The Moncton Miracles are wrapping up a turbulent inaugural season of the National Basketball League on Thursday by looking forward to next season.
The Miracles were among the first teams to join the upstart basketball league. But unlike teams in Saint John, Halifax and Quebec, Moncton did not have a history of professional basketball before the season tipped off last fall.
The team struggled through a rough start to the year, but after mid-season roster changes and a new coach, they've turned things around.
Darrell Wonge, a forward and the team’s leading scorer, said the first year has been challenging. But he said the season turned around when the team named Mike Evans its new coach.
"A breath of fresh air came in. He changed the morale of the team. He made it seem like we still had a chance, like the season wasn't over yet," Wonge said.
The team is also happy with the support it received from its fans.
The Miracles averaged about 1,400 fans a game, which was higher than expectations, according to the team.
Kimberly Blanco, the team’s senior vice-president, said the first season has been a good learning experience.
"Next season we will be as competitive and you will definitely see us in the standings out of the top four," she said.
Wonge said the team does have to compete for fans with the city’s other team, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Moncton Wildcats.
"We have the best fans in the league, they're so passionate. It's so hard because you're trying to steal away fans from hockey. But everybody that comes to the game, they love it," he said.
Matt Robertson, who was born and raised in Moncton, said the hometown support for this level of basketball has been great.
"People have been almost begging for this. It's like, ‘Oh, you know I always go away to see NBA games or to see pro games of another kind. I always have to go away and now it's right here in your neighbourhood,’" Robertson said.
"And just by the outpouring of fan support you know we've had averaging I think just over 1,400 fans a game. So it just goes to show that there is the outcry and the demand for this kind of this level of basketball here in town."
The Moncton Miracles could have more than one provincial rival when next season rolls around.
The NBL is considering possible expansion.
The National Basketball League’s commissioner has said there may be new teams in Ontario and the Maritimes.
A Fredericton group has already expressed interest in locating a team in the capital city.
Kelly Lamrock, a Fredericton lawyer, said in October his group would be watching the new teams in Moncton and
Summerside to see what kind of support they get before moving ahead with plans for an expansion team in Fredericton.