Another minor league team benched

A second minor league basketball team hoping to call Augusta home won't play in 2009. Duane Allen Jenkins, the owner and president of the United States Basketball Association, said Monday he intends to shut down the league for the year.

The league, which was set up to own and operate each of its 10 teams, including the Augusta Raging River, originally intended to begin its inaugural season in 2008. Monday's announcement marks the second season the league has canceled.

Jenkins said the two main reasons for shutting down are the state of the economy and the poor reputation other minor league basketball teams have left in USBA markets.

"It's not that we don't have the money to do this thing," he said. "I have to distance myself from what's happening with these other leagues. Other towns are lumping us in with what these other teams have done."

The Augusta Groove, a Premier Basketball League team, brought minor league basketball back to the city in January and played a 20-game schedule. But co-owners Gary Perry, Ricky Brown and LaVon Mercer have been accused by multiple players and local businesses of bouncing checks and leaving bills unpaid. At least one local business has filed a lawsuit against the team after two bounced checks for a hotel bill topping $15,000.

Jenkins said he's heard similar tales in other cities, which has made it difficult for his league to find support.

"The last thing we want to do is hurt any local business by playing half a season and taking their money and leaving, and then hearing everybody say, 'They're just like the other guys,' " Jenkins said. "It's not fair to the town, and it's not fair to the fans and players."

Jenkins said the players who paid to try out for the team will be reimbursed the $75 fee, and all coaches will be compensated for their time worked.

Former Richmond Academy and Florida State standout Chuck Graham was set to coach the Raging River.

"I'm disappointed, not just for myself but for the guys who have been working so hard," Graham said Monday afternoon. "We were all ready to go to practice tonight, then I got the news this morning."

The Raging River announced in February that they had reached an agreement with the Augusta State athletic department to play all home games at Christenberry Fieldhouse, but events coordinator Jason Gribek confirmed Monday that the school had yet to receive any payment.

Jenkins said the league will return in 2010, and he hopes the Raging River will play at Christenberry Fieldhouse. Richmond Academy's gym, where the Groove played, is the backup plan, he said.

Graham said he will stay with the league and return as the head coach next season.

"We are going to be back next year," Jenkins said. "No question about it."

Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or billy.byler@augustachronicle.com.

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