PROVINCETOWN — While Cape Cod and the Islands boast a strong culture of high school sports, the region has historically lacked a local college or professional team for residents to support. Adam Blake wants to change that.
In January 2022, Blake bought into the American Basketball Association (ABA), a men’s semi-professional minor league that began in 2000, and launched the Massachusetts Wolves.
Representing southeastern Massachusetts from Brockton to Provincetown, the Wolves had a strong showing in their first year as a team, ending up 10-8 overall and making it to the quarterfinals of the Northeast regional playoffs before losing to the Pawtucket Kings.
“I want it to catch on and be something that the community and the area can get behind,” Blake said in an interview.
The original major-league ABA began in 1967 and competed with the NBA until the two leagues merged in 1976. The current unrelated minor-league version, launched in 2000, now claims to be the largest professional sports league in the world. Anyone who can afford the pay-in fee (the standard, Blake said, is $10,000, but that’s negotiable) can start a team.
There are currently over 100 active teams in the league, spread across regional divisions nationwide. In the Northeast division, the Wolves play against teams from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut.
The ABA season runs from November through April. Games have four 12-minute quarters and feature a unique “3D light” activated by a steal in the backcourt: when the light is on, a two-point play is worth three points, a three-point shot worth four. Defensive stops are thus rewarded.
“We really execute on defense,” said Jay Luster, who lives in Provincetown and is the team’s assistant coach. The Wolves’ style is “run and gun,” he said. “We do shoot, but we’re more of a slashing team. Get straight to the hole.”
The players, ranging from college age to 30-somethings, are here for a variety of reasons. Some were derailed by injuries or by grades that hampered their shots at D1 scholarships out of high school. Some are looking to be noticed by overseas recruiters, while for others it’s just pure love of the game.
Sayvonn Houston, the team’s center, took Brockton High to the state championship during his senior year there, then played at community college before dropping out to work full-time with special-needs elementary school students in Mattapan, where he’s still employed. A few years later, he got his bachelor’s degree at Pine Manor College in Brookline and competed for the PMC Gators. Before joining the Wolves, Houston said, he was playing basketball four months of the year in local tournaments.
“The playoff run feels good,” Houston said. “I’m not satisfied, though, until we win the whole thing.”
While Blake has worked as a coach and recruiter for the UMass Boston team for the past 10 years, minor league opportunities have remained on his mind. (He played on an ABA team, as well as in the equivalent football league.) One day he was scrolling through Instagram and came across clips from the growing ABA. At first, he thought about getting a job with an existing team, but he quickly realized that Southeastern Mass. was a prime candidate for a team of its own.
Blake, who lives in Boston, held tryouts in September, and the season began in November. Local hoopers found out about the nascent team through a mix of recruiting and word of mouth.
“We’ve had a pretty good year so far,” Blake said. “It’s hard, it’s challenging, but overall, it’s pretty fun.”
The Wolves have mostly played on Sundays because UMass Boston, where Blake is still working full-time, suits up on Saturdays.
While most of the players on the current roster are from off-Cape towns including Brockton, Taunton, and Wareham, Blake is hoping to connect with the Cape’s up-and-coming athletes.
He spends his summers in Wellfleet working at the drive-in and the flea market and got his start coaching at Barnstable High School 10 years ago. “I know the Cape has talent,” he said. “I feel like if you put a team here, it’ll bring more high-level playing out of the kids growing up here.”
One Outer Cape local who’s been integral to the team’s early success is Luster, who was a star high school player at Provincetown and then Nauset. Now, when he’s not working at his family’s restaurant, Ciro & Sal’s, Luster hosts local basketball events like the CapeTippin Classic, an end-of-summer 3×3 tournament.
“I’ve been around basketball forever,” Luster said.
Early on, Luster was in talks with Blake to be part of the team but initially missed tryouts because he was playing in Colombia. When he returned to the Cape with an injury, he came on board as an assistant coach and helped with recruiting.
“Back in the day, the Provincetown courts used to be packed,” Luster remembered. He used to shoot around with fellow Nauset student Nick Minnerath, who suited up for the Lebron-era Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015-2016 season and now plays abroad in the UAE National Basketball League. Between so many families being priced out of town and young players following opportunities elsewhere, Luster says local hoop culture has broken down.
The Wolves tried to schedule as many games as possible on the Cape, playing at Barnstable High School and Cape Cod Community College, but local gym rentals are expensive, Blake said.
The team had a rocky start before going on a seven-game winning streak towards the end of the season, which landed them as the #7 seed in the regional playoff tournament. Houston said they’re still feeling out their chemistry as a unit rather than as individuals.
“We’re still learning,” Houston said. “I like my teammates, and Coach Adam’s my guy. But the playing togetherness, it’s just not happening yet.”
After a disappointing playoff loss on March 11, Luster noticed that the rival team all went to grab food together, while the Wolves all dispersed. Going forward, “we want to build a team that’s like a family,” he said.
Most players on the Wolves have full-time jobs. A bus would be nice, but for now they rely on carpooling. (A van they rented for a game in Upstate New York broke down mid-trip, Luster said.)
This season, the team practiced once a week on Tuesdays or Thursdays before their weekend games, but Luster said they’re aiming for two or three mandatory practices a week next season to generate collective buy-in and develop team cohesiveness.
They’re also looking for sponsors and working on branding, merchandise, and filling more seats for next season through Instagram and perhaps a website. Tickets are $5 for kids, $10 for teens, and $15 for adults. Blake said he has a “10-to-20-year vision plan.”
“We’ve done well just having a Southern Mass. all-star team, competing with teams that recruit nationwide,” Blake said.
Luster agreed and shares Blake’s long-range vision: “We’re hoping to go really far.”