The 76ers’ G League basketball team speeds toward Wilmington debut
If nothing else, the Philadelphia 76ers understand the importance of the color blue in Delaware, and not just in politics. We have the Blue Rocks and Blue Hens and we used to have the Blue Bombers. And now we have the Blue Coats.
That’s the new name of the 76ers’ G League team that will set up shop in Wilmington for the 2018-19 season. And that shop is a brand new one as the Sixers build a spanking new arena near the Christina River waterfront to mark the team’s transition from Delaware 87s to Delaware Blue Coats—the name is a tip of the tricorn hat to the uniforms worn by the 1st Delaware Infantry Regiment during its distinguished service in the American Revolution.
The new arena, which will sit on an 8.9-acre parcel of land off North DuPont Highway (Route 13) and Garasches Lane, will be 140,000 square feet, with about 2,500 seats. It will have three full-length basketball courts and two indoor turf fields that can be used for multiple youth sports, including basketball, volleyball, soccer, field hockey, lacrosse and wrestling. Plus, it will have a Titus Sports Academy, a training arts center and a Nemours physical therapy and orthopedic clinic.
Various youth groups are lining up to take advantage of the new facility.
“The response has been amazing already, largely because of the versatility of the venue,” Blue Coats President Larry Meli says.
A Neglected Side of the Christina
That is exactly what the City of Wilmington was hoping to hear when officials decided to partner with the 76ers and build the new facility in an area known more for its abandoned warehouses than fancy arenas. The site on Garasches Lane is across the Christina River from the rejuvenated Wilmington Riverfront, and this is the first big-ticket enterprise on that side of the river.
Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki says he is “glad that we are now seeing development along a part of the Riverfront that has largely been neglected up until now, but which has a great deal of potential.
“What’s more, kids from our neighborhoods will be participating in what’s billed as an elite program, and I think that’s really important for neighborhood pride. And when a neighborhood has that sense of pride, good things follow.”
Just as the Blue Rocks’ Frawley Stadium was the keystone for development on the west side of the Christina, the City hopes 76ers Fieldhouse will be an anchor for development on the east side, while giving Wilmington’s image a boost in the process.
“I think that having the Blue Coats play in Wilmington is going to be hugely important for our brand as a thriving, vibrant city,” Purzycki says. “We want to take advantage of the stature that comes from having the 76ers’ name on the side of the building, and I expect that our hotels, restaurants and shops will all benefit from the economic ripple effects that will come from having crowds of people attending G League games along the Riverfront.”
As for the kind of team you’ll see playing at 76ers Fieldhouse, their approach will be similar to the Blue Rocks’—the main goal for both minor league teams is player development. The difference is that the Blue Rocks are a Single A team and their players are mostly years away from playing in the big leagues, whereas Blue Coats players could be just a quick phone call and a short drive away from suiting up for an NBA game.
That means the Blue Coats will follow the 76ers’ playing style and philosophy. Elton Brand, a former Sixers player, is the Blue Coats general manager and he makes it clear that even though he wants to put a winning team in Wilmington, it’s the team in Philadelphia that really counts. And that indoctrination isn’t just about the Xs and Os—it’s also about playing the game the right way.
“Player development, work ethic and culture are the core principles of our program,” Brand says.
Of course, winning (or losing) is a big part of a team’s culture, so the Blue Coats will try to win. But nurturing and developing players so they can take the quick trip up I-95 to South Philly is their main mission. That means adopting everything the Sixers do.
“When we’re looking at players for the G League, we’re looking at the Sixers—defense, playing with pace and playing with space,” Brand says. “We’ll follow the exact same system, with defensive-minded players that can grow.
“We want to make sure this group gets that same kind of attention, so we can develop those guys with the Sixers and make sure they can go back and forth [between teams],” Brand adds. “We want to make sure they’re ready, because they may have to play significant minutes [if they get called up]. So, the majority of my focus is making sure our 12-15 players are being developed properly.”
As for attendance, the 87s were pretty much ignored when they played at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark, but the 76ers are hoping that the move to a new arena in the state’s biggest city will pay off.
76er Trickle-Down Effect?
The Blue Coats also are counting on the current popularity of the 76ers and the anticipation for the future that’s been created by young stars like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid having a trickle-down effect in Wilmington.
“The Sixers’ recent success is incredibly exciting and there is no doubt that will boost interest in the Blue Coats,” Meli says. “Our NBA G League team is a critical aspect of the basketball developmental program led by [Sixers coach] Brett Brown. The Fieldhouse is strategically located within one hour of the 76ers headquarters, which will allow some of the 76ers young players to further hone their skills with the Blue Coats.
“Last season, for example, Furkan Korkmaz played in Delaware frequently, which gave our fans a close-up look at one of the 76ers’ young stars, and we expect those types of opportunities to continue.”
Still, like their minor-league cousins across the river, the Blue Coats know they can’t depend on star power to attract fans. And, like the Blue Rocks, the Blue Coats will make sure that there’s plenty of extracurricular activities for fans of all ages.
“We focus on creating experiences for our fans that they will never forget,” Meli says. “Before each game, you can hear a chalk talk from Connor Johnson, our new head coach, or you can sit on the bench for pre-game warm-ups. … For the kids, we have an expansive Kidszone, including inflatables and interactive exhibits. We’ll have a beautiful hospitality area to be used for corporate and group entertainment.
“For us, it’s all about creating life-long memories for our Blue Coats fans.”