By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com

Beginning in 2017, the newly formed professional basketball league began to play in North America. Since then, they have added on more teams and taken on a more refined look. Forty-six teams will play in The Basketball League this season, with nineteen of these teams playing in the league for the first time in 2022. The Basketball League (TBL) has become one of the few minor league basketball organizations providing player salaries from $1,500 to $6,500 per month, while teams operate on a budget of $125,000 to $250,000 per season.

Additionally, the TBL is dedicating itself to delivering a World Class Professional Basketball experience to our community, fans, and business partners. They want to provide communities with professional basketball teams that give an affordable/quality family entertainment experience. They intend on providing their players with educational opportunities to learn from nationally acclaimed life skills classes for financial literacy, health and wellness, nutrition, preventative medicine, and sports biomechanics. The TBL also plans on offering support and encouragement to local communities through engagement in school and group appearances, youth camps, clinics, and non-profit organizations, while allowing basketball players to make a living playing the game they love.

Bakersfield Magic Logo (Photo: @bakersfieldmagic Instagram)

The league seeks to allow local groups and companies to own a professional sports team at a relatively low-cost barrier to entry, enabling this to gain a return on their investment while positively impacting their region. This unique concept is in line with their values of leadership, Self-Worth, Education, and Respect. Further evidence that this league is on the cutting edge of valuing people is the decision to employ Karaya Gage as their Head Coach of the Bakersfield Magic.

As a young athlete growing up in Bakersfield, CA., Karaya started out running track and playing basketball for fun. “Coming from, track you’re out there by yourself. In your lane, running your race. But, in basketball you got 4 other people on the court. So, you have to communicate more and you have to learn how your teammates move and the things they like. So teamwork that was the biggest thing.” Is what she told me, when I asked her about the biggest lesson she learned, from her life in basketball.

During her senior year of high school, Gage had to overcome a heart ailment, which would later diagnose with Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVC), meaning she has an extra heartbeat, and due to its randomness, it makes it difficult to diagnose. This would keep her from being cleared to play most of her senior year of high school. Fortunately for her, this “never impacted” her college career. But what this did teach her is that “sports can go away quickly. So, you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. So, getting to college and getting an education” would give her something to fall back on.

Having been in and out of coaching for several years and understanding that coaching itself can be stressful, I facetiously wanted to know how Gage dealt with the stresses that coaching put on her heart. “It does, but also it gives me joy, to sit on the sidelines and see my players out there succeeding on the court. It makes the long nights and early mornings all worth it.”

Gage added, “Every couple of years, I find myself sitting back on the sidelines somewhere. When I sat out my senior year, I got a glimpse of coaching. Then my freshman year of college, I tore my ACL, and I sat out again and got another glimpse of it at the collegiate level. Honestly, I don’t know it’s just something about it. Being able to understand the game on that level made this a little easier for me. Understanding how to draw up a play and defensive schemes I, kind of like that, I enjoy that. To see how we put things in and how it works together.” 

“I started at California State University, Stanislaus; I had the opportunity to start there. This job took me back to my alma mater Taft Community College and then to California State University, Bakersfield. I got something from each of those places, and the coaches and the athletes there, that I think led to this moment of me being where I am. My career is a culmination of all those years of playing, all those years of coaching.” This is how Gage explained her journey as a basketball lifer.

When asked about how she developed her coaching style Gage said, “I took from the coaches I played for, it’s just how they interact with the players how they run their practice and their practice plans; what things work and in what order. I took that from the coaches I played for. I kind of like Doc Rivers, he always talking; ’you got to talk on defense; you got to communicate.’ I like his coaching style; I like how he does things, if you’re not talking on defense, you’re not playing. It’s just a mixture of everyone I have been around.”  

After coaching at various levels, Karaya was on FaceBook when she initially learned about The Basketball League (TBL). She found it interesting that they would be bringing professional basketball back to Bakersfield. She later responded to a link she saw on Instagram, asking, “hey do you have any job openings in the future, when you get ready to play? Not thinking about coaching; Didn’t mention coaching, I just said a job. And here I am now.”

“We want to be community-based and community-driven.” This league intends to have a community focus, she explains to me that, once they get their team together, “our ultimate goal is to get out in the community, is to volunteer and for them to know who we are as well as the players.”  

“Especially for the young kids and young adults here in town, for them to be able to interact with professional basketball players. For them to be able to interact with them, be up close and personal with them, ask questions when they see them around town. Know, that they are approachable, knowing they can take a picture with them, and having a conversation with them is important to me. We get out there and do that.” Gage says about the goals for the new Bakersfield Magic, which is expected to begin playing in the Spring of 2022. 

When asked about the type of player coach Gage wants on her team, the only female head coach in The Basketball League made it clear to me, “You got to be a hard worker and have good body language and be a good teammate. If you play hard and work hard, we can work with you. I think attitude is the biggest part of it.” She recited a line from an old coach which summarizes this message perfectly, “Know your role, learn your role and do your role!” 

Coach Karaya Gage left me with this message when asked about the best lesson she’s learned in her journey, “Be authentic! Be who you are! Don’t try to play someone else’s game. You see people trying to shoot like Steph Curry; you’re not Steph Curry. Be authentic, be upfront, be real with that!”

Lastly, coach Gage shared this powerful message with me, “representation matters! Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of female coaches and didn’t see a lot of women of color. There’s starting to be more and I believe there’s a lot more of us out there, we just need an opportunity. I always tell people, it’s not about me never has and never will be. It’s about the people coming up behind me. You pay your dues and put in your time, and you will get there.”

Former Director of Community Engagement for the National Basketball League Evelyn Magley will serve as CEO for the TBL. Previous Academic All-American at Kansas University and commissioner of the National Basketball League of Canada David Magley has been named President. Their VP Victoria Jones will head the Financial Literacy and Personal Development program. Due to COVID restrictions, the financial literacy program will run both virtually and in person due. Jones will utilize her expertise to provide players and personnel with techniques to ease mental, physical, and emotional stress.

Former Director of Community Engagement for the National Basketball League Evelyn Magley will serve as CEO for the TBL. Previous Academic All-American at Kansas University and commissioner of the National Basketball League of Canada David Magley has been named President. Their VP Victoria Jones will head the Financial Literacy and Personal Development program. Due to COVID restrictions, the financial literacy program will run both virtually and in person due. Jones will utilize her expertise to provide players and personnel with techniques to ease mental, physical, and emotional stress.

This league appears to have a solid base and is intent on having a positive impact on the community is impressive. Anyone would have to appreciate that focus. I will be eager to see how the league competes with the NBA as it will tip-off as the NBA season is approaching their playoffs. The community involvement of those cities with the TBL will be pretty interesting to follow. Kindly share your thoughts on The Basketball League and their inaugural journey with Head Coach Karaya Gage and the potential of this league by reaching out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or shoot me an email at info@whatsgoodinsports.com. I encourage you to forward any suggestions on what topics, angles, or players on this Los Angeles Chargers team you would like to read about this season.

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