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New places, new faces: 2016 season set to tip off

By Craig Fata, 01/06/16, 12:45PM CST


New teams added, new coaches and players to watch


January 6, 2016

ST. LOUIS – The Midwest Professional Basketball Association’s second season tips off Saturday, as the defending champion Champaign Swarm host the Windy City Groove, and league newcomers Lima Express and Pontiac 66ers see their first action on Sunday.

                But the champs will have a vastly different look from when they were last seen, hoisting the trophy after a title game win over the St. Louis RiverSharks last April.  Out as head coach is Chris Daleo.  He’s been replaced by hall-of-fame coach John Spezia, who, in his thirty-plus years as a coach, instructor, and administrator, won a national junior college championship, directed camps in the U.S., Europe, the Caribbean and the Philippines, and twice earned national junior college coach of the year honors.

                The Swarm will feature a completely different lineup than they had in 2015, as will many teams in the MPBA, due to the developmental nature of the league--more than twenty MPBA players have advanced to foreign or higher pro leagues since the start of the 2015 season.  The Swarm’s opening night opponent, the Windy City Groove, will also have a bunch of new faces on the court, but coach Handy Johnson returns for a second season, looking to build upon his team’s strong second half last year.

                Both of the MPBA’s new clubs, the Lima (Ohio) Express, and the Pontiac (Illinois) 66ers, open their seasons on Sunday.  The Express, entering their third season overall and coached by Mark Anderson, host the St. Louis RiverSharks.  The RiverSharks return 2015 MPBA Coach of the Year Al Grushkin, who lost nearly half his team to foreign and D-League call-ups but still led St. Louis to the top overall playoff seed and a berth in the inaugural MPBA finals.

                The 66ers, coached by Durrell Robinson, will host the Gateway Steam—the team Robinson coached to a playoff appearance in 2015.  St. Louis-area native Milton Stith has replaced Robinson as Steam coach.

                The Chicago Blues open their season against the RiverSharks on January 16.

                All MPBA games can be seen live and in high definition at free of charge.