Relaunching a professional basketball team during a pandemic was an unenviable task for the Vancouver Volcanoes.
The Volcanoes are an expansion team in The Basketball League, which has grown to 42 teams nationwide. The team previously operated under the same name in the International Basketball League from 2005 until the league folded in 2014.
The franchise already had some familiarity with the Vancouver community.
Yet trying to revive the brand was made more difficult by the Volcanoes’ decision to start the 2022 season with home games closed to the general public, a decision team majority owner Curtis Hill said they made with uncertainties of the pandemic in mind.
“We wanted to give it some time and be smart about it, instead of just starting right away and then being told, ‘Hey, you have to shut it down,’ ” Hill said. “We just wanted to take the smart approach by doing that.”
The first month of the season was played at an empty O’Connell Sports Center, the Volcanoes’ home venue on the campus of Clark College.
On April 7, the team reversed course and opened its doors to fans.
Since then, the Volcanoes have played four games in front of a live audience, most recently, a May 6 game against the SoCal Moguls, and have another four home games remaining on the schedule that runs through May 28.
It’s a start for the new-look team and its new ownership, which initially came into the league as the Portland Storm in 2021, before acquiring the Volcanoes’ image and brand rights from former owner Bryan Hunter.
“It’s been great. We’ve been having a little bit more fans every game, and it picks up a little more,” Hill said. “Hopefully we can get it back to where it was before when Bryan Hunter had it. That’s the goal, to try to get it back to where it was.”
This year’s roster was constructed through a tryout process that players went through, with the exception of players who were already playing overseas or in college, in addition to two draft picks the Volcanoes held in the 2021 TBL draft.
For their first season, the Volcanoes went with a roster mostly made up of players who hail from or have ties to the Pacific Northwest.
Andre McCowan (Roosevelt), Devaunte Paschal (Jefferson) and Markus Golder (Clackamas) all played high school basketball in the Portland metro area. Georgia native Jaylyn Richardson finished his collegiate career at Western Oregon. Rob Harris starred at Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School and went on to play at Western Washington.
“This year, since we’re starting back up … you don’t want to try to bite off more than you can chew,” Hill said. “That played a big factor in the roster that we have. We went with a lot of local guys from Portland to here to Seattle.”
The team currently holds a 4-14 record, sitting sixth out of seven teams in the West division standings, though that number only tells part of the story.
For instance, during an April road trip to Southern California, several players, along with head coach and general manager Jeff Perrault, had their flights canceled. That left the Volcanoes with just six players to face the Moguls and San Diego Sharks on back-to-back nights, and Hill, also one of the team’s assistant coaches, leading the team.
“We lost both games, but we competed,” Hill said. “That’s all you can really ask for in that type of situation. It could have been way worse.”
They also had just eight healthy players for Friday’s home game, a 134-129 loss to the Moguls.
“Like coach Perrault always says, ‘The circumstances change, but the standards always remain the same,’ ” Hill said.
Aside from a few hiccups, Hill said the Volcanoes’ first TBL season has been smooth. Their goal for the final few weeks is to build on their momentum going into next season, not only on the court, but also in terms of growing fan interest and further establishing relationships with local businesses.
“The city of Vancouver is behind us, Mayor Anne (McEnerny-Ogle), she’s been phenomenal working with us and she’s a huge supporter of the team. … We’re just looking for more corporate partnerships as well, you know, to keep this thing going,” Hill said.
Following a road trip this weekend, the Volcanoes will return home on May 20 to face the Salem Capitals at 7:30 p.m. General admission tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 5-13 plus seniors and military. Discounts available for five and 10 ticket purchases. More information can be found at www.vancouvervolcanoes.com.