Around the Basketball League: Great Falls Electric Amped To Begin First TBL Season, Can They Shock The Western Conference?

The first year of any professional basketball team is the hardest. Thankfully, the Great Falls Electric have some history on their side to count as wins before stepping on the court in Montana.

By Wendell Maxey, Author of Around the Basketball League

January 4, 2024

Expansion franchises tend to be some of the best organizations to cover.

So are first year head coaches and rookie players.

That first year is full of anticipation, preparation, and facing the realities that come with attempting to operate a professional basketball team. It’s not for the faint of heart. Anyone who has taken part in trying to get a project like this off of the ground knowns the exact feeling of being consumed by putting a winning product on the floor and in the community. That’s what the Great Falls Electric face coming into The Basketball League in 2024.

Holding onto hope with a whole lot of promise. A season goes like that sometimes.

So does the offseason, filled with endless workouts, open runs, rest, recovery, and then back to the lab.

Head Coach Johnny Clark recently shared some open thoughts and feelings in a statement about the upcoming season set to tip-off within the next couple of months. They speak volumes about how first-year organizations —like Clark and Great Falls — constantly strive to make a connection between the community and the court. When done correctly, it’s a clear and effective way to rack up a big “win” for everyone who is involved in shaping and growing the organization for the greater good.

But before you get there, you have to start here…

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I fondly recall my time in Great Falls in 2006-07 as an assistant coach with the Great Falls Explorers, in the (now defunct) Continental Basketball Association (CBA). I truly enjoyed that season, as the community and fan base was enthusiastic and supportive to us, and was clearly knowledgeable in it’s basketball. It’s no surprise that such a community would again welcome professional basketball to its city.

Amongst the top of the memories I have from that season include a home game we played against the league-leading Yakima Sun Kings, led by CBA coaching legend Paul Woolpert, who I played for in Yakima years before.

Our Explorers head coach picked up two technical foul calls late in the 3rd quarter, and I took over as acting head coach for the remainder of the game. After the break in play, and down 21 after the two technical free throws, we knew we had our work cut out for us, but we banded together and plugged in.

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Expect the Electric to play fast and furious — a style and outlook that embodies Clark’s own qualities as a player that were rooted deeply in the CBA and an era that exuded toughness. Chalk it up to a Columbus, Ohio upbringing that led Coach Clark to become an Assistant Player Development/Shooting Coach for the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Europe with the famed Olympiakos. Following spending time in player development with the Milwaukee Bucks, the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, and the Shanxi Brave Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association, Coach Clark founded the Ohio All Star Basketball Classic, (Jump25.com) which features both high school Seniors from across Ohio, and also both College Men and Women getting their chance to shine.

These days that glow has extended from Ohio to Great Falls, where the Electric are aiming to stay amped heading into training camp for the 2024 season with two Montana natives — 6’6 forward Brendan Howard who played at North Dakota and the University of Providence and 6’6 forward Isaac Howard (not related) from the University of Providence are already signed to contracts, as is Kareem Jamar, who played with the Big Sky Conference’s University of Montana Grizzlies men’s basketball team from 2010-2014 before going on to play internationally for the past eight years.

Brendan Howard
Isaac Howard

Part of any TBL season is the long list of unknowns. It’s another part of what makes the league so competitive and exciting to watch and follow (or cover as a writer in this case), particularly when it’s under the guise of “expansion”. But this is where Great Falls and Coach Clark has another “W” to count up.

They have some history on their side. Better yet, some local sports history. A lot of “new” teams don’t have that kind of advantage. Along with Clark’s CBA connections and name recognition within player development around the game, former Great Falls Americans Junior A Hockey and Minor League Baseball owner, Jim Keough is serving as the Team Owner and General Manager (JC Isakson will serve as Director of Operations).

“I think people want family entertainment and basketball is very popular with a lot of kids playing it,” Keough said as the offseason got underway.

“And playing at the Four Seasons, we could have up to 5,200 people at a game. So, we’re bringing that atmosphere to Great Falls and I just think as how Great Falls is growing, it’s just going to be a good fit. We’re going to keep it affordable for families. We want a lot of kids there because that’s the future of any sport.”

For Keough — who was drafted in the MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1975 (8th Round) after playing American Legion baseball in Great Falls — his venture and adventure into professional basketball just might result in a home run if all goes well if the organization continues to add guys of Kareem Jamar’s caliber.

“As the general manager of the new pro basketball team, I am so excited to have a player like Kareem (Jamar) playing for us,” said Keough after the signing was announced.

“He brings great leadership and is an outstanding player with a lot of professional experience in playing over in Europe for six years.”

Kareem Jamar

That experience and ability will pay major dividends come game time. Until then and the start of the ‘24 season, the major question mark going into training camp will be: can the Electric bolster enough energy to shock other TBL teams in the extremely competitive Western Conference?

Those teams out West battle. Just ask the Seattle Super Hawks, Salem Capitals, and San Diego Sharks to start with.

No easy ones.

No nights off or easy assignments.

Teams that play together and play for each other.

Continuing Coach Clark’s story and statement, this point sounds like the perfect way for the Great Falls Electric to get charged-up for this 2024 TBL season…

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As we got buckets and defensive stops, I’ll never forget how loud it got in Four Seasons Arena as our fans cheered us on and pushed us in getting that 21 point deficit down to 1…but time ran out on us.

Through the years, through my basketball journey, I’d sometimes think back to THIS game and wish we’d had one… more… minute.

Well, instead of another minute, now we get a whole new season to get Great Falls rocking again!

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Wendell Maxey is the author of Around The Basketball League and has written about professional basketball and sports for 20 years. He’s been featured on NBA.com, ESPN.com, USA Today, FOX Sports, and SLAM Magazine among other publications and media outlets. You can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or read through his archive on Linktree. This 2024 season, Wendell will also be a featured writer with the Basketball Super League.

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