Mike Sweet sat and watched. The general manager of the United States Basketball League’s Adirondack Wildcats saw fans filing into the Glens Falls Civic Center.
It was 2002, the team’s inaugural season. The league branded itself as “The league of opportunity.”
Sweet saw just that, an opportunity to bring in a star and put his new team on the map. Terrell Owens saw an opportunity to ignite a career in basketball. It was a perfect match when Sweet signed the San Francisco 49ers’ star wide receiver.
The signing of an NFL star brought extra fans in the door. Before Owens even stepped on the court he was the most famous player in the league. He was also one of the least experienced.
Owens got limited playing time in the team’s home opener. But Sweet vividly remembers watching the next home game, when Owens rode the bench, never getting on the court.
“I thought, this is not going to be a good situation,” Sweet said.
He called Owens’ agent, apologizing, promising him playing time.
He sought out Owens, again apologizing. But before Sweet could finish, his nightmarish evening turned into a success.
“He didn’t need to apologize,” Owens said in a phone interview earlier this week. “Would I have wanted to play? Of course, but I understood the nature of the game. He has to understand that I had been there before. It takes you back to those high school years when you’re on the bench and you want to play...
“I didn’t expect Mike, who was the general manger, or the owner or whoever, any of those coaches in giving me any special treatment or anything. I had to kind of earn my spot, earn my minutes with the team. I knew, nothing’s ever been given to me and I’m going to work hard and show guys that I could play basketball.”
With that, the pressure of signing the now defunct USBL’s biggest star, one known for having a volatile personality, was relieved.
“It’s amazing, my stories are the total opposite of what you hear on SportsCenter,” Sweet said. “He was probably the easiest guy I ever had to work with as far as a player. I knew the reputation coming in, he was the complete opposite.”
Owens remembers making the short walk from the hotel to the arena. But when he arrived it wasn’t like the facilities he enjoyed in San Francisco.
He wasn’t in the NBA, he wasn’t even in the D-League. He was starting his basketball career at the bottom.
“I remember, just like high school or college, you go into the gym, it’s cold. You’re trying to warm yourself up and as practice goes you kinda get in a rhythm,” Owens said. “It was all about getting better. That’s all I ever tried to do is to try to get better.”
He had NBA aspirations, but he also had a pretty nice fallback plan as an NFL wide receiver. For his teammates, it was NBA or bust.
“Even though it’s summer league it’s treated different. It’s treated like an NBA game,” former Wildcat guard Fred House said. “You’re playing against guys that played in the NBA or who played overseas. On top of that you’re not just playing basketball you’re auditioning as well. There are scouts there. You can’t have a bad day. You can’t have a bad game.”
Owens’ opportunity with the Wildcats didn’t last long. Ironically the same thing that made him the league’s only household name also pulled him away. His obligations with the 49ers forced Owens to limit his time with the Wildcats to five games.
“Sometimes I second-guess myself and I’m like ‘man, I should have just stuck with it and tried to make it work.’ But it is what it is...
“You know I enjoyed it, the times I spent there with the Adirondack Wildcats up there in Glens Falls, New York,” Owens said. “I ran into a couple of guys years later. Like I said it was a fun experience.”
Owens returned to the 49ers before playing with the Eagles, Bills and Bengals. Recently he signed a contract to play with the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League.
“What’s next for Terrell Owens? Who knows?” he said. He said he wants to play a few more years of football.
He also starred in Dysfunctional Friends, a limited released movie in the United States. He plans to pursue more acting opportunities after football.
Fred House: He remembers the Wildcats for the bittersweet moment when he had to leave the team.
The Memphis Grizzlies offered House a free-agent contract just after the Wildcats won the USBL quarterfinals. It was the chance of a lifetime, yet House sat in the locker room and cried.
“I was one game away from being MVP. We were one game from a championship and Memphis called me,” House said. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to abandon my teammates.
“I went to my teammates, I was kinda crying too, it’s hard to be pulled away from a championship. I asked my teammates. They said ‘Hey your goal is to play in the NBA. Don’t worry we got this. You go play with the Grizzlies.’ ”
House left to join the Grizzlies. The Wildcats fell in double overtime in the USBL semifinals to Kansas, 139-138.
House left the Grizzlies after one year and signed with the Atlanta Hawks.
“There was no chemistry (with the Hawks). I felt like I made a bad decision. I spoke with Jerry West. I should’ve listened to him,” House said. “I didn’t listen. I kinda put my foot in my own mouth. He wanted me to go to the Lakers camp.”
From the Hawks he spent time in Milwaukee and Portland before eventually playing with some NBA talent overseas.
In Serbia he played with Vlade Divac. When Divac left, so did House. He went on to play in Lithuania, Russia and now in the Ukraine.
He is currently rehabbing from a back injury, but plans to play out his contract with his Ukrainian team, Dnipro, when he’s healthy.
Frantz Pierre-Louis: Like House, Pierre-Louis had a couple of cups of coffee in the NBA with the Celtics and Pacers, then went to play in Italy, Spain, Turkey and Korea.
Now, Pierre-Louis runs a not-for-profit in Brooklyn called Team First that works with inner city basketball players. The program preaches academics before athletics.
“It’s the best feeling in the world, because at the end of the day, in order for you to get somewhere in life, you got here with a lot of help from other individuals,” Pierre-Louis said. “You have to realize without help you wouldn’t be where you are. If I didn’t give back, I probably would have been missing. It’s the most beautiful thing to mold a child to mold him to become a big man.”
Pierre-Louis now resides in New Jersey with his wife. His oldest son, Nate, is ranked as one of the top seventh graders in the country.
John “Mookie” Thomas: He went on to play overseas in Germany, Poland, Finland, England, Egypt, France, Lebanon and Jordan. Thomas now teaches at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn. He also helps coach the school’s basketball teams.
Shawn Simpson: He played in the U.S. as well as overseas in Poland, Turkey, Portugal, Ukraine, Mexico and Argentina. He now teaches with Thomas at Thomas Jefferson. He coaches basketball at a rival school, Bedford Academy.
Mike Sanders: After coaching the Wildcats, Sanders coached the Ashville Altitude in the NBA Development League. In 2007 he was named assistant coach of the Charlotte Bobcats. He is now the manager of player development for the Utah Jazz.
Mike Sweet: He was the Wildcats’ GM for two seasons. His son, Maxx, was a ballboy for the team.
Maxx is now a member of the SUNY Adirondack basketball team, and Mike often travels to the Glens Falls area to watch his son play.
Mike Sweet has been a teacher in New Jersey for the last six years. He also coaches his younger son Samm in both soccer and basketball.
Eugene Edgerson: He spent some time in the NBADL before becoming a member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Corsley Edwards: The 2002 USBL all-rookie team member was drafted by the Sacramento Kings 57th overall during the Wildcats’ season. He went on to play in the D-League, Croatia, Puerto Rico, Egypt and China. He is now playing in Poland where he is averaging 23 points and seven rebound per game.
Marques Maybin: He played in Lebanon before a motorcycle accident in 2003 left him paralyzed from the waist down. He now lives in Tennessee where his son is one of the top high school football players in the country.
Junie Sanders: The street ball legend continued to wow crowds in New York City, according to Sweet. He also played in Puerto Rico, Portugal, Israel, Poland, Germany and the D-League.
Thomas said the last he knew Sanders was married and playing in Korea.
Marcus Faison: The former Siena college forward spent time playing in Belgium, Greece, Spain and Turkey. He is now in the Ukraine.
Antoni Wyche: He played in Macedonia, Mexico, Finland, Japan, Qatar and Jordan. Wyche is now the associate head coach for the men’s basketball team at Lehigh University.
Larry Abney: He spent time with teams in 12 different countries. He’s now playing in New Zealand.
Eric Harris: He played in the D-League as well as overseas in Cyprus and Italy.
Marc Mazur: He played in Poland, Spain, the D-League, Chile, Lithuania, Span, Portugal, Mexico and Halifax.
Kavossay Franklin: He last played in 2010 in Australia. Also played in Puerto Rico and Germany.
Corey Sanders: He spent time in the D-League before playing overseas in Turkey, Estonia and Uruguay.