Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A second season is all about second chances for Wenatchee Bighorns

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WENATCHEE—For the Wenatchee Bighorns, persistence is everything. The professional basketball team had a rocky debut in 2023, losing half its leadership in April of last year, including Head Coach Don Sims's resignation over pay disputes.

Yet, the Bighorns' second season means a second chance at success in the community. Less than a month before the first game of 2024, the team brought on new managing owner Shawn Cooprider and Head Coach JP Davis to pull together what is typically achieved over the course of six to nine months. 

“This is our second chance, and it's with a group of people that are embracing that second chance and they want to make something of it. That to me is what makes it really cool,” said Cooprider.

The Bighorns are part of the West Conference of The Basketball League, a men’s professional basketball league with over 40 teams across the U.S. As Davis sees it, the league is a second chance for players who may have had life get in the way of their NBA dreams to still play professionally. They are used to working hard and proving themselves, and this season's symbolism is no different.

“I think basketball signifies life in a way. Those that work hard and that are consistent, are usually successful. You also have a number of different ways to be successful in basketball, whether it’s the guy that can shoot threes, or whether it's the big tall seven-footer that’s blessed by God with the height…It’s also a game of imperfections,” said Davis. 

Davis only had a few weeks before their first game to start training with his team. Yet the players are young, tough, and high-energy, which Davis sees as a good foundation for a strong team. As a professional coach, Davis is focused not only on building up the team’s skills on the court but also in the community. He will train them to be professional athletes, how to navigate traveling for work, and how to be community leaders.

“A big thing for us is, basketball is the vehicle that is going to allow us to connect with the community. So yes, we're a basketball team or club, but we're much more,” said Davis.

While TBL makes professional basketball more accessible to players, it’s also making professional athletes more accessible to youth. As Davis puts it, young basketball fans might not be able to afford an NBA game or meet LeBron James, but they will be able to meet Bighorns players after every game or even be taught how to play through Bighorns youth programs.

As Davis leads the team on the court, Cooprider has big plans to make the basketball team a sustainable business.

“We're tearing it back down. We're calling it a reboot. So we're rebooting year one. Essentially, this is year one of what I see in my mind is a three year plan,” said Cooprider.

Cooprider has local ties to the area, having grown up in Wenatchee, but he also has years of entrepreneurial experience. He sees the team as a startup; it is under-resourced and needs to be conscious about spending while finding creative ways to generate revenue in order to build a foundation.

“Year one, we're going to start with the basics, both financially and on the court, building a solid foundation, fundamentals around financial fiduciary as well as having a coach that can come in and really build a solid team, not just a few individuals,” said Cooprider.

Similar to Davis, reengaging the community is the top priority. He’s hopeful the business will be able to build up a financial foundation to form strong relationships with vendors, sponsors, and partners. 

After building a foundation in the first year, Cooprider envisions establishing a more permanent home base for games and housing, bolstering its contributions to the community, and building up the fanbase. By year three, Cooprider hopes the team will have enough fanbase to establish a bigger venue, such as the Toyota Town Center.

If all goes to plan, the team hopes to step up its ranking, open up to teams in Canada and Europe, and put Wenatchee on the map. Both Cooprider and Davis are hopeful that one day, the Bighorns will be a household name in the Valley for entertainment and community service. More information about the Wenatchee Bighorns and their schedule can be found at wenatcheebighorns.com.

Taylor Caldwell: 509-433-7276 or taylor@ward.media

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