ATLANTA (BVM) — In order to play professional basketball at any level; NBA, NBA G-League, overseas or the NBL Canada, you usually have to play in a top feeder league. The NCAA typically serves as that feeder league. However, within the past decade, there’s a team that has sent 38 of its athletes to the professional ranks.
That team is the Atlanta Aliens of the resurrecting American Basketball Association (ABA). Since Duck Richards joined the team in 2011, 38 of his players have gone on to play at the next level.
Richards came to the Aliens after a short tenure with the Atlanta Experience ABA team, which folded following the 2010-11 season. Though the team had a collapse, Richards caught the eye of former Aliens owner Adrian Provost. The Experience and the Aliens had played that season, with the Experience coming out victorious.
Not only did they beat the up-and-coming expansion team that was the Aliens, but Richards’ Experience team defeated the 29-0 Jacksonville Giants who were on a mission to repeat as league champions. That Giants team featured former Duke star and NBA player Christian Laettner.
“I was in limbo (when the Experience folded),” Richards said. “Provost recalled that my team was really competitive against his and beat his. He invited me over to be the general manager and head coach. I brought my players with me and we brought the Aliens to a different level.”
So much so that when it came time for Provost to sell the Aliens in 2017 due to a change in his business plans, he reached out to Richards first. Richards and his wife discussed it at home, where his wife said, “Let’s do it.” She became the CEO while Richards remained the general manager and head coach.
But Richards believes a lot of his success comes from the players that he has had the pleasure of coaching. The memory he first recalls that started to generate the Aliens success was coaching a player by the name of Brent Petway. Petway was a former Michigan Wolverine who starred for the Aliens and went on to play for the Idaho Stampede of the NBA G-League.
“I’ve had a lot of great players that I’ve coached and known that have come to my program and now they’ve taken it to another level,” Richards said. “It was those players that took our program to another level.”
Following Petway was a series of players who had the same affect on the Aliens. Richards has had the honor of coaching Quentin Humphrey and Marquis Gilstrap, both former Aliens that went on to compete for the G-League’s Rio GrandeAdria Valley Vipers.
“Here’s the trick. Once you send these teams a successful players, they want to know when you have another one,” Richards said. “Rio Grande Valley had a strong interest in us. Since then they’ve changed their GM, but we’ve had four players go to the NBA G-League and seven players go to the NBL Canada.”
The Aliens have had so many players move forward that they have even built a relationship with an athlete talent agency based out of Los Angeles. Richards says that whenever they need a player to go overseas, they call him.
“I tell all my players to be ready at a moments notice. We all have passports,” Richards said. “The ABA doesn’t pay them so the best I can do for them is provide film for every game so that they can get compensated elsewhere. YouTube has really enhanced our program.”
But besides the motivation of potentially getting a professional contact, the Aliens also play for something else; someone else. In 2014, one of their players, Markell Smith, died on the court during one of their games. He had a scout there evaluating him for a chance to go overseas. It was a tragedy for everybody involved.
“Since our return in 2015, we’ve dedicated each game to him and have not had a losing season in five years,” Richards said. “His death has been and will continue to be the driving force for our team…he is gone but not forgotten.”
The Aliens open their 2020-21 season on Nov. 21 when they travel to Jackson, MS to take on the Showboats.