ABA squad Cannons firing on all cylinders

Even though the Philly Cannons are newcomers to the ABA, they’re starting to make their move.

Even though the Philly Cannons are newcomers to the ABA, they’re starting to make their move. This summer, they excelled in the competitive FiDonce League in preparation for the upcoming ABA season. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Roger Beckwith knows all about the culture of Philly basketball.

Beckwith grew up in West Philadelphia and attended grade school and high school in Chambersburg. He returned to the area to attend the University of Pennsylvania. He had always been involved in athletics, and while football was his sport of choice growing up, including redshirting at Boston College and playing at Penn, he always had a great love for basketball.

Now, he’s keeping that dream alive.

Beckwith is the owner, general manager and coach of the Philly Cannons, who compete in the American Basketball Association.

If you’re an old-school fan, you’d remember the league. It’s where Philly legend Dr. J, Julius Erving, got his start. Other great players like George Gervin, Rick Barry and Moses Malone got their start in the ABA before the league merged with the NBA in 1976.

That was the end of the ABA until 2000, when it was re-formed.

And when he had the opportunity to get involved, Beckwith jumped at it.

“I was a businessman, and I was looking at things when I had a chance to become involved with the ownership group of the West Virginia Wildcatz,” Beckwith said. “It was a great opportunity because I love sports. I’ve loved them my whole life.”

Being able to be a part of a league was fun. But being able to bring the league to Philly, a place he loves, was the perfect situation.

So when there was an opportunity to start the Cannons, Beckwith jumped at the chance.

“I love it because there’s so much talent in this area and these guys deserve a chance to play,” Beckwith said. “Not many guys get drafted into the NBA. You have opportunities overseas, but I wanted to give the guys who couldn’t go overseas a chance to play. And we have some really good players, guys who can really play.”

The ABA is a lot like the NBA, but the rules are juiced up to get higher-scoring games

Teams have seven seconds to get the ball across half court, and if they fail to do so, a 3D light goes on, which makes a two-pointer worth three points, a three-pointer worth four points and a half-court shot is worth five points.

Another rule that differs from the NBA is that players can’t foul out. If a player is assessed with a sixth foul, it also counts as a technical foul.

The high-scoring games get the crowds into it, but so does the passion of the players and the party atmosphere the team brings to its games, including the home games played at Lindenwold High School.

“We are really close to Philly, and we’ve had a lot of home courts, but we’ve settled in really nicely in Lindenwold,” Beckwith said. “It’s been great. We have fans, they love the way we play and they love to support us.

“We have great gear, too. We’re the Cannons, so we wanted to incorporate that into our log, but we wanted to be sensitive. We wanted it to be fun, but still have an edge to it. And people seem to really like it.”

While the ABA season runs from November to April, the Cannons aren’t sitting around waiting for the season to start. Instead, the players are working together in the FiDonce Pro-Am. That league holds games at FiDonce Multi-Sport Facility in Hunting Park and it’s run by Eric “Pooh” Evans, the older brother of Indiana Pacers star Tyreke Evans. The league consists of the best players not in the NBA, according to Beckwith, and this summer the Cannons have proven to be a force.

“We are having a great time, we only have one loss and we’re showing people that we can compete with anyone,” Beckwith said. “We have a lot of guys who are good basketball players. I’ve had some guys who are great success stories and I think we have a few guys on the team now that could be that.”

Because Beckwith wants the best talent available, he’s doing everything in his power to make the league an affordable place for the players to hone their craft.

There are a lot of logistics that go along with playing in the ABA, including travel. The Cannons play in the Northeast 1 Division, which means trips to Atlantic City, Baltimore, New York and Reading, as well as closer trips like Pottstown and a new Philadelphia team, the Stunnaz.

“I want to have a place where the guys can play and not get hit hard for money,” Beckwith said. “I like to keep it as affordable as possible.”

Ticket sales help the Cannons, but they’re also now offering membership to their Fast Break Club, which is essentially a fan club that gives member deals on tickets and merchandise.

“We want it to be fun for the players and the fans,” Beckwith said. “We’re doing great in the FiDonce league and we’re ready for the winter. Jacksonville won the championship last season, we want that to be us this year. We want to win championships. We have the players, now we just have to do it.”

This year, some Cannons games will be shown on PhillyCAM, a public access channel. The games will air Mondays at 3 p.m. For more on the team or to sign up for the Fast Break Club, visit phillycannons.com/fastbreak