The Providence Pirates are here to show you that there is quality professional basketball right here in Rhode Island.
“This is a basketball state,” Sercan Fenerci, president & CEO of the Pirates said. “From the high-level college teams (Division I schools Providence College, Bryant, URI and Brown) to the lower levels (Division III schools such as RIC, Johnson & Wales), people love the sport here.”
Fenerci, originally from Turkey, moved to Rhode Island twenty years ago. He played and coached basketball for years. Six years ago, he developed an idea. Based on the PawSox minor-league model, he wanted to provide a cost-effective, family-oriented, professional basketball experience that all ages would be able to enjoy. “We are committed to making a positive impact in the community through partnerships with corporate, non-profit and community-based organizations to help our families, neighbors, and children in need,” Fenerci added. When he heard the rumors of the PawSox leaving Pawtucket, he knew he had to take action and fill the void their departure left.
Fortunately for Fenerci, in 2000 two men named Joe Newman and Richard Tinkham had the idea to bring the ABA (American Basketball Association) back. To avoid confusion, the original ABA lasted from 1967-1976 before they merged with the NBA. This new ABA provided professional basketball on a smaller, regional scale which would help teams that could not afford the costs of founding an NBA franchise. The project started in the Midwest and has grown to 8 regions and over 150 teams across the United States. The rules of the ABA are similar to the NBA, however there are some intriguing added rules. From half-court 4-point shots, to the 3-D rule, the ABA is a fast-paced, high-scoring game.
Fenerci founded the Providence team in 2019. His hope is to give local players the opportunity to play professionally. No matter what level his players last played (overseas, college, or anywhere else), he wants to ensure players who “fell through the cracks” or “life happened to them” get a real chance. They hold open tryouts as well as sign free agents to build their team. Fenerci uses connections he has made to get players to higher leagues. He sees the Pirates as a stepping stone for hidden gems. “Sign a contract, get them on some film, get them some stats… heck, 3 players went overseas after playing with us last year.”
Due to COVID dampening their inaugural year, 2021-22 was really the first full year for the team, and it was quite successful. Their head coach, Mark Gaffney was an assistant coach at Xavier University, before assuming a head coaching position at Hamilton College until 2010. His assistant coach, Jason Blouvin has been around the game for a number of years. The pair led their team to a 16-4 regular season.
They made the playoffs and were a #3 seed but lost 119-113 in the first round to the #6 seed Herkimer Originals. “We had beaten them twice before that season and you know what they say about trying to beat a team three times in a year…” Fenerci lamented. The team was led by veteran star player Shane da Rosa and center Kevin Briggs who combined for 53 points, 19 rebounds, 5 blocks and 10 assists.
In addition, Fenerci made sure his team became an active part of the community. This past year, he created the Jr. Pirates, a non-profit organization for junior levels. Its goals are to teach local youth the fundamentals of not only basketball, but life lessons, to become better men and women as well. It is free to play and they provide training, equipment and games for all. “3 – 6 teams is the goal. We are working with partners to make that dream become a reality,” Fenerci said. He also ensures that the youth can come watch the games by providing free tickets throughout the community.
This year, the bar is set even higher due to a mix of frustration over how last year ended and the influx of talent coming in. “Only 5 players are returning from last year… Our rotation was about 7 or 8 players deep last year. This year we believe we can be 11-12 players deep. Multiple guys can score double digit points. Our staff is more experienced with how the ABA works, and are more acclimated to the other teams. We are ranked number #10 in the national ABA rankings, above the team that beat us last year. Steel City from Pittsburgh won it all last year and is #1 in the nation. They are in the same region. We look forward to the opportunity to play them and see what happens.”
Check out their website for their schedule, tickets and news about the team. The Pirates set sail for the season with their first game against the MA Wolves on Sat, November 5.