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Tuesday, 27 December 2016 15:57

The Greatest Sharks Season of All Time

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MIAMI (AP) - When the South Florida Sharks moved on from previous General Manager AJ Perko, the mood about the team and even from the fans could be described in one single concept: 

 

Gloom

 

Despite the sunny weather and vibrant culture, the Sharks fell into gloomy web of mediocrity.  In the team's entire history, it had yet to experience any real semblance of success that the fans could rally around. Even worse, the team was viewed throughout the league as a joke or an easy win. 

An inside source that was a former scout in the league commented, "We penciled them in as a W and their name only came up in our meetings when we thought we could pull of a trade in our favor."

So it came to no surprise the fans and league asked "who?" when the Sharks announced Perko's replacement at the helm, GM Lay. The new hire was somewhat of a new comer to the OBWL scene and not a home grown talent coming up from the development league or brought on as another team's scout. It was a clean slate, and while numerous media members questioned it, owner Robert Day calmly addressed such concerns by explaining how he appreciated his new General Manager's vision and patience. 

"Nearly anyone we would interview would get caught up in how they promote this system or that system. We spent several lousy seasons waiting on a system to unfold and all we ended up with was an uneven roster that could not score. He (Lay) refused to over-promise and made it starkly clear that in order to turn things around, it would take time and some trust." 

The first season was a long one. The Sharks finished as a bottom 5 team in the league and did not have its first round pick thanks to the previous regime. Despite that, the Sharks proved to be a bit feisty. The next offseason, the Sharks added a few small pieces, but never could formulate an offense with the pieces on the roster. Instead, the GM began to break down contracts and attempt to clear cap space. They flipped a savvy veteran in Cambre-We for a future first. They refused to budge on massive extension demands of then captain Melvin Gadsen. Fans were worried because it always gets darkest before dawn. One of the top beat writers for South Florida, Paul Cabana, who interviewed a newly hired GM Lay awhile back, remembers fondly: 

"We had calls in my radio show daily with our fans complaining how the new hire felt a lot like the old one. The new regime was rigid in their vision of clearing cap and getting this team in a better spot by being able to make a splash in Free Agency. They were convinced they could lure talent to South Beach. The fans didn't see it, especially considering all the previous years where talented players would not even take a phone call". 

After the second season concluded, the Sharks had a top 10 draft pick and pardon the pun, they were swimming in cap space after the plan of patience and smart spending paid off: they landed a "big fish". Specifically, the Sharks signed all-world scorer David Witherspoo to what was at the time, one of the largest contracts in league history. It sent shockwaves through the league as most believed Witherspoo was extremely close to resigning with the Kentucky Stallions. 

"Look, I have all the respect in the world for the Stallions and that organization. I told my family I planned on staying in Kentucky, but things got...complicated. The Sharks aggressively made it known they wanted me. I went where I thought I was wanted the most and where I could be a force in the playoffs. Its not fun dropping 45 basically an empty arena in the middle of nowhere," claimed Witherspoo in a radio interview this year.

Based on his remarks since the signing, many around the league believe Witherspoo felt disrespected by the Stallions as they did not push all of their resources into a Witherspoo initially and instead waited to see other offers before upping theirs. This came in stark contrast as the Sharks had some of their best pitchmen literally sitting outside of Witherspoo's house at 11:59PM the night before Free Agency began and were knocking on his front door a minute later, anxious to sell South Florida, both as a destination off the court, but also on the court. Witherspoo was sold on a vision where he would have a team built around him capable of making playoff runs and winning games in front of sold out crowds nightly. 

Many in the league still believed that the signing was essentially the Stallions 2.0 where the team would let Witherspoo score 30 a night while losing by 20. Soon, those predictions came into question, though, when the Sharks went 5-1 in preseason. Then, it became a matter of "proving it when it mattered". The Sharks started slow, losing three of their first four games. The fans were unhappy with the lack of wins and were calling for new coaches and wondering if all the struggling they had endured was a curse for them to bear. 

Then South Florida won 14 games in a row. There have been seasons where people wondered if this franchise would even win 14 games in a season, much less as a winning streak while taking down powerhouses such as Toronto, Boston, and London. This was it. It took such a streak to lift the mood, but finally  the team hailing from South Beach matched its locale and wasn't doom and gloom. Finally the owner, fans, and media could celebrate a team that went from punchline to playoff contender.  In the end, the Sharks set a franchise record of 52 wins, even more than their General Manager predicted, and finished as a fifth seed in the loaded National Conference. 

Such success is still a mystery to some in the league while others point to the roster that has been built. The Sharks developed a roster that was completely different than what was there during the dark Perko days. In fact, only three players on the team averaged more than 10 minutes per game that were from the previous regime. Instead, this team was built with the identity of solid defense, especially inside blocking shots, with a steady offensive game that can beat any team in the league if their jumpshots are falling. 

Looking ahead, the Sharks' future looks to be on solid ground. Remember that future pick the fans bemoaned when GM Lay traded Devon Cambre-We? It is now the projected seventh pick in what some believe is a loaded draft. South Florida is already a playoff team and that is without counting for the growth and development of rookie Marvin Marshall or whoever they land with this year's pick from Kentucky. Rumors are swirling the team may aggressively push to add another outside scoring threat to the mix, but until anything develops, it is all speculation at this point. Nonetheless, this season has proven to be the step into unknown territory and one many fans will remember as they finally could cheer for a winner. 

Read 400 times Last modified on Tuesday, 27 December 2016 17:08

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