Saturday, 20 October 2018 02:24

Hope, Heath, and Possibilities Abound for New Look Americans

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And just like that, the Philadelphia Americans were all in.


Shortly before Christmas, general manager Jay Amado threw in the towel on the Horace Robinson experiment, and the Americans announced that he would be dealt to the Honolulu Inferno for an on-paper unremarkable collection of expiring salary and what looked to be a late first round pick. Robinson and bench sparkplug Henry Barrick were sent away in a three-team trade, with Robinson landing in Hawaii and Barrick heading south, to the Tampa Bay Tritons. Coming to Philadelphia along with the Inferno first round pick were center Jasper Hughes, point guard Henry Moreland, and shooting guard Joey Short.


“That trade was more about balance,” Amado says, looking back on it. “We needed to get the right guys in the right position to make the right shots. We knew Henry was more of a pass-first guy, so that was good, and Jasper and J-Short were more defensive players first. Something we had been lacking for a long time, which is admittedly my fault.”


With big changes being made, many around the league were not fans of what Philadelphia had done, and many more were uncertain about what to expect. The latter extended even into the organization. “When they walked in, you could kinda start to feel the culture change a little bit in the locker room,” head coach Kolby Kurzyna says. “That first practice, it kinda seemed like everybody was feeling each other out. I looked at coach Dempsey, and we were just kinda on the same page where you don't know what to think. Then you roll the balls out, and you see that energy tick back up, and you see guys going at each other with a new intensity, and it gives you a some hope underneath that uncertainty.”


It wasn't long before hope turned into results. After coming out flat in the first game--a 114-106 loss on the road to the Sun Kings--things gelled quicker than anybody could have imagined. The team went 19-3 in their next 22 games, and had entrenched themselves firmly in the mix of the playoff hunt heading into the all-star break. They were just a half game back of the division mainstay Tampa Bay Tritons, and a game and a half behind the upstart Indiana Invaders.


“That was when we started to look around and thinking a window might be opening up for us to really compete,” Amado says. “We started talking to a few GMs at the all-star game, and had some conversation about some bigger deals. But we didn't know if anything would come of them.”


Something did, indeed, materialize at the break. After reportedly initially reaching out about Renato Ardoin and being rebuffed, Amado turned his attention to Hunter Heath, who was playing in the game that weekend. “There weren't any,” Amado says, when asked about negotiating what would eventually become the biggest trade in OBWL history, involving four teams, six all-stars, an OBWL legend, another household name, four draft picks, and one of the few remaining prospects on the Americans roster.


“I made what was my best offer to Tom and he, Gerry, and Josh did the rest. They came back and it took me about 30 seconds to accept. Hunter Heath is a unicorn in this league.”


Out were two first round picks, including the one acquired from Honolulu, Frederic Johnson, and frontcourt mainstay Chris Graves. Coming back were the unicorn himself, along with James Bibbs and Douglas Ruggiero.


“It was as close as we'll get to an all-in move,” Amado says. “We were happy with the way Jasper has been playing, and that made us a little more comfortable in being able to move Graves. We're trying to compete. Double H will give us a chance against anybody in the league. His versatility opens up a lot of doors and possibilities for us.”


Heath will join a roster that features Philadelphia's “Los Asesinos,” Brian Montes (21.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.5 apg, and 2.1 spg) and Matt Torres (17.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.5 apg, with a 59.4 TS%) along with John Newton (18.5 ppg, 7.0  rpg, and 2.2 apg in just 29.8 minutes per game) and two of the three players acquired from the Inferno. Hughes (10.55 ppg, 7.52 rpg, and 3.34 bpg in 25.45 minutes per game since the trade), and Henry Moreland (10.24 ppg, 6.14 apg, 1.17 spg, and 1.66 tpg side arriving) in a rotation where the top six guys are as good as any in the league.


The possibilities that he opens up are indeed, countless, as players like Heath don't come around very often. At 6-11 and 265 lbs, he's got center size. However, he's also got quick hands and feet that mean you can put him on the perimeter. He handles the ball like a guard, rebounds like a big man, and has range all the way out to the three point line. “We've got scorers,” Kurzyna says. “Now, with Double H, we can unleash them. He allows us to do things that no other player in the league will. Torres and Jasper and Brian are versatile too. This one trade allows us to come at you with any one of different lineups on any given night. We're all excited.”


Heath is a made the All-Star team the last three years, has a Heikkinen Cup to his name, and has been named to the All-Defense team three times and All-OBWL once. For his career he is averaging 11.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.9 blocks, and just 1.5 fouls and 1.4 turnovers in only 30.2 minutes per game. He has gotten off to a solid start in Philadelphia, averaging 14.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.8 spg, and a 62.75 TS% as the team has won four of their first five games with him in the lineup. Sitting at 33-20 overall, and still trailing the Sun Kings, Invaders, and Tritons in the American East division, it will be an uphill battle for them to deliver on the hopes that Heath brings with him.

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