Starting up a minor league professional basketball team in Santa Barbara is hardly the riskiest thing Curt Pickering has ever done. Pickering, 51, has spent most of his adult life on the fringes of the hoop world as a traveling NBA scout and as a coach in far-off locales (Kuwait City, Winnipeg, Dubai, and Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela). He took the job in Kuwait as coach of the Kazma Club shortly after the first Gulf War. The club put him up in a beachfront apartment, but he did not venture out onto the sand.
“Bomb squads would come and set off landmines that were left over from the war,” Pickering recalled. “The ground would shake. But the most dangerous mines were little ones called toe-poppers. They would blow your foot off.”
The coaching gigs enabled Pickering to put some money in the bank every time he returned to Santa Barbara, where he’s lived for the past 18 years. But after a wild season in Venezuela (“I left the floor in Caracas holding a clipboard over my head to protect myself from the bottles”), he’d had enough. He settled down and focused on the Montecito Basketball Academy, a youth program he started when his son Sage was born in 1997.
Pickering told me last year he had an urge to bring Santa Barbara into the International Basketball League (IBL), a fledgling pro circuit with a season that runs from April to June. I did my best to discourage him, reminding him of the Islanders, who should have been named the Santa Barbara Busts. They were a Continental Basketball Association (CBA) team woefully underfinanced and had to leave town before the end of the 1990 season because they didn’t pay the rent at SBCC. It was the Islanders that brought Pickering to Santa Barbara-he was their general manager-and he pointed out that the IBL avoids the pitfalls of the CBA. The 24-team league has a short season that doesn’t conflict with our college and prep basketball, and the schedule is regionalized to keep travel costs down.
So far, Pickering’s made all the right moves. He held a contest to name the team and received 1,000 submissions. The winner, chosen by a celebrity panel, is right on: the Breakers, which combines the images of crashing waves and fast-paced basketball.
Bob Contons received a prize for suggesting the name-a limo ride to and tickets for the Breakers’ home opener on April 13 at SBCC-but it turned out he was one of 30 who had proposed the same name. Contons won by having his name drawn out of a hat. Pickering diffused any controversy by offering tickets to the 29 other contestants.
The Breakers have signed a couple local favorites-Adama Ndiaye (UCSB) and Shantay Legans (Dos Pueblos High/Cal Berkeley/Fresno State)-and tonight, March 22, they will hold a mock draft at Madison’s Sports Grill (525 State St.) around 7 p.m. They are expected to proclaim territorial rights to UCSB’s Cecil Brown and Westmont’s Santiago Aguirre. Santa Barbara will open its first IBL season on the road April 6-7 at the Tri-Valley Titans of Livermore and the Chico Force.
COLLEGE HOOP NOTES: Making their 12th consecutive appearance in the postseason, UCSB’s women scored a 75-63 victory at the University of San Diego, but two nights later fell to Oregon, 70-54, in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament at McArthur Court, Oregon’s ancient den of intimidation. Gaucho center Jenna Green, who had averaged 25 points in her previous four games, was limited to 13 by the Ducks, and UCSB’s other shooters made only 14 of 51 shots.
Gaucho coach Mark French did not miss his opening when an official admitted to him that her crew had blown a call. “Now I see why you aren’t refereeing the NCAA tournament,” French told her. She slapped him with a technical foul. “I thought I was pretty clever,” said French, whose team finished with a 19-14 record.
The Gaucho men’s team (18-11) can hang its sombrero on a 79-76 victory at UNLV in November. The Rebels are in the NCAA Sweet 16 after upsetting No. 2 seed Wisconsin.
Westmont (16-13) gave a respectable showing as the No. 32 seed in the NAIA men’s championships at Kansas City against No. 1 Robert Morris (32-0 as of Monday). The Warriors lost 81-68, and their center Santiago Aguirre, a senior out of Santa Barbara High, scored a game-high 20 points.
Westmont’s women (17-13) also went to the nationals and bowed out with a 67-53 loss to No. 9 Trevecca Nazarene.
Besides Aguirre, two other former Santa Barbara Dons standouts, Taylor Rochestie and Maria Cordero, got a bittersweet taste of March Madness. Washington State’s hopes for a berth in the Sweet 16 hinged on Rochestie’s three-point attempt late in the second overtime period, but his shot hit the rim, and Vanderbilt followed with a breakaway layup to secure a 78-74 victory in the most dramatic game of the weekend. Rochestie, a sophomore who had been a clutch player in Wazoo’s late-season run, had five assists against Vandy. In the women’s NCAA first round, Cordero had a bucket and two rebounds off the bench for Oklahoma State, which lost a close one to favored Bowling Green.