By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – Somebody at the American Basketball Association headquarters obviously likes the West Michigan Lake Hawks.
After all, the Lake Hawks are only a second-year team, one of the new kids on the block in the 102-team ABA. Yet they are one of only about 30 ABA teams from across the nation to be invited to play on national television on the ESPN network this season.
The Muskegon-based Lake Hawks are currently en route to Denver, where they will meet the Colorado Kings Saturday at 9 p.m. EST in a game to be broadcast live on ESPN 3.
Lake Hawks owner and coach Ronald Jenkins said the invitation to play on television came last summer, following the ABA league meetings in Las Vegas. He said he was surprised and excited about the chance to represent Muskegon and the surrounding area on the national stage.
The trip to Denver is unusually long for the Lake Hawks.They play in the ABA’s North Central Division and most of their games are played in the midwest against teams from Wisconsin, the Chicago area, Indiana and the Detroit area.
“Coaches and owners from some other teams are trying to figure out why we got a chance to play on ESPN before a lot of them,” Jenkins said. “I guess (league officials) really like the way we run our organization.
“It’s a humbling experience for all of us to be able to represent West Michigan on ESPN. We’re going to take this opportunity to play hard and coach hard and represent our area well.”
The Lake Hawks’ success on the court probably had something to do with the invitation to play on national TV. Last year, in their inaugural season, they finished 14th nationally in the ABA, and they are currently ranked 11th with a 5-2 record.
A spectacular offense has been a trademark for the Lake Hawks this season. It’s not unusual for the team to eclipse the 100-point mark and have three or four players scoring in double figures.
Among the Lake Hawks’ top players so far this season are Ralph Monday, a second-year player who’s averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds per game; Will Wright, another returnee from last year who’s averaging 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds; as well as Jacob Owens (11.1 points, 4.9 assists), Idell Bell (10.2 points), and Muskegon Heights grad David Fox (8.8 points).
While they have already put on quite a show this season, Jenkins said the Lake Hawks are only beginning to play up to its potential.
Nagging injuries have been an issue all season – Saturday’s game will the first that the entire team will be suited and ready to go. Jenkins said he’s also looking at several free agent players to possibily join the team this year, to make the squad as competitive as possible.
“We’re still putting the pieces of the puzzle together,” Jenkins said. “We’ve had to deal with a couple of hamstring pulls, and we’re still building and adding pieces to the puzzle. I think we’re about halfway to where we want to be. There are still a lot of things I want to critique.
“But it takes hard work and dedication to be ranked as high as we are, and these players have worked very, very hard. They have been moving the ball well and they are a very unselfish team.
“We’re still sharpening up on offense. We still have not seen what these guys can do. We have yet to see the best of what the Lake Hawks have to offer.”