Mobile’s semi-pro basketball team may have a new name, but they have the same goal. That is to win the American Basketball Association (ABA) championship.
Last season, the Port City Tornados reached the Elite Eight of the ABA playoffs. Their journey came to an abrupt end as they fell to Southeast Region rival Jacksonville Giants 109-86. The final score was unexpected, as the Tornadoes had battled the powerhouse to a pair of 3-point losses in the regular season.
The Giants went on to beat South Florida Gold 116-112 in the title match. This gave Jacksonville its fourth straight and sixth overall ABA title.
When the local squad steps onto the court this Saturday to start its seventh season, it will unveil its new moniker. Team owner Charlie McCants has said they will now be known as the Mobile Jesters.
“I have been trying to get the community and city involved for the past six years with no success,” McCants told Lagniappe. “The suggestion was brought to my attention to focus on what everyone supports. Mardi Gras was the suggestion. We had to then determine the direction, what name to take. Jesters came out of the mix.”
McCants’ history with the ABA goes back to 2010 when he was a part of the Gulf Coast Flash in Mississippi. In 2013, he purchased his own ABA franchise and began the Mobile Bay Tornadoes. McCants altered the name in 2017 to Port City in observance of the city’s efforts to expand its commercial port activities.
The squad has been successful from the opening tip. McCants said the trophy case includes numerous division titles. In 2017, they reached the ABA Final Four in Baltimore, where the Giants escaped with a 109-107 victory in the semifinals.
Coaches Eric Steward and Alfred Jenkins Jr. have a strong core back from the team that finished with a 14-3 record. In the preseason rankings, the Jesters are picked fifth among the more than 150 ABA teams spread across the United States. Ahead of them are Jacksonville, South Florida, San Francisco City Cats and Syracuse Stallions.
Leading the way is Erik Thrash. He has been the team captain for six years, and was the leading scorer for the initial five seasons.
“Erik Thrash has become a leader on and off the court,” McCants said. “A few days ago when it was brought to his attention that a second grader was being bullied at Maryvale Elementary about his shoes, he took it upon himself and purchased the young man three pairs of shoes and a bookbag. Other players went with him to present the items, including a $50 gift card donated by Walmart. Three bags of clothes will also be delivered to the second grader.”
Tim “Tree” Amerson has been with the team since the beginning.
“Tim is the oldest player on the team at 34, but he plays hard and doesn’t like to lose. For the past five years he has been the only big man in the middle at 6-foot-7. He plays like a 7-footer, as he averages about four blocks a game,” McCants said.
Tycal Thrash has been with the team for four years. Last season, Tycal took over as top scorer from his cousin, Erik.
JaMichael Lofton, Tevin Bettis and Maurice Irby have been on the roster for three years. The Jesters also have Vincent Thrash and Justin Hansberry back. Eddie Ishman, who joined at the end of last season, has just returned from El Salvador and is expected to be a great asset for the championship run.
The 6-foot-6 Sammie Sanders, who played two years at Bishop State, will give Amerson some help in the middle.
“After Sammie gets a couple ABA games under his belt, he will be a force to be reckoned with,” McCants said. “Ivan Washington, who played with us three years ago, is a defensive specialist who will add strength when pressuring the ball.
“We have a couple of other newcomers who will be good coming off the bench. Jorori Coleman played overseas and will bring depth to the teams because he knows basketball.”
This season the Mobile Jesters will add a dance team with Shalinda Henry serving as director. Also helping McCants run the Jesters are Torshea Bettis-Daniels (finance), Quentin Davis (player operations) and Lajuana Logan (sponsorships).
Making a difference
On-court action, though, is not the only activity for the Jesters. McCants likes to point out the team slogan is “We are not just basketball. We are about changing lives.” Their goal is to improve community awareness and community involvement while providing great entertainment and community growth.
“We have a long way to go and it has not been easy thus far,” McCants said. “Nevertheless, it is not about us. It is the lives we can change along the way. I am often asked why I stay with no budget using my military retirement and Social Security to keep it going. I tell them if it keeps one young man from creating havoc in the community or we encourage one kid to make the right decision, it is worth the money, because we are losing too many to the streets.”
Among the new partnerships for the Jesters this season is with Jason Caffey. The NBA champion and former star at Mobile’s Davidson High School and the University of Alabama has recently co-written a book about puberty for young boys and assisted with youth basketball camps in an attempt to correct poor decisions he made in his life.
“Our partnership with Jason Caffey is a step in the right direction and that is only the beginning for the coming season,” McCants said.
Fans that would like to pick up any of the new Jesters paraphernalia now have the opportunity thanks to a partnership with Walmart. The store located on the Beltline in Mobile (101 E. Interstate 65 Service Road S.) has T-shirts and other items available for sale.
The season opens this Saturday as the Jesters host the Pensacola Lightning at 7 p.m. Home games will be played at Our Lady of Lourdes (1621 Boykin Blvd.) just off Dauphin Island Parkway. For more information, visit mobilejesters.com and facebook.com/mobilejesters.
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