Long road to Kokomo as Patroons begin TBL East Regional Finals

Head coach Will Brown's Albany Patroons lost 123-110 at Kokomo to open the TBL East Regional Finals on Thursday.
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Head coach Will Brown's Albany Patroons lost 123-110 at Kokomo to open the TBL East Regional Finals on Thursday.

Your image of Kokomo may come from the Beach Boys song, all sand, tropical drinks and falling in love to the rhythm of a steel drum band.

“That’s where you wanna go to get away from it all.”

For the Albany Patroons, it means cases of energy drinks that head coach Will Brown bought at Market 32 on Tuesday for a 12-hour bus ride on Wednesday to Indiana, where “they’ve got 1,000 cowbells going” in your ear.

That’s where the Patroons wanna go to win it all.

Kokomo, Indiana, is the next stop for Albany in its quest for the championship of The Basketball League, in an East Regional Finals best-of-three series that begins at 7 p.m. Thursday night at the Bobkats’ Kokomo Memorial Gymnasium. Game 2 is 5 p.m. Sunday at the Washington Avenue Armory, and Game 3, if necessary, would be at 7 p.m. Monday at the Armory.

Thursday’s game will be live-streamed at TBLTV.tv/patroons.

The top-seeded Patroons are coming off a two-game sweep of Huntsville and face a daunting task in the regional finals against a deep team that shook off a 1-7 start to the regular season to become one of the final four teams standing of 44 in the TBL.

Throw in the bus ride and a loud, boisterous crowd that the Bobkats’ fans are known for, and the Patroons face a stiff challenge.

“I kept it real simple,” Brown said on the phone Tuesday while stocking up at the supermarket on drinks and snacks. “I said I don’t care if we have to drive 100 hours on a bus, we have to get off that bus and find a way to win.

“There’s no excuses this time of year. There’s four teams left, all four teams are good enough to win it, and in my opinion the team that makes the fewest self-inflicted mistakes will be the team that wins.”

The Kokomo head coach is Cliff Levingston, who won NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls in 1991 and 1992.

Based on having watched “an awful lot of film on them” – the Patroons and Bobkats did not play during the regular season – Brown said Kokomo is atypical of teams in the high-flying TBL.

The Bobkats turned it around after the slow start by adding several players, including their current top three scorers, and have been a hot team, winning 11 of their last 15 games in the regular season before making their playoff push.

“Once they got their team in place, they’ve been riding a huge wave of momentum, and they’ve been winning with strength by numbers,” Brown said.

“With those NHL line changes, I talked to our guys today about the importance of, when they sub, that we understand our matchups, who’s coming in and what they do. You’ve got to recognize it the minute they sub. We’re not used to playing a team that uses that many guys. There’s not much of a drop-off; they’re coming in waves.”

As evidence of the Bobkats’ depth, Brown pointed out that their leading scorer, Derek Hawthorne (23.1 ppg) doesn’t even start.

Brown said he also sees in Kokomo a reflection of its head coach, who played in the NBA from 1982 to 1992 with the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and Bulls, followed by one season in Denver in 1994-95.

“I think they take their head coach’s personality,” Brown said. “Cliff Levingston played in the NBA, has a couple of rings with the Bulls and I think they’re just like Cliff. He was a hard-playing guy who embraced his role.”

Brown is expecting a difficult challenge for his offense against a team that walks the ball up instead of looking to fast-break.

“They over-help on defense constantly,” Brown said. “So every time you drive the ball you’ve got guys running at you, so we’re going to have to take one less dribble, we’ve got to kick it and knock down open shots.

“I spoke to the coach at Toledo, and he said, ‘Hey, both games heading into the fourth quarter, we were OK and they just ended up wearing us down. We played seven guys.’”

“I think they led the TBL in attendance, 3,000 people, and they’ve got 1,000 cowbells going. I was told it’s 120 degrees in the gym, and you can’t hear yourself.”

The Patroons used support from their own fans in pulling out the series-clincher against Huntsville, which led by 16 in the fourth quarter before losing 110-108.

Brown said it was the loudest he’d heard the Armory all season.

Minus that, Albany will be hard-pressed to get out of a similar hole in Kokomo.

“If we play like that against Kokomo, we will get blasted, and it will be an even longer ride home,” he said.

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