SHAWNEE, OKLA. — The offseason for the Potawatomi Fire brought significant change. A new coach. A completely overhauled roster with just two returnees from a season ago. Even new uniforms which the team unveiled on Tuesday night. But if Tuesday’s exhibition result is even the slightest indication, it should be an exciting sophomore season with heightened expectations. Newcomer T.J. Maston led the new look Fire to a dominant, yet balanced destruction of the visiting Tri-State 66ers, with the home team running away with a 137-88 victory. Eight of ten Fire players scored in double figures and all ten men currently on the roster had at least five points and two rebounds.
Maston, who earned the 2017-18 Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year with the Baylor Bears, tallied a team-high 26 points and shared the team high with 13 rebounds. Maston (DeSoto, Texas) signed with the Fire in the offseason after playing last year with Dallas in TBL having also played in the NBA’s G-League and in NBL-Canada. Lyle Hexom (Omaha, Neb. / Peru State) was another big-time offseason acquisition for the Fire and he recorded a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Hexom showed why he was the 2022 TBL Defensive Player of the Year (for Beaumont) with three blocks while altering several others, to go along with his work on the glass (10 of 13 boards were defensive rebounds).
The 2022 TBL Most Valuable Player Deshawn Munson (East St. Louis, Ill. / Harris-Stowe) posted a solid stat line with 14 points, seven assists, and six rebounds. The other returning Fire player from 2022, Tevin Foster (Lawton, Okla. / Abilene Christian) had 18 points, five rebounds, and three steals.
Je’lon Hornbeak (Long Beach, Calif.) is a new face on the Fire but a familiar face to many in the area, having played for the Oklahoma Sooners from 2012-14 before finishing at Monmouth. Hornbeak was the top gun from outside on Tuesday, knocking down five three-pointers for 15 points. Two former Fire rival opponents, Chuck Guy and K.D. Moore, followed their coach in joining the Fire. Guy (Ft. Worth, Texas / Tarleton State) nearly notched a triple-double for his new team, with 11 points, a team-high 10 assists, and seven rebounds. Moore (Paris, Texas / East Central) also was strong across the board with 10 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Newcomers Rashaun Coleman (Houston, Texas / Oklahoma City Univ.) and A.J. Turner (Mt. Clement, Mich / Northwestern) also contributed six and five points respectively, with Turner also having four boards and three blocks.
“First off, it was really nice to play against somebody other than ourselves. We’ve been going hard for two weeks, with two-a-days and things like that. It gets old playing against yourself,” said new Fire head coach Mark Dannhoff. “There were so many positives. There’s obviously things we need to work on and refine. But I really love the way we pushed the ball. I thought in the first half, our defense was outstanding and challenged every shot. We sat down and guarded. Our switches were good. And on offense, we were moving the ball, sharing the ball. We were getting assists one right after another. We have really good guard play and obviously, T.J. Maston did a good job. I was also pleased with Chris Brand (Starkville, Miss. / Alcorn State; 16 pts, 7 rebs, 2 blocks). He was on the floor two or three times, diving for loose balls. Everybody did a great job executing. For the first night, it was a pretty good night.”
DANNHOFF ON THE PLAY OF HIS BIG MEN…
“The bigs (Maston, Hexom, Brand) were really good. Obviously, they had a bit of an advantage down there, but they did a great job and were poised. The 66ers came after them with double teams late in the first half and continued into the second half. They adjusted and played inside and out with each other, and we went right back to them. I was really pleased with everybody.”
The Fire owned a big size advantage and it showed in the stat lines, with the Fire outrebounding the 66ers 72-54 and blocking 10 shots compared to none for the visitors. The Fire controlled things from the start, leading 26-17 after one and 66-39 at the break. They continued to pull away, owning a 92-58 after three quarters and leading by as much as 54 points before the final margin. The Fire nearly matched the entire Tri-State output with 84 points just in the paint. Bench points went to the Fire, 60-34, as did points off turnovers, 25-10.
Javon Reilford led the 66ers with 20 points. The 66ers are located in Pittsburg, Kansas, and compete in the Mid-America Basketball Association.
The Fire now prepare to open their second season on the road at the defending champions, the Shreveport Mavericks. The regular season tips off for the Fire with a 7 pm start from the Gold Dome in Shreveport, next Wednesday, March 1. The Fire captured both regular season meetings last year with the Mavs before falling to the eventual champs in a best-of-three conference semifinal playoff matchup.
DANNHOFF ON FACING THE DEFENDING CHAMPS SHREVEPORT TO OPEN THE SEASON…
“Obviously the competition changes quite a bit. You’re talking about the defending champions. They’re well-coached, and they play hard. A very talented team. I know they’ve gone out and loaded up again. It’s never easy on the road, but it’s especially never easy playing a really good team on the road. They’re experienced and they’re championship-experienced. We’ve got some things to work on and some things to clean up. We’re going to go down there and compete.”
ABOUT THE FIRE AND THE BASKETBALL LEAGUE…
The Potawatomi Fire concluded their first TBL (The Basketball League) season in June 2022, winning 21 of 29 games played including the playoffs. They were 18-6 in the regular season to earn the third seed in the Central Conference portion of the playoffs. They won their first round playoff series before falling in the conference semifinal round. The Fire are the first professional basketball team owned by a Native American tribe (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) in Oklahoma. The Fire compete in the Central Conference of TBL, a men’s professional basketball league, now with nearly 50 teams in over 20 different states across the U.S. and Canada. The Fire organization was named the 2022 winner of the Jim Koch Award as TBL’s Best Ran Business, despite the Fire being a first-year franchise. The dance team of the Fire, the Fire Girls, were named Best Dance Team.
The TBL season begins in February and runs through June, concluding with a championship playoff tournament. The players that make up the rosters of the TBL teams are former NCAA (Division I, II or III) or NAIA athletes. Many have played in the NBA or NBA’s developmental G-League as well as professionally overseas for several years and are continuing their careers closer to home or seeking a larger contract in another professional league.
Story by Justin Wollard • Photos by Landon Kidney