Basketball

Semipro basketball team undergoes extreme makeover

Queen City Express coach William Enders, left, works on shooting with player Alexander Gunn.
Queen City Express coach William Enders, left, works on shooting with player Alexander Gunn. JOE HABINA

The Queen City Express has undergone an extreme makeover since last season.

The Charlotte-based semiprofessional basketball team has a new owner, a new coach, a new league and plenty of new players.

As Queen City prepared to open the 2015 season March 28 at the East Coast Basketball League Kickoff Classic near Lumberton, team leaders believe some of their preseason accomplishments will turn into Express success.

Coach William Enders has led Queen City’s progression, overhauling a roster that includes just three players from last season, when the team reached the playoffs in its former league, the Tobacco Road Basketball League.

The Express plays its home games at West Mecklenburg High and practices at Fran’s Kids Boys and Girls Center on West Trade Street.

The team’s players range in age from their early 20s to their early 30s and have varying basketball backgrounds. Some were high school basketball standouts and some played small-time Division I college hoops.

New team owner Edward Smith says he wants to establish the Express as a farm system for players who seek bigger opportunities in basketball, such as playing professionally for teams overseas or the NBA Development League.

“There’s a lot of great talent in the new league,” said Smith, who lives in north Charlotte. “There are a lot of great teams. The owners have developed a better quality of team. It makes for a better game.”

One of Queen City’s best players is 32-year old Prince Parker who grew up in the Hampshire Hills neighborhood in north Charlotte and played at Butler High School. He followed an all-conference high school career with two seasons at Division I Delaware State.

Parker transferred to Johnson C. Smith, where he played from 2004-06. After college, he played with the Tuscaloosa Druid Dragons of the minor league World Basketball League.

Express assistant coach Mario Leak encouraged Parker to try out for Queen City after spotting him in the Anthony Morrow Summer Hoops pro-am league that plays at the Grady Cole Center.

As owner, Smith handles the team’s logistics: facility rental, upkeep of the website and personnel management. He became the team owner by an unfortunate circumstance.

Smith was introduced to the Express four years ago as a player and a coach. Last year, he assisted Queen City owner Tabetha Berry with team administrative responsibilities.

On Sept. 21, 2014, Berry died at age 48 from a blood clot. On the night that she died, Leak had a phone conversation with her during which they were laying out plans for the upcoming season.

Leak finished last season as the Express’ head coach, but this season he gave way to Enders, an experienced AAU coach whom he felt was better qualified.

Enders considers himself to be a hard-nosed, no-nonsense leader who requires his players to carry themselves in a mannerly way on and off the court. A verbal exchange with a rookie player at a recent practice exemplified Enders’ coaching philosophy.

“You’ve been last in each of the last four drills,” barked Enders. “If you’re comfortable with being last in every drill, you’ll be comfortable going home.”

Enders encourages his players to perform community service, namely assisting with feeding the homeless at St. Paul Baptist Church in Charlotte.

Queen City was champion of an ECBL preseason tournament in February in Indian Trail. The Express defeated Fort Mill’s PrimeTime Players, which won TRBL championships in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The ECBL has 11 teams in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. The league plays a 14-week season with a championship game scheduled for late June.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at joehabina@gmail.com.

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