PRESCOTT VALLEY- Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary for professional basketball in northern Arizona as Phoenix Suns President Jason Rowley announced on April 12th, 2016 that team’s NBA D-League affiliate Bakersfield Jam would be moved to Prescott Valley and be renamed the Northern Arizona Suns.
“Initially, you wonder how it’s going to happen and what the response is going to be,” said Northern Arizona Suns General Manager Bubba Burrage. “I think the players deserve a lot of credit for how they project themselves out there as professionals and just so approachable to the fans.”
Askia Booker, Derek Cooke Jr and Xavier Silas came with the team from Bakersfield to Prescott Valley, while Elijah Millsap returned to the team after playing with the Utah Jazz in the previous season. The players would have to learn a new city, fanbase and stadium.
"This being the first year, I didn’t know what to expect when it came to the community, the fans,” said Booker who averaged fifteen points per game during the inaugural season. “Throughout the season they (the fans) were so consistent. The fans were great.”
“Felt very at home,” Booker continued. “To feel at home is something that you always take with you, I know I would always be welcomed here.”
Averaging just over 1,600 in attendance per game, the fans and players started to know each other better.
“It’s a small enough town obviously we're you're able to come here and be somewhat of a celebrity, rockstar, all-star type feel,” said Northern Arizona Suns guard Michael Bryson who was picked eighth in the NAZ Suns inaugural D-League draft. “It’s big enough obviously for them to come here and be able to show a big crowd, big support.”
After starting off the season blazing hot, at one point having a 8-1 record and leading the D-League, the NAZ Suns fell back to earth and finished the season in third place in the Pacific Division with a 22-28 record.
“It went by really fast,” Burrage said. “I think we had a great journey because we started off on a nice winning streak and got the interest going, we had some falters there with some injuries, and we stuck together.”
Whether it be when the team struggled in the latter part of the season or the start time and day, it didn’t matter to the fans of the team who showed up each game as every matchup drew over 1,000 people.
"It’s cool that they’re committed to supporting us,” Northern Arizona Suns head coach Ty Ellis said. “The fan support through our ups and downs, has been just marvelous.”
“As a organization, we can’t ask for a better first year,” Ellis continued.
Throughout the season, the team put on a display of NBA talent with former NAZ Suns players Derrick Jones Jr, Elijah Millsap and Johnny O’Bryant all appearing in NBA games over the course of the season with Jones Jr and Millsap competing for the Suns while O’Bryant suited up for the Denver Nuggets and Charlotte Hornets. Jones Jr. put Prescott Valley and the Suns organization on the map when he finished second in the NBA All-Star dunk contest.
The NAZ Suns return to the court in the fall.