Experienced hands will guide the team when the Potawatomi Fire takes the floor for its inaugural season with The Basketball League.
Roaming the sidelines as the Fire’s head coach will be Derrick Rowland, a Brookhaven, New York, native who most recently coached for TBL’s Albany Patroons.
The 6-foot-5 shooting guard averaged 18.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for the State University of New York at Potsdam. While there, he led the team to the NCAA Div. III championship during the 1980-81 season. Rowland entered the 1981 NBA draft and was selected by the Denver Nuggets, but ultimately found his home with the Albany (New York) Patroons. He played in Albany for seven years. The team hired him as an assistant coach and later as head coach. Albany fans called Rowland “Mr. Patroon.”
In September 2021, CPN introduced him as the head coach of one of TBL’s newest expansion teams, the Potawatomi Fire. After many years strongly identifying with Albany, Rowland welcomed the prospect of change without fear of intimidation.
“Yes, it’s a change. But change is good sometimes,” he said. “And I think this is one of those times, for me, after I’ve had a lot of success in New York, winning and developing young players. And to come here now with this opportunity, I can’t be happier because I know the impact that the team will have on the community, in the city of Shawnee. So it’s a very exciting time for me.”
He expects TBL to be a perfect fit for Shawnee with the league’s focus on community.
“Well, I think that is the greatness of this league is it’s community based,” Rowland said. “For the kids here and young people here, it is still something that they probably never would experience because, even if you can get to a Thunder game, you won’t have the interaction with the players on the floor, as we all do here in schools or in the community.”
He’s looking forward to meeting and inspiring young people in the community.
“The reason I coach is the impact that I have on others. I like to win, of course. But I also like to put smiles on their faces, and get people happy and excited, which in turn makes me happy,” Rowland said.
He has talked to thousands of young people, giving advice on everything from basketball skills, to self-confidence, to making the right decisions. Potawatomi Fire players will be visible in Shawnee.
“We’ll be in the schools at least three days a week, at different schools with different players, trying to meet some of the needs and help the educators and everyone else that’s trying to do right by the community. That’s what makes this a league that suits Shawnee perfectly well,” Rowland said.
Along with helping the next generation of players develop both personally and professionally, Rowland is excited about the chance to represent something even bigger: pride in Indigenous identity. The Fire are the first professional sports team to be owned by a tribal nation in Oklahoma. Rowland has enjoyed getting to know CPN employees and Tribal members.
“I am totally impressed and amazed, to be honest with you,” he said. “Just working here with the staff, meeting people in other departments, I’m amazed at what they do and what they’ve been able to accomplish. I’m impressed and to become a part of that. … I couldn’t couldn’t ask for a better opportunity in my life at this time.”
TBL added a total of 14 teams across the country for the 2022 season, bringing the league’s total number of teams to 43. Rowland has been tasked with putting together a roster from scratch, something he relishes.
“We have been doing very well as far as finding players so far. I’ve made history in the league, so my black book is pretty extensive when it comes to finding talent. With my experience and coming here to this city and this opportunity to work with the Tribe, it just gives me so much more to offer the players. As you know, we’re playing for history. I tell the guys, ‘This is the first team. Everything we do is historical. And I’m sure it’ll be documented in some kind of a way. To play for history is something special.’ So, they understand that’s happening as well,” Rowland said.
The Potawatomi Fire joins the Enid Outlaws as one of two TBL teams in Oklahoma. Enid was 30-3 last season and won the TBL championship. Rowland is eager to take on the Outlaws as they defend their title.
“Well, it’s going to be, hopefully, a great rivalry,” he said. “I congratulate them on their championship last year. The year before that, I was the champion in New York. That’s great for the sport, for everybody to have this championship team right up the street. We’ll have a chance to play them three times. It’s going to be an amazing event, and I like the challenge. So, we’ll be ready. Since we’re an expansion team, we have some ground to cover. But hopefully we can cover that ground quickly and get where we need to go.”
Rowland has played for some of the biggest coaching names in professional basketball, experience that influences how he coaches today.
“I played for Phil Jackson, who’s the winningest coach in the history of the NBA; he won 11 championships. George Karl, he coached in the NBA for 15 years. Bill Musselman, who was just a pioneer,” Rowland said. “I take a little bit from all the coaches so I just understand what it takes to win. I understand the formula because I played for the greatest, and you just have to get the players to fit the philosophy. It allows me to succeed as a leader.”
Joining Rowland will be Assistant Coach Brad Walck. He is well known to Oklahoma hoops fans, having coached the Seminole State College Belles from 1991 to 1999. Under his tenure, the Belles won six Bi-State Conference titles and averaged 24 wins per season. His 1993 team ranked #1 in the National Junior College Athletic Association and finished the season as the nation’s third-ranked team in the final regular-season poll. Walck’s 1997 squad won 26 games and earned an NJCAA National Tournament bid.
He retired from Seminole State College in 2013, and the Seminole Board of Regents honored him as Vice-President Emeritus. Rowland looks forward to working with Walck.
“He has lot of basketball knowledge. He is a great guy. A lot of history behind him. He has a good basketball mind, so it’s very helpful to me. He knows his way around, so that’s very helpful to what we’re trying to accomplish here with the team,” he said.
Rowland will rely on 7-foot-1 center Anthony Allen as the team’s number five. Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, he played college hoops at Oklahoma State University from 2014-16. He played professionally in Europe and in the Thai Basketball League before joining the Patroons in 2020.
Rowland’s youngest son, Derrick Jr., plans to play for his father in Oklahoma after completing his final year at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.
“I’m looking forward to that. I think he can be an asset to this team, for sure. He’s my son, so I coached him as a kid. He’s doing very well. He’s a great student. I think he’ll be an asset to the Potawatomi Fire,” Rowland said.
The Fire is not the region’s only expansion team. The Beaumont Panthers and Rockwall 7ers in Texas will also join the league and the Central Conference this season.
The Potawatomi Fire play their first game on the road March 4 in Rockwall as the Fire takes on the 7ers. The Fire’s first home game will be March 19 against the Little Rock Lightning. Two back-to-back home games follow on March 25 vs. the Outlaws and March 26 against the Lightning.
The league will be split between four conferences: East, Midwest, Central and West. The Central conference includes the Outlaws, Dallas Skyline, Little Rock Lightning, Shreveport Mavericks and Waco Royals.