Rebels find home in Freedom’s court

By Andy Warrener

The Laker/Lutz News Correspondent

Hillsborough County doesn’t have an NBA team, but it might have the next best thing in the Tampa Bay Rebels.

The professional men’s basketball team competes in the Florida Basketball Association (FBA). The Rebels have bounced around the area during their first few years, playing home games at venues like Hillsborough Community College and YMCAs.

“It was a challenge,” said coach Fernando Rojas. “One of the most difficult things in this league is all the travel.”

The FBA has just four teams, which are spread out in Lake Wales, Orlando and West Palm Beach, all locations requiring extensive travel.

The Rebels are settling into their new home court at Freedom High. Rojas is an assistant on the school’s boys basketball team and is a New Tampa resident.

The Rebels secured their home court as the year is winding down. They went 11-1 through the regular season, clinching a spot in the league title game against the Heartland Prowl, the only team to beat Tampa Bay this year, at home on July 28 at 8 p.m.

All 10 Rebels have his own story of why he joined the squad.

Take the team’s leading scorer Tim Ware. The forward went to high school in Alabama and played three years at Kentucky State before competing with a startup league in Canada. His next stop was with the Jacksonville Giants, an American Basketball Association team and is now in his first year with the Rebels.

Rojas generally doesn’t have the luxury of developing players during multiple seasons.

Tampa Bay Rebels center Matt Hendricks goes up for a jump ball at a recent home game in Freedom High’s gym. (Photo by Andy Warrener)

“Guys come and go for any number of reasons in this league,” Rojas said. “My goal with each year’s team is to develop a core group of guys, local guys that understand the program.”

Player movement is not a bad thing. Rojas’ primary goal is to get them signed to international contracts and has helped 20 do just that since 2005. The Rebels use international basketball rules to help players transition to basketball in another country.

In international play, the ball can be touched while in the cylinder. Thus, there are more battles under the basket for rebounds and tip-ins. That also creates more fast breaks while teams commit post players to crashing the boards.

“A lot more of the game is above the rim,” Ware said.

The game is also officiated differently.

“In international ball, if you are jumping over a player in front of you to get at the ball, usually that is not called,” Rojas said. “You are expected to be able to box that person out.”

Rojas is always on the lookout for new talent. He has tryouts every year, scours the minor leagues and even travels internationally with his teams.

“There is a huge group, thousands of players that are in great shape, have excellent training and don’t make the NBA,” Rojas said. “We’re not mainstream, but our talent level and our product are really good.”

For more information on the Rebels, visit www.tampabayrebels.com.

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