- January 17, 2019
When LD Edwards reflects on his basketball career, it stings how near he was to achieving his dream without quite reaching it. “Man, I was this close to the NBA, but I didn’t make it,” he said.
So how does he live with that disappointment? The 43-year-old assistant coach of the Gulf Coast Lions said he wakes up every morning intent on achieving a new goal: "Helping someone who is this close by giving what I didn't have."
That something is a second chance to play, get better and maybe even achieve their dreams of going professional on a bigger level. The Newtown-based Gulf Coast Lions are part of The Basketball League, formerly North America Premier Basketball, a men’s professional basketball minor league that’s considered below the NBA’s G League, which is the league's official minor league.
Started in 2018 with eight teams, it now has more than 44 teams across the country. In the past two years, each year The Basketball League has sent more than 250 basketball players overseas. Ten of those players have made it into the G-League and three into the NBA.
For many players, it could be their last — or only — shot at the NBA or a higher paying professional career.
In the Newtown Estates Gym, young basketball players glisten with sweat amid a symphony of squeaking sounds their shoes make rubbing the gym floor.
Everyone's focused. Everyone knows what's at stake with every practice and game.
“At first, this was a hobby,” said Nasir Core, 25, a point guard and shooting guard of the Gulf Coast Lions. Core started in football but decided to give basketball a try while he was in high school as a way to get out of football conditioning; however, he grew to love the sport.
After receiving his bachelor's and master's degrees in sports management from Florida A&M University, Core played professional basketball in Africa and Europe for two years. For his third year, he decided to come back to the United States. Because he didn’t want to take a gap year, he joined the Gulf Coast Lions.
"This is a great opportunity to continue your basketball career," said Core. He has even started his own YouTube channel as a way to expand his personal brand. He has over 29,000 subscribers.
Lions President Marcus Tilghman said this team was a way for him to give players some direction he was lacking in his career.
“Looking back at my personal story, I didn’t have anybody to guide me, to point me in the right direction,” said Tilghman.
The 37-year-old considers himself a Sarasota native. Having graduated from Booker High School and later becoming assistant coach for the girls' basketball team, he is familiar with finding and nurturing talented young athletes.
The Lions provide several opportunities for players to build and showcase their skills, include a summer league.
Edwards emphasized that these training camps can be the last opportunity for these athletes to pursue their dream of playing professionally.
“For some of these guys, this is it," he said.
Aside from being a place where young players can learn, develop and grow, the Gulf Coast Lions want to spread the same opportunities to do that outside their gym in the community.
The Lions help put on the Ball Youth Baketball League to help elementary to high school players gain skills via camps and competitions. They also host a youth fall league and conduct Lions Play 90, a program to get kids active by playing interactive games a couple days a week in different location.
One of the things Tilghman is most proud of is the league's mentorship program, A Lion's Reach. Funded by the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, the program connects area youth with players for activities that range from playing a game of pick-up to attending the St. Armands tree lighting ceremony.
“The bigger thing about this team was not so much about having a professional team," he said. "It opened up the door for us to push the mentoring and development of the youth."
That opportunity to reach younger players and provide that direction that he so craved is perhaps most satisfying to Tilghman.
“There are so many kids that have the talent, the level of competition, but just might not know how to do a few things and need that extra push or guidance," he said. "I promised myself that I would be that.”