlinchey, executive director of Riverfront Development Corp., believes the Blue Coats could have that impact as well.“Over the last few years, we have seen the tremendous impact the activities at the Fieldhouse have had on the nearby Riverfront West businesses. The Blue Coats have been an integral part in drawing visitors from around the region. As we develop Riverfront East, we are confident that the team’s impact will only grow stronger,” she said.All of the trio believed that winning was the most important thing they could do to help grow a fanbase in Delaware.“To me, the G-League is where you come for the purity of the game,” Karl said. “There’s little promotion or media involved; you get to fall in love with the game again.”
[caption id="attachment_218592" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Crowds are filtering back to the Chase Fieldhouse to watch the winning Blue Coats. Local officials believe the team will help redevelopment efforts for Riverfront East. | DBT PHOTO BY ERIC CROSSAN[/caption]