On the same night that members of the Nashville Soul introduced themselves, they announced that they soon won’t be the only professional basketball team in town.
In front of 50 fans at the team’s informal press conference/scrimmage on Monday at the A-Game Sportsplex in Franklin, owner John Rowe revealed that professional women’s basketball will becoming to Nashville for the first time.
The Nashville Passion will begin its first season in November — at the same time as the Soul, which represents the third American Basketball Association (ABA) franchise to attempt success in Music City. The Passion will be a part of the new Women’s American Basketball Association (WABA).
“There is obviously a following for it,” said Rowe, pointing to high attendance at University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt women’s basketball games. “High school girls basketball — that game is growing. So the timing is right for the league to add in that component… If we couple some of those games with our men’s games and couple some of the events with the men’s events and then also offer a few standalone events, I think there will be enough following there and enough crossover there to make it survive.”
Rowe, who started promoting the Soul in January, will also own a WABA team in Knoxville. He’ll hand the reins of the club to Tony Thompson, who is also an assistant for the Soul.
Thompson we’ll keep busy, as he is an assistant at Fisk University — for both the men’s and women’s NAIA basketball teams. Plus, he also owns an AAU team. The Chicago native enters his ninth year of coaching and is confident that the Soul and Passion won’t end up like their Music City professional basketball predecessors — extinct.
“What John has done differently than what I have seen in the past is that he has reached out to the community more,” Thompson said. “One thing that we are going to do on the men’s and women’s side is attract a lot of the middle schools, a lot of the high schools, bring some of the men’s and women’s athletes to local camps.”
Thompson said “probably 80 percent” of the Passion will have ties to the state of Tennessee, with their home games to be played at A-Game Sportsplex.
There are clear local connections on the Soul, including Ronnie McMahan (Vanderbilt), Justin Herndon (Tennessee/Belmont), Adam Sonn (Belmont), Brandon Springer (Cumberland), Marquis Patton (Fisk) and Jeremiah Crutcher (Tennessee State). The team also have bigger name recognition than otherwise given the recent signing of Clarksville native Trenton Hassell. After graduating from Austin Peay, he enjoyed a nine-year professional career, last playing with the NBA’s New Jersey Nets in 2009-10.
Plus, the Soul’s head coach is a familiar face as well — Jan van Breda Kolff. The former Vanderbilt star and coach was at the helm of the Nashville Broncs, city’s most recent ABA team. That franchise folded in 2010.
The Soul will play 10 of its 33 games at the A-Game Sportsplex. The team will also play games at Cumberland, Middle Tennessee State, Austin Peay, Tennessee Tech, Columbia State and Vol State. Rowe said he is working on bringing a game to Bridgestone Arena as well.
Rowe had hoped to release the upcoming season schedule on Monday but said the league hadn’t completed it. Another fan gathering for the Soul is scheduled for Aug. 8 at the A-Game Sportsplex.
“Everybody is geeked up and really excited about the team. I’m excited also,” Patton said. “I believe that the more we get out there and get people to say, ‘Hey this is an ABA team.’ This is third go-around but we are here to stay. I feel a lot of people will latch onto that.”