The Milwaukee Muskies: members of the NBDL’s forerunner

The Milwaukee Muskies: members of the NBDL’s forerunner
Blomberg, Reed established Bucks feeder team
by Truman Reed / special to Bucks.com

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March 10, 2008

MILWAUKEE -- The National Basketball Development League has been a valuable resource for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Current Bucks Bobby Simmons, Awvee Storey and Ramon Sessions have all honed their skills in the NBDL.

David Noel, also on Milwaukee's roster, is successfully developing his game with the D-League's Tulsa 66ers.

And Ersan Ilyasova, whose National Basketball Association rights the Bucks retain, spent a season with the 66ers before making his NBA debut with Milwaukee last year.

The D-League is seven years old, but the concept of a developmental, feeder league for the NBA dates back decades beyond that span.

The Continental Basketball Association is the longest-running and most well-known minor league of professional basketball, but is not directly affiliated with the NBA.

During the early years of the Bucks' 40-year history, there was another Continental Basketball Association. And one of its franchises was the Milwaukee Muskies, who sent several players on to play for the Bucks.

The feeder team was the brainchild of Ray Patterson, the original president of the Bucks' organization. When Patterson, the former headmaster at Beaver Dam's Wayland Academy, assumed his position with the Bucks, he brought along Ron Blomberg, who had coached at Wayland and also at Brookfield Central and Peshtigo high schools.

"The Bucks were just starting up, and Wes Pavalon and Ray Patterson were in charge," Blomberg remembered. "Ray told me, ‘Well, you’re coming with me, and I think what we’ll do is try and start a farm team.’

"Ray was an innovator. The team was called the Muskies. Jack Nagle (who had been head coach at Marquette University prior to Al McGuire and later went on to coach at Whitefish Bay High School) was involved with that also. He contacted me and asked for ideas."

As the Muskies and the Bucks developed, Patterson looked to Blomberg to establish the Milwaukee Bucks Basketball Camps for youngsters, attempting to establish a local fan base for the franchise.

Blomberg also became Eddie Doucette's color commentator on Bucks broadcasts, and as Patterson found more hats for Blomberg to wear, he needed a right-hand man of his own.

That man was Larry Reed, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Athletic Hall-of-Famer who had become the all-time leading scorer for the Panthers several years earlier.

“The league in which the Muskies played, which was called the Continental League, was a forerunner to what is now the NBA Development League," Reed said. "The Milwaukee Bucks had the vision to recognize the needs of having some of their lesser-known players go and get playing experience.

“I coached that team. It was a great experience. We had some of the players who were 13th, 14th or 15th on the regular squad playing on our team."

Probably the two most recognizable names on the Muskies roster were Bob Greacen, who starred at Rutgers University before being chosen by the Bucks in the second round of the 1969 NBA Draft, and Marvin Winkler, a former University of Southwestern Louisiana standout whom the Bucks picked in the third round of the 1970 draft.

Greacen went on to play for the Bucks during the 1969-70 season, and both he and Greacen saw some action with the team during its NBA Championship run of 1970-71.

"We had Marvin Winkler; we had a kid from Florida named John McKinney who was a teammate of Bobby Dandridge's at Norfolk State; we had Bobby Greacen; we had a guard named Bobby Washington who went on to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers," Reed recalled. "The year that we had Marvin Winkler, we won the league, but we lost in the playoffs to a team that was coached by Magic Johnson’s representatives.”

Both Blomberg and Reed considered the venture a successful one.

"There were about six teams in the league, all in the Midwest area," Blomberg said. "We traveled by bus, by cars. The cheaper, the better.

"It went pretty well. The farm-team idea was good, and we had some players who weren’t bad. They were kind of on the edge, the bubble."

Reed agreed.

“The league was great," he said. "It was more or less an extension of the collegiate level of play; just not quite at the NBA level.

"So we had a lot of the same experiences that small colleges had in terms of the amenities that went along with it. Most of the games were played in high school gyms in the Midwest. We didn’t go too far to too many different states. We could get to most of our road games within four to five hours."

Blomberg, Reed and the Muskies were a dedicated group. Reed remembers how hard the players worked.

“Oh yeah," he said. "We’d practice sometimes in the Arena; other times we’d practice at a high school. We were very close. We had a lot of camaraderie.

"The gist of all of our experience a lot of times was the experience of what the Bucks were going through at the time. We related to that, and that was the epitome of what we were looking at. It was what we used as a standard and a measurement.”

Blomberg and Reed invested a lot of time and effort into developing the Muskies for the Bucks, but they could not prevent those players from seeking opportunities elsewhere as the NBA expanded.

“I think the guys who play in the D-League today have a stronger commitment, because they know they are still tied to their NBA clubs," Reed said. "The guys we had were almost like in a free-agency atmosphere, and they knew they had few other options to pursue if they didn’t accept their opportunity.

"They were developing themselves more as a free agent as opposed to developing themselves for a specific need on their club."

Today's D-League, on the other hand, develops many of its players for specific NBA teams that retain their rights.

“In the developmental league of today, the club actually is directing some of these players in terms of what they need to develop in order to fit into the club," Reed said. "Back when I coached the Muskies, there were no guarantees given to the kids, so they were developing into free agents.

"That was an incentive for all of the guys who played. If they weren’t asked to come back to their club, they might be asked by another NBA team to come and try out.”

As Blomberg and Reed continued to build the Bucks camp program, they got the Muskies involved.

“Ron and I were very close," Reed said. "We were attempting at the same time to expand the Milwaukee Bucks Basketball Camps.

"We made investments in the players who were with the Muskies. Some of the players who played in that league, they came in and worked at our camps. They’d make guest appearances, and that was a little bit easier for us than maybe getting some of the name players.

"Being a Milwaukee Bucks Camp, these guys were still considered Milwaukee Bucks and were able to comply with the image of our camps.”

During their low-profile beginnings, both Blomberg and Reed made strong impressions on the Bucks brass with their committed work ethic. And both were promoted into the team's front office during the ensuing years.

Blomberg became assistant general manager to Wayne Embry, and Reed became Embry's administrative assistant.

Reed remembers those years well, and they were vital ones in the growth of both the Bucks and the NBA.

“It was a different atmosphere in the NBA itself," he said. "The league was still evolving, and a lot of the old-timers were still around. A lot of the emphasis was being directed to the old-timers as opposed to the new guys coming in.

"You had guys like Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson and other guys of that stature that people were looking up to, and you didn’t have a whole lot of focus on who was coming into the league fresh."

That is where developmental teams like the Muskies fit into the equation.

“There was a whole lot of respect being demanded and a whole lot of kidding going on, getting guys to demonstrate their respect for the older players," Reed said. "There was a lot of loyalty, I think.”