BENNINGTON – The all-new American Basketball Association (ABA) team aims to bring top-notch basketball, entertainment and a sense of community to town.
The Bennington Martens are the latest addition to the historic ABA, a semi-professional basketball league that, at its peak in the 1970s, saw such figures as basketball royalty Julius “Dr. J” Erving competing in the league.
Chris Kidd and Shawn Pratt, who co-own the Martens and share an affinity for basketball and helping others, are tasked with bringing semi-professional basketball to Southern Vermont.
“It really started for us on the dream of mentoring guys, helping them grow and improve,” said Pratt. “It was mainly about bringing that together, and what’s going on in the world in terms of social justice, helping our young people and helping our young men.”
Kidd played for the Sage College men’s basketball team in 2019 at the age of 34. Now he has changed focus to try to help others reach the professional ranks.
“It’s a dream come true. We live a dream every day, wanting to stay around this game for as long as possible,” Kidd said. “Help these young men get to a place where I don’t. I couldn’t surrender, that in itself is the most important thing. “
Kidd said there aren’t many opportunities for college graduates hoping to play professionally.
“It’s very difficult to get into the professional level, especially in basketball,” he said. “We just want to be that chance, we want to be that chance for the guys. That’s what the Bennington Martens are here to do.
Kidd and Pratt’s goal for the Martens is to give every player a contract to the next level, whether it’s overseas, the NBA G (minor) League or the Basketball League (TBL). ABA players are not paid.
Martens’ roster offers a wide range of experiences.
One name Bennington basketball fans will recognize is former Southern Vermont College player Casey Hall. The 6-foot-6 forward is the all-time leader in the blocked shots program and was a key part of SVC’s success in the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Hall now resides in Albany, NY, but is excited to play Bennington again.
“Playing semi-pro ball here means a lot to me,” said Hall. “Especially since I played college (ball) here. It’s nice to come back to the community. I know the community has lost some colleges and all that. It’s good to bring something back to the community.
Hall remembers his days as a player at SVC and Bennington’s thirst for basketball.
“Standing room only. The stands filled up quickly, then you had to stand up for the matches, ”he recalls. “We had good crowds, good energy at Bennington.”
The Martens also have players like team captain Garrick Averett, who has previous ABA experience. Averett played for the Atlantic Coast Cardinals in Orange County, NY during the 2020 season.
He knows what to expect in an ABA season and believes the Martens will be a very entertaining watch in their inaugural season.
“We’re a little undersized, but we have a bunch of athletes on our team; a lot of guys who can dunk it, ”Averett said. “Look for us to be like the (Los Angeles) Lakers.”
A native of Long Island, Captain Martens has a unique connection to the ABA.
“I actually lived next door to the house Dr J grew up in,” he said.
Then there are players who have already reached the pro level and are looking to come back, like CJ McLaughlin.
McLaughlin played professionally in Puerto Rico until he got injured. Now he hopes to get back to that level and has entrusted Pratt and Kidd to help him get there.
The Martens have been holding scrums and have been training for weeks. How does the level of basketball compare to his time in Puerto Rico?
“It’s a lot (faster), as far as the stranger is concerned it’s a lot slower, basketball system,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just a humbling experience to come and play with guys who are also at a high level. It’s definitely a great experience (which) has definitely helped me bring my game back to where I need to be.
The Martens offer their fair share of experience on the court, but their roster also includes a player who has never played organized basketball in his life.
The Bennington Martens are the first basketball team Shaquille Mayo was a part of. The Albany native has only played pickup matches in the past.
Mayo is grateful for the opportunity to show off his talents.
“It’s just kind of cool because it’s like a stepping stone for us,” Mayo said. “We’re all hoping to go overseas, so it’s kind of like entry level and everything. It’s pretty cool that we got this opportunity because there aren’t a lot of opportunities like that out there.
Pratt is a community leader who promotes and advocates for social justice, educational equity and opportunities for youth leadership. He was appointed to the Criminal Justice Council of Vermont by Governor Phil Scott.
Kidd is a pastor in Troy, NY, with the Move of God Deliverance Ministry, and owner, trainer and coach of Hoops4Christ LLC.
The Martens aim to bring social justice to the forefront, while providing entertainment on the basketball court.
The NAACP is an organization that donated to the Martens. Mia Schultz, president of the Rutland region branch of the NAACP, believes the team is a great example of the value people of color bring to the community.
“We bring value to your community, and we bring economic value because when that spreads we will see people from all over the state wanting to come and be a part of this love of basketball and be part of a change. “, she said.
“It’s layered, it’s not just about basketball,” Schultz said. “It’s about the community and how we bridge the gap that has been missing for years. “
Pratt and Kidd also mentor their current players off the basketball court with things like college, financial, and religious advice.
“Shawn and I have a desire to guide these young men in the path they should be taking,” Kidd said. “We want them to be successful and we want them to live their dreams. And so Shawn and I are just trying to present them with a viable outlet for them to do something.
The Martens will also be offering youth basketball camps at their home gym, located inside the former Bennington High School at 650 Main Street, once it is completed. Pratt was told the gym “should” be ready for the 2022 season.
For now, the Martens will split their home games between North Adams, Mass. YMCA and the Rutland Recreational Community Center.
The Martens play their first game on Saturday, traveling to Pennsylvania to face the NEPA Stars and Stripes.
Kidd said the Martens are bringing something the community is missing.
“Bennington doesn’t have that right, they don’t have professional basketball, they don’t have training camps, summer leagues, clinics,” he said. “The Bennington Martens are going to bring a world of basketball to Bennington.”