For Saundra Brown, owner and player for the Toledo Threat, the inaugural season in the Women’s Blue Chip Basketball League has been a success.
“This is my vision,” Brown said. “This is my dream and something I wanted to be able to bring to the city of Toledo. I actually own the team, and I’m a player too, which the league allows you to do. I’ve played in the WBCBL about four years ago.”
Brown is a Start graduate and played at Detroit Mercy in college. She has helped construct a roster full of former Toledo-area standouts, with a large group of former City League players.
Shareese Ulis, a former Waite standout and current Threat player, said she and Brown have stayed in touch since their CL days.
With a consistent group of former city players, Brown and Ulis have been playing together at open gyms for many years. When Brown, Ulis, and the others challenged the Detroit Dodgers, a WBCBL team, to a scrimmage for charity, some of the Detroit players urged Brown to create a WBCBL team.
“Some people reached out to her and asked her if she wanted to create a pro-development team,” Ulis said. “Since she in the past had that idea and passion, she went with it and got everything she needed to start it, and then she had tryouts.
“With us playing regular pickup games all the time, we already had that connection.”
Brown said Toledo has supported women’s basketball for a long time, and she is excited about the fan turnout in the first season.
“Honestly, it’s been amazing,” Brown said. “I’m speaking from the fan support that we have had.
“Our games have been pulling in at least 200 to 300 people, and our last game we were just shy of 400. It’s almost as if the city has been waiting for something like this. Women’s basketball was so huge in Toledo back when I was playing in 2005 at Start. Just seeing the fans coming to the games and engaging is amazing.”
The WBCBL is recognized as a developmental league. It helps to showcase players for opportunities to play professionally overseas and, in some cases, the WNBA. Brown said the WBCBL has seen about 600 of its players sign professional deals.
“Pretty much the goal for the Toledo Threat is to provide an opportunity for those players in the Toledo area who are coming out of college and might not be getting the looks to play overseas,” Brown said. “They can come and try out for the Toledo Threat.
“If they are good enough, we will put them on the team, and develop them, and get them ready so that they can go overseas and get the looks they are looking for.”
For Ulis, who graduated from Waite in 2007, she is using the opportunity with the Threat to help provide an example for young girls in Toledo.
“This, for me, is not about playing overseas,” Ulis said. “For me, it’s just a great platform to give back to our city, especially coming from the era of basketball that we played in when most of our games on any given night were sold out. You don’t see that anymore.
“It’s just a good way to show our young girls that we’ve been through what you’ve been through, and there is a platform for you to continue to play basketball.”
The Threat have been slowly introduced into the league with an eight-game schedule. They are 2-2 this season and have one more home game at 5 p.m. Saturday at Start High, followed by three road games to close out the regular season. With more than 40 teams in the WBCBL, Toledo has a regionally focused schedule.
Toledo is in the Northeast Division, along with the Detroit Dodgers, Grand Rapids Galaxy, Cleveland Crush, and Louisville Fillies.
The Threat has had two home games at Start High and two at Toledo Christian. Brown said they charge $5 for admission and offer giveaways and promotions for the home games. Brown said she hopes the team will settle on a permanent home site by next season, and hopes the schedule expands.
The demand for the product in Toledo has been there. As far as the quality of play, Ulis said they have gone through the normal struggles of a new team, but are coming off a 91-84 victory against Louisville.
“I think as with any other team just getting started, you have those little kinks that you have to work out with team chemistry and figuring out what type of team you are going to be and finding an identity,” Ulis said.
“I think this past game, we were able to put some things together and actually play a full 40 minutes with an identity. The first three games, we were trying to figure that out, and I think this past game, we kind of got it, so hopefully we can build off that.”