IGNITE, the recently launched team for elite National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft-eligible players, begins its NBA G League campaign in February in a tournament “bubble” to be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida.
Coached by five-time NBA champion Brian Shaw, the team will be among 18 squads competing in the non-traditional shortened season of the NBA’s official minor league basketball organization, adjusted to adapt with the prevailing conditions with the coronavirus pandemic.
While in a typical season, Ignite would not have played a full NBA G League slate of games nor be considered a standard G League team for the purposes of league-wide standings. In the upcoming tournament, it is eligible to advance to the playoffs and contend for a championship.
“We’re excited to be a part of the G League schedule at Disney,” said Ignite head coach Brian Shaw in a release. “This is a unique opportunity for our players to showcase their development while gaining a high volume of experience quickly against the caliber of talent they’ll face every day in the NBA.”
One of the featured players of Ignite is Filipino standout Kai Sotto, who is trying to make a push to fulfill his dream of making it to the NBA.
He went to the United States in 2019 after playing for Ateneo’s juniors team to further develop his game.
Mr. Sotto joins an elite crew of top young prospects like Filipino-American Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix, and Princepal Singh.
They have been training under Mr. Shaw in Walnut Creek, California, since August and have competed in four scrimmages leading up to the team’s official opener.
Also part of the squad are NBA and NBA G League veterans Amir Johnson, Reggie Hearn, Brandon Ashley, Cody Demps, and Bobby Brown.
“He is getting stronger, he is getting a better understanding of the game, he’s improving and I am impressed with his skill set for a guy his size,” the Ignite coach said.
“I’m excited to coach these young players. Our job as coaches is to develop these guys and teach them as best as I can from my experience of being a pro on and off the court. I’m excited. It’s going to be challenging because of the pandemic in terms of the protocol, but I’m looking forward to teaching them,” he added.
Aware that it is operating under extraordinary circumstances, the G League said it is hoping that its tournament bubble will also be a success just like the NBA’s when the latter held its own bubble to finish last season also at the Walt Disney World facility.
It has coordinated closely with all concerned and crafted protocols to preserve the integrity of the bubble.
“We worked closely with our teams, the Basketball Players Union, and public health experts to develop a structure that allows our teams to gather at a single site and safely play,” said NBA G League President Shareef Abdur-Rahim in a separate release.
Adding, “We are thrilled to get back to basketball and to fulfill our mission as a critical resource for the NBA in developing players, coaches, referees, athletic trainers, and front-office staff.”
Players, coaches, team and league staff living on the NBA G League’s campus at Walt Disney World Resort will be guided by comprehensive league-wide health and safety protocols, which are based on the core principles of social distancing, mask wearing, hand hygiene, and coronavirus testing.
The other participating NBA G League teams are Agua Caliente Clippers (affiliated with the Los Angeles Clippers), Austin Spurs (San Antonio Spurs), Canton Charge (Cleveland Cavaliers), Delaware Blue Coats (Philadelphia 76ers), Erie BayHawks (New Orleans Pelicans), Fort Wayne Mad Ants (Indiana Pacers), Greensboro Swarm (Charlotte Hornets), Iowa Wolves (Minnesota Timberwolves), Lakeland Magic (Orlando Magic), Long Island Nets (Brooklyn Nets), Memphis Hustle (Memphis Grizzlies), Oklahoma City Blue (Oklahoma City Thunder), Raptors 905 (Toronto Raptors), Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets), Salt Lake City Stars (Utah Jazz), Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State Warriors), and Westchester Knicks (New York Knicks).
League format has the top eight teams advancing to a single-elimination playoff. The league said the complete 2021 game and broadcast schedule will be announced at a later date. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo