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Semi-pro basketball coming to Middletown; Central Pennsylvania Kings to start in November

By Dan Miller

Posted 6/25/20

A new semiprofessional basketball team plans to play all of its home games in Middletown’s Main Street Gym starting this winter.

Tryouts will be held there from 6 to 8 p.m. July 31 and Aug. …

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Semi-pro basketball coming to Middletown; Central Pennsylvania Kings to start in November


A new semiprofessional basketball team plans to play all of its home games in Middletown’s Main Street Gym starting this winter.

Tryouts will be held there from 6 to 8 p.m. July 31 and Aug. 1, says Josiah Malachi Peay of Middletown, who in December purchased the rights to a new team in the American Basketball Association, the Central Pennsylvania Kings.

“I feel it in my heart. Every day it beats harder for this,” Peay, 30, told the Press & Journal. His last name is pronounced “PEE-AY,” the way people say the abbreviation for Pennsylvania.

“I have no doubt in my mind this is going to work full force, the vision I have for it. I always set the bar high. I always do it that way, because why would I short myself?”

Peay for months has used to spread the word about the team, and to attract sponsors and partners to support his vision. Until now, that's about all he has been able to do.

Peay had planned to hold tryouts in May. That plan was stopped in its tracks by the coronavirus.

But with Dauphin County having recently entered the less restrictive green phase of reopening, Peay can move forward with his dream.

The 2020 season is set to begin Nov. 7, and Peay anticipates the Kings in their first year will play 20 to 25 games with 10 to 15 home games, mostly on Saturday nights but some on Sundays.

Tickets will be $10 for adults, with admission less for children, although details are not set. The gym has a capacity of 750.

Peay hopes to use the stage in the gym as a venue for a Kings “Kids Club,” an area children can call their own to hang out during games. He is also interested in pursuing partnerships with nonprofit organizations that are involved with young people.

The ABA has what Peay calls its “13th man celebrity player” program. A local celebrity is picked to suit up with the team during a home game, be part of the pregame warm-ups, and even play in the game.

The Kings are an all-male team, but Peay says the celebrity can be a woman.

The ABA’s motto is “More Than Just A Game.” Peay said his dream for the Kings is to be more than just a winning team, but something that will benefit the community.

“Being a part of this team isn’t just going to be go out there and get wins,” he said. “That’s not what this team is going to stand for. This team is going to stand for what this community needs — leaders. That’s exactly what the team is going to be.”

“There’s a reason why they are called the Kings — because everybody is going to be looking up to us — everybody from my 1-year-old. By the time she is 25 years old, she may be running this organization.”

Peay’s background

Peay is passionate about basketball. He’s been playing most of his life, since growing up in Brooklyn.

He was good enough to get a four-year basketball scholarship to a Division I school, the University of Maine.

“I’m like, man after my four years I’m going to play pro somewhere, play pro for 10 years, retire, have a nice life, it’ll be good,” he said. “Didn’t happen that way.”

The National Basketball Association didn’t draft him. But he had the tools he earned thanks to his basketball prowess — a bachelor’s degree in child development and family relations, with a minor in communications.

His girlfriend (who is now his wife, Carrie) got a job as a surgical technician at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, bringing Peay and his family to Middletown.

They live in a house on Adelia Street with their three children. Peay works in therapeutic staff support, working with children who have autism and other kinds of behavioral challenges.

Peay also works in skills development at the Spooky Nook indoor sports complex in Manheim Township and does one-on-one basketball training.

He still holds those jobs, but is not working because of the coronavirus. He tries to keep in basketball shape by shooting hoops at nearby Frey Manor Park. He also has a hoop installed at his house.

Peay never stopped playing basketball and still dreams of making it to the NBA. For several years, he played for the Harrisburg Horizon, considered the best team in the Eastern Basketball Alliance, a semiprofessional league. 

They won two league championships in the last two years Peay played for them, but the league folded in 2015.

He played with ABA teams including the Wyoming Valley Clutch, based in Wilkes-Barre, and the Ephrata Thunder.

But with a family of three kids, and work, it was getting harder and harder to play. Wilkes-Barre is a two-hour drive just to get to the game. Ephrata is not much better at 45 minutes.

For Peay, not playing basketball is not an option. He wanted to play closer to home. And when he says closer, he means it.

“Main Street Gym is two minutes away,” Peay says, laughing. “I’m going from traveling two hours — I went to Binghamton for an away game, I drove four hours to get there. I think I feel like I deserve to drive two minutes to my home gym.”

Basketball is the second biggest sport in the world, behind soccer.

“Why don’t we have a team here? We do now,” Peay said.

ABA’s setup

The ABA could have up to 175 teams this fall. The league does not own any of the teams or venues, league CEO Joe Newman told the Press & Journal in a recent phone interview.

Each will abide by guidelines regarding the coronavirus that are in place in its respective cities, Newman said.

Today’s ABA was founded in 1999 and has teams throughout the United States. The teams Peay played for — Wyoming Valley and Ephrata — are in the Northeast Region.

There’s also a Mid-Atlantic Region with teams from Baltimore, York, Pottstown and Philadelphia.

Peay said the Kings will be in the Northeast region along with Wyoming Valley, which went 20-0 before play stopped in March because of the coronavirus. 

The league completed its regular season but not the playoffs.

Harrisburg “is long overdue” for an ABA team, Newman said in a December press release.

“I always thought Harrisburg is a perfect ABA-sized city,” Newman told the Press & Journal on May 21. “It’s much more difficult to be in the New York and Los Angeles-type markets where you have major league teams and Division I universities. It’s hard to get attention and a fan base. But Harrisburg has a better chance of success.”

Newman said he does not expect all 175 teams will be ready Nov. 7. Some may decide they need more time to put together a team, get sponsorships, set up ticketing and merchandising, and the rest.

“I can’t say all of my teams have the same kind of energy and drive to be working while they are locked up,” during the shutdown, Newman said.

This is not your father’s ABA  — the one with players like Julius Erving (“Doctor J”), Rick Barry, George Gervin, David Thompson, Moses Malone and Connie Hawkins that challenged the NBA until 1976, when the leagues merged and several ABA teams became part of the NBA.

The new ABA describes itself as a “fast-paced, inexpensive, family-friendly” alternative to the NBA, with a 36-game regular season through April, including playoffs.

Like the old ABA, which introduced the 3-point shot that the NBA adopted with the merger, the new ABA has some different rules which, according to its website, “allow for a faster pace leading to a higher scoring and more exciting event.”

For example, ABA teams have seven seconds to get across the half-court line, instead of eight in the NBA. Not accomplishing that turns the ball over and leads to the “3D light.”

When the 3D light is on, the value of every basket increases by one — a 2-point shot becomes 3 points, a 3-pointer equals 4 points, and a half-court shot becomes 5 points. 

The ABA does not subsidize its teams financially, Newman said. The ABA provides a business model and a plan for new owners to follow. It is up to the owners to execute it, he said.

“Harrisburg is a wonderful city,” Newman said. “If Josiah follows the ABA plan and does the things necessary to run a good business, he can’t miss.”

‘One-man show’

Peay admits he isn’t wealthy.

“I have 20 investments and I just cashed out and I just bought a team. I’m joking, man,” he says. 

Right now, the Kings basically exist just on paper.

Peay concedes that “as of now, this is just a one-man show. I’m doing everything. … I don’t have lots of money. I just know how to talk to people, and I know how to work together with people. If it’s a mutual benefit somewhere, we can work together.”

He isn’t worried about finding players.

“I know that if I’m crazy enough to drive two hours to go play for a team just because I want to chase my dream, I know there are other guys who feel the same way I do,” Peay said. 

He sees the Kings, and the ABA, as being for “anybody looking to play basketball.”

“It could be for a 20-year-old who realizes college isn’t for me but I want to play basketball. It could be for the 33-year-old guy who has four kids and who doesn’t want to travel, but he’s still very good at basketball, a guy who can still play a 20-game season. It could be the guy who does not score any points but he hustles, he works for his team.”

Peay said he hopes to pay his players but he can’t guarantee that yet. Peay said some ABA teams pay their players, but some don’t. It’s up to each team.

Newman said 90 percent of ABA teams compensate players in some way. In any event, Newman said the motivation isn’t always money.

“What the players are looking for is exposure,” Newman said, especially to scouts working for teams in international leagues.

“We send 300 to 400 players a year to good international contracts. We are the largest source of international players in the country,” Newman said. 

Peay plans to hire a videographer to film games, and players can show the film to a scout or to their agent as a way of getting recognized by other leagues.

“We love the NBA. The NBA is the golden ring. They are a goal. We’re not competing,” Newman said.

The ABA is instead looking to do “anything we can do” to support the NBA, he said.