It wasn’t the ending the Blue Coats hoped for, but team leaders say just making it to the championship game should help draw more fans to home games next season.
The Wilmington-based affiliate of the 76ers fell short in Thursday night’s G-League championship game in Orlando, Florida. Despite the 97-78 loss to Florida’s Lakeland Magic in the championship, the Blue Coats had a strong run in the abbreviated season, compiling a 10-5 record after starting the season with seven straight wins.
“I think we had a great year this year. A lot of stuff to be proud of, not the ending that we wanted,” said Blue Coats head coach Connor Johnson.
The G-League championship game was held in front of an empty stadium in Orlando. The league, which functions as the NBA’s minor league, ran its entire season at ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at the Disney World Resort, similar to how last year’s NBA season was held.
Johnson is already looking forward to seeing the team play in front of fans in Wilmington next season.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is kind of generate some enthusiasm and excitement in the greater Wilmington area,” he said.
While it’s been difficult to get a sense of fan support in the G-League bubble in Orlando, he felt a growing interest as a result of their strong run.
In January 2019, the team moved from playing games at the Bob Carpenter Center at the University of Delaware in Newark into a brand new arena in Wilmington.
“We’ve got our own building which is a great place to watch a game — the team’s improving every year. There’s a lot of positives and things to be excited about, notwithstanding the outcome tonight,” Johnson said. “When the dust settles, we got to be happy about what’s being built in Wilmington.”
The 161,000-square-foot Chase Field House is more than just a basketball stadium. It’s also home to a youth soccer training center for elite players, and hosts sports camps and educational activities for city kids. The facility will also feature high school sporting events and concerts. In September 2019, the facility transformed into an HBCU college fair with the help of NBA legend Magic Johnson.
After the Wilmington Blue Rocks’ 2019 Carolina League baseball championship, a Blue Coats win could have turned Wilmington into a minor league version of Tampa teams, which saw the NFL Buccaneers and NHL Lightning win championships within the past seven months. The Tampa Bay Rays were runners up in last fall’s World Series as well.
Since the coronavirus pandemic canceled the minor league baseball season last year, the Rocks are still reigning champs. The season is expected to start on May 4. It’s not clear how many, if any, fans will be allowed at Frawley Stadium on the Wilmington Riverfront.
In December, the Rocks switched their affiliation from the Kansas City Royals to the much closer Washington Nationals. They remain at the High-A level, the third rung down from the majors.
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