A New Team in Denver
- By Ken Walden, Day 1, 2021
Sports Illustrated: JBL Issue
The Denver Dragons are one of ten new teams in the JBL, providing a new option for fans of basketball, especially in the Denver area. The Dragons owner has brought in a brand new management team from outside the JBL. We had a chance to sit down with the Denver GM and talk about his plans for the new franchise, his thoughts on the offseason, and his hopes for the future.
SI: So first of all, what interested you in the JBL? Why the JBL, and why an expansion team?
Aeon: As you know, my experience comes from outside the JBL, in other basketball leagues. A fellow GM of mine in another league told me to take a look at the JBL, and I was fascinated by the style of play over here. This was about a year ago, and when I saw that expansion was in the works, that really intrigued me. I've never taken a team over from scratch. I've always been fascinated with the idea, but even when leagues I was a part of were expanding, I couldn't bring myself to leave the team I had built a history with. So I chose to wait a bit and come join the JBL once expansion started. It's an opportunity I have always wanted, to start from nothing. And to do it here, with such an exciting league and exciting model, I just had to do it.
SI: What has it been like here in Denver?
Aeon: I'm loving it here. We have a great owner with a great approach to the sport. He's a local guy, made his money in real estate here in Colorado. And most importantly, I think, he was an Olympic athlete back in his day, in skiing. And he brings that Olympic mentality to the team. He knows athlete need support, facilities, great training and coaching, and he wants his team in Denver to be world class. What else could you ask for from an owner?
SI: How would you describe your approach to the team?
Aeon: I think a team needs to grow both top down and bottom up. So some of the feel of the team will come from me, and some of it will come from the players we find and bring to Denver. But to be honest, my thoughts about the team really grew out of the name. The Dragons. The dragon has everything you want in a basketball team. On offense you've got a lot of weapons: you've got wings help you soar, playing above the rim and breathing fire from a distance. You've got claws that slash. And if we get close we bite you in half, or swallow you whole. And then on defense, you've got an impenetrable hide. I mean, that's all I want in a basketball team, and that's what I hope to build here. And of course, dragons are very possessive of their den, and they love to hoard gold. I think you'll find we're as possessive of our home court, and as greedy for trophies.
SI: Speaking of home court, people talk about the advantage of playing in mile high Denver. Is that something you want to take advantage of?
Aeon: Well, the difference at altitude is real. I mean, athletes come from all over the world to train here because of the advantage it gives them in their sport. And that's something that our owner, as a former Olympic athlete, is well aware of. So our first priority for guys coming to play basketball here has to be their conditioning. We're going to need to play a full 48 minutes up here at Peak Arena, 41 times a year, and then some. So we are really prioritizing the fitness of our players. There are guys around the league who can put in 30 minutes a game elsewhere, but have them come play here and they're going to be winded by halftime. So we have to be careful about that, about getting guys we think can last a whole game and then conditioning them well.
SI: All right, but it seems you're dodging the answer here. Do you think your home court puts you at an advantage in home games?
Aeon: The way I think about it is this--to play in Peak Arena you're going to have to be in fantastic shape. So teams that come in here with some guys who perhaps are limited in the minutes they play, they're going to be more limited. But everyone's going to be tested here, our guys and yours. And that's on top of guys already having to get used to the expanded 82-game schedule. So I see the conditions here as a restraint on everybody, but mostly on us, who play here 41 times a year. Because of that, we're forced to prioritize fitness. The upside is, we're going to have the fittest, best conditioned players in the JBL. That will be an advantage here in Denver, where everyone will be tested, but it will also be an advantage in every other arena in the JBL. So the arena itself isn't an advantage, but I hope our players will prove to be one.
SI: Fair enough. But will you guys run at a high pace to try to press that advantage? I imagine teams coming into Denver would like to do the opposite.
Aeon: I hope to have the best conditioned guys in the JBL here, and so it makes sense to push the pace and take advantage of that, sure. Listen, I'm a fan of basketball but I'm also a big fan of the TV show, Survivor. The motto there is "Outwit. Outplay. Outlast." And I think that applies to basketball as well. If our guys are in great shape, if Denver is a tough place to play, if we run faster than the opponent wants we'll outlast you. The other guys can have the better team, but if they're on the bench, winded, we've just taken that advantage away.
SI: So what about outwit and outplay?
Aeon: Well, outwit is coaching. We want our coach to beat your coach, to get smarter, to play the better lineups, pick the best matchups. That's something that will take us time. Our whole staff is new to the JBL and so what we know about basketball from elsewhere may not apply here. And of course we have yet to hire a coach. But that's a third of the game.
SI: And outplay is the rest?
Aeon: Yes, of course it comes down to the players doing their thing. We provide the conditioning, the facilities, the training. We provide the coaching. We pick the players. And then it's out of our hands and into theirs to play the better game.
SI: Thanks for your time, but tell me finally about the kind of players you're looking for as GM?
Aeon: Well, every GM probably would say the same thing, because we all want the perfect player. But because of what we've talked about already, you can see I'm going to prioritize guys with endurance, who can play all day. That's a necessity here, because a guy who can only play 25 minutes elsewhere won't even be able to do that here. I'm also looking for athletes. I think from our owner on down, or focus on Denver is on guys who are just exceptional athletes. We can coach and train a guy to play better, but we can't teach size or athleticism. If we can put out a team of exceptional athletes who can outrun you, out jump you, and outlast you, I think we'll have a shot. This is a league loaded already with great players on great teams. We're going to have to be scrappy, starting from the bottom, and just wear teams out. Outside of that, I have a love for efficient scorers, those guys who don't make mistakes, get a little of everything done. That's a personal preference, but I'm going to have to see more of this league,what the offenses are like, the defenses, what kind of players are out there, before I really know what kind of guys we need in Denver.
SI: That said, you've already brought some players in, including the #6 pick in the draft. He's the kind of guy you want in Denver?
Aeon: Like I said, I'm only half of the puzzle, the players will be the other half. When I saw Bracey still available at #6 I knew we had to take him, regardless of any plans I had for the team. That's part of the game, you see what falls to you. Odell's going to be a real star in Denver, I'm sure of that, and so we will build around him. I'm excited to see him in Dragon green. But I don't need to say much about Odell -- I'm sure you'll get plenty of quotes from him.
SI: Indeed, an interview with Odell Bracey, Denver's first pick in the draft, will be coming up soon. Thank you, Aeon, for your time with us today. And watch the pages of Sports Illustrated for more on the Denver Dragons.