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Western Conference Preview, Part 2

The fourth and final installment of a four-part preview series looks at four teams from the West.
SEASON PREVIEWS
Eastern Conference, Part 1(CTN, DAK, ERI, FWN)
Western Conference, Part 1(AUS, BAK, IDA, LAD)
Eastern Conference, Part 2(IWA, MNE, SXF, SPG)
Western Conference, Part 2(RNO, RGV, TEX, TUL)


From now until the start of the 2011-12 NBA Development League regular season on Friday -- including a live broadcast on NBA TV (7:30 p.m. ET) of the Canton Charge's first-ever game, when the newcomers take on defending champ Iowa -- we'll look at the teams, players and storylines you should know as the NBA D-League preps for its most competitive season yet.

After we previewed our first four teams from the Eastern Conference on Tuesday, a breakdown of the final four teams from the conference is on-tap today because everybody needs some hoops on Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, stay tuned to NBADLeague.com for exclusive video and stories about #DTip11.


Blake Ahearn helped lead the Americans to a bronze medal at the 2011 Pan American Games.
USA Basketball

Reno Bighorns
NBA Affiliates: Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings
Coach: Paul Mokeski
Key Players: Cedric Bozeman, Blake Ahearn
Key Draft Pick: Bozeman, Donald Sims
Last Year: 34-16
City Fun Fact:
In Reno, the one-time ‘divorce capital of America,’ it’s illegal to place a bench in the middle of the street.
Outlook: Weeks after Blake Ahearn led the USA Basketball Pan American Games team to its first medal in 12 years, he found himself going from Erie to Reno as part of a four-man trade that also sent BayHawks draft pick Taj McCullough to Reno, in exchange for Donald Sloan and draftee Joe Kennerly III. From the start, Ahearn – who played in the NBA for the Heat and Spurs in 2008 – will provide some much-needed veteran leadership for a Reno team stacked with young talent.

Joining Ahearn as a team leader will be Cedric Bozeman, who played with the Hawks in 2006-07 before heading to the D-League and international leagues. Look for Donald Sims and Nick Fazekas, the big men out of Iowa and Nevada, respectively, to give Reno a top-flight inside game, while the rest of the Bighorns shore up the perimeter.

Last season Nick Nurse led the Iowa Energy to the D-League title over his new team the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Brian Ray/NBAE/Getty Images

Rio Grande Valley Vipers
NBA Affiliate: Houston Rockets
Coach: Nick Nurse
Key Players: Tyren Johnson
Key Draft Pick: Charles Okwandu
Last Year: 33-17
City Fun Fact:
When the Africanized Honey Bee – known more commonly as the ‘Killer Bee’ – invaded America back in 1990, it was first detected in Hidalgo, the Vipers’ home site. The town then erected a statue to celebrate the moment.
Outlook: A year after taking home the NBA D-League title, the Vipers had to settle for second last year, falling to the Iowa Energy in three games. This summer, Rio Grande exacted some revenge, plucking away then-Iowa coach Nick Nurse – a veteran coach who’s known for getting his players to mix a fast-paced, energetic style with stifling defense. And he’ll have his work cut out for him.

The Vipers have a young squad in 2011-12, featuring Pepperdine powerhouse Tyren Johnson and UConn big man Charles Okwandu – both of them out of the 2011 Draft. Meanwhile, watch for fellow draft pick Greg Washington to grow into a shot-blocking presence in the lane, as he was for Hofstra during his time on Long Island.

Sharpshooter Booker Woodfox won three-point contests at the Dream Factory and Showcase last year.
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

Texas Legends
NBA Affiliate: Dallas Mavericks
Coach: Del Harris
Key Players: Booker Woodfox, Dominique Johnson
Key Draft Pick: Jamal Sampson
Last Year: 24-26
City Fun Fact:
Frisco, where the Legends play, got its name from the St. Louis-San Francisco railroad that once ran through.
Outlook: Booker Woodfox has some touch. And this year, he’ll have a chance to show it. The former Creighton guard was featured mostly off the bench last year in Texas, but should be a featured player for a Legends team that’s returning four of pillars from last year.

Now pair him with Dominique Johnson, who had a great run at the Legends’ preseason jamboree, and you’ve got a scoring tandem that should help offset the losses of Justin Dentmon (trade) and Joe Alexander (Russia).

Throw in the steady hand of Del Harris, the 1995 NBA Coach of the Year who came out of retirement to coach the Legends this year, and you’ve got a recipe for a team that looks destined to far surpass the .500 mark this year.


Jerome Dyson averaged 19.5 points and 6.5 assists for the 66ers last season.
Brian Ray/NBAE/Getty Images

Tulsa 66ers
NBA Affiliates: Oklahoma Thunder
Coach: Nate Tibbetts
Key Players: Jerome Dyson, Curtis Sumpter
Key Draft Pick: Sumpter, Dwight Buycks
Last Year: 33-17
City Fun Fact:
Tulsa invented the Yield sign. You can look it up here.
Outlook: There aren’t many teams that can pack the 1-2-3 punch that the 66ers can. With Pan American Gamers Jerome Dyson and Curtis Sumpter (who used to battle in the Big East for UConn and Villanova, respectively) teaming up with post presence Marcus Lewis, Tulsa’s got a strong foundation to build on.

Throw in the 10 draft picks the 66ers picked up – including Kansas guard Brady Morningstar, dunk machine Rico Cunningham and the truly spectacular mustache that came with Vermont’s Evan Fjeld – and Pan-Am coach Nate Tibbetts will have a wealth of young talent to match (and ‘stache) up with his big three.