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SEASON PREVIEW: AFTER A SEASON AWAY, SKYFORCE EMBARK ON 2021-22 CAMPAIGN

By Nick Robinson | November 5, 2021

608 days.

That’s how long it has been since the red and white jerseys have been donned for the Sioux Falls Skyforce in a regular season contest.

“It’s been a long time coming. Really, it’s been way too much time without Skyforce basketball here in Sioux Falls,” first-year head coach Kasib Powell said. “We are so excited to be back. It means so much to me, to us as a team and the community.”

That streak will finally be snapped, almost 20 months to the day the 2019-20 season ended early, as Powell takes his team 207 miles east to face former Midwest Division foe, the Iowa Wolves.

“I’m feeling positive about us. There’s been a lot of great energy so far,” he said. “We are preparing to get ready for that first game and I think we’re doing a good job. The guys are really locked-in and are focused. As a coach that is all you can ask. Training camp is a grind. I’m just excited to get started.”

Powell, an inaugural member of the Skyforce Basketball Hall of Fame, embarks on his fifth season on staff as a coach. You may remember him from the remarkable 2007-08 season, which earned him the first G League MVP trophy in Sioux Falls’ history.

“I am excited for the chance and ready to put the work in,” he said of the opportunity to lead a team he once played for. “There is a standard that’s been set here. We are looking to continue that.”

Sioux Falls looks almost entirely different from the last time they played. The lone returner is forward Trey Mourning, who appeared in 36 games as a rookie.

With the change means there is opportunity for new and upcoming players to get their chance to show they belong at the next level. Nine of 12 players on the Skyforce roster are first-year players in the G League.

“We have a solid mixture of young guys and a veterans,” noted Powell. “I think they are doing a good job of trying to retain all the information we gave them, picking up on the concepts. There is never enough time to start off, trying to prepare. There is a lot to unpack. Some of them were drafted and got here within a day or two of that. It all happens so quick.”

Nine-year NBA veteran Brandon Knight, the sixth pick in the 2021 G League Draft, highlights the veterans on the roster this season. Miami HEAT two-way player Caleb Martin has three years of NBA service, as well.

How does someone with all that experience at the highest level respond to playing in the G League? After all, Knight was selected eighth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft.

 

“I just feel at peace, man. It feels good to just be with good people,” Knight expressed. “It feels good to be with people that are really pulling for one another. You can feel how authentic it is here. People care; it comes from the organization to the staff, my teammates, and the city. It makes you want to work harder, and it means a lot to play here and wear these colors.”

One could wonder how the dynamic would work with an established NBA veteran and eager young players seeking their chance. Knight is fully embracing his role as leader on the squad.

“The dynamic is really not worrying about myself. I really believe that,” he said. ”There are a lot of guys here trying to find their way. I have been in their shoes – it comes down to being able to reel them back in, push them, knowing who needs what, being there for them. I am here to cast visions for them, as well. I want to feed into their dreams. It’s the little things along the way that shows what it takes to be successful.

I’m used to doing something at the NBA level, I may not be able to do that here because you might take away from something that somebody else is doing. And it may not help our team win. So just understanding that with all the talent, a lot of guys are still able to sacrifice for the better good of the unit.”

Powell raved of Knight’s professionalism since day one and spoke on the benefits of having someone of his caliber on the team.

“It’s almost like a cheat code in your back pocket,” he added. “Him having all that NBA experience is just such an advantage for us as a team. He helps get my message across to the players, but just ultimately, he’s what you could ever ask for in a leader. When a young guy sees someone with nine years of NBA experience, and they are willing to show them the ropes, it rubs off on them. The way he goes about things is contagious, on and off the court.”

That deems to pay dividends for the first-year players on the Skyforce roster, highlighted by Miami HEAT two-way players Marcus Garrett, affiliate players Micah Potter, Ja’Vonte Smart, Dru Smith and DJ Stewart.

“We have a lot of talent,” Knight said. “There are numerous guys that can be very successful at some point in their careers at the next level, even at this level in the G League. So, the biggest thing is for these guys to understand that sometimes taking a step back is taking five steps forward.”

So far, Powell likes what he sees from his younger players, their response to the change of game pace, and the things he has taught them.

Specifically, he noted how important it was for Stewart to perform how he did against G League Ignite in the 104-90 exhibition victory on October 31. Stewart poured in 26 points on 7-of-11 shooting and netted 23 of his points in the first half.

“There are always questions when you when you come to the G League of how you will produce or how your impact will be,” Powell noted. “That is just how it goes; how does your game translate? For him to come out and play out the gates like that is something he needed. DJ needed a confidence boost and just to go out there to show he can play at this level.”

Embracing for struggles is something every coach must plan for, especially with younger players.

“With the group we have, we’ve connected off the jump, and we’re going to focus on staying connected,” Powell expressed of his team. “And I think when those times do hit, you know, we’ll be prepared for them, but we’ll go through it together. That’s what being a team is all about. You stick it out.”

Knight noted that the way Powell operates will be crucial during those times. After all, Knight has been coached by likes of John Calipari, Alvin Gentry and Larry Drew.

“I joked with him, ‘Are you sure you haven’t done this before?’ He doesn’t feel like a first-year head coach,” Knight said. “Not just him being around the game for so long. Coaching is one thing, but it’s more than that. It’s who he is. That’s what speaks volumes about how Kasib coaches – it’s a relationship thing. It makes you feel like it isn’t about him; he doesn’t have an ego. It makes us, as a team, want to go the extra mile for him and put in the work to be great and get through the tough times ahead.”

How does Powell define a success in year one at the helm?

“One percent. One percent. We want to get one percent better each day,” said Powell. “Finding something new to get better at. Really challenging ourselves when things aren’t in our favor. It’s what the G League is all about. If we can do that every day, we will be successful. We control that day in, day out, which is what makes it special.”

The journey starts Saturday, November 5 at the Wells Fargo Arena, against a franchise Powell is well accustomed of facing over the years in the Iowa Wolves. Tip-off is slated for 7pm and the final game of the series is Monday, November 7 at 7pm, as well. Both games can be streamed on NBAGLeague.com.

“Iowa is always a tough place to play. You could call us rivals, but it’s because we’re close to each other,” he said of the Wolves. “There is a ton of respect for what they have done throughout the years. It’s always been a tough place to play for us. We are just excited to get back to it.”

Finding the balance of taking it one game at a time and being aware of the urgency of getting off to a fast start is something Knight is teaching his Skyforce teammates leading up to the season.

“It’s very important get out to a fast start and, and to just stay together,” he expressed. “I mean you’re going to have some adversity; this is basketball, no one is going to be great all the time. But one thing I can say that if we do it together, it’ll be easier. No matter what we go through in the journey, whether it be good or bad, it’s better together.”