Friday, June 21, 2024

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Feature Story

Unleashing the Wolves


D.J. Carton will bring his slashing style of play once again next season. The guard put up 15.6 points and 5.5 assists in his second G-League season.

Winter is coming, and it’s joined by howls, hoops and a fresh crop of basketball talent. Interviews with the Iowa Wolves new pack leader, Ernest Scott, and VP of marketing, Chip Albright, take you on the court and into the office for the 2023-2024 season.

The 2023-2024 season brings a fresh start for the Iowa Wolves, and with it comes new prospects, promotions and reasons to get behind the city’s once best-in-the-country G-League basketball team.

The 2022-2023 season for the Wolves got off to a blistering 11-5 start through the Showcase Cup, the NBA G-League’s regular season tournament. The electric start was unfortunately derailed after the Minnesota Timberwolves needed to bring up talent to ease their injury woes, which saw the Wolves exit the competition in the first round after finishing second in their division. 

With the expected, however unfortunate, reality that G-League rosters can be a bit of a revolving door, the Wolves were unable to find their footing throughout the rest of the season and finished the regular season at 9-23.

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The Wolves posted record attendance numbers last season. The average attendance of 4,148 was good enough for second highest in the G-League.

This record, in part, has led to the hiring of new first year head coach, Ernest Scott. Scott has spent the last two years with the Wolves as an assistant and carries with him a 13-year playing career. During that time, Scott played alongside the Wolves general manager, Jonathan Wallace, in the G-League. This makes them the first head coach/general manager combo to do so in G-League history.

During Scott’s first season as an assistant, the Wolves made the playoffs, which he expects the team can return to this year.

“We were rolling along, and then it kind of trickled down, unfortunately. The way the G League is now, with all the injuries and the things that happened in Minnesota, it affected us, and we just didn’t have the consistency within our roster that we had early on in the season. That’ll be a big thing. We just got to have that consistency,” said Scott.

The G-League’s main function is to develop players for the next level. According to Scott, there’s no reason why winning basketball games and curating talent can’t go hand in hand.

“I feel like those things shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. A great example is when myself and John Wallace played for coach Finch down in Rio Grande Valley. We had six call-ups and still managed to win the championship. If we’re doing our job in developing NBA-ready, talented guys in Des Moines, then the wins should naturally occur,” said Scott.

Luka Garza, despite his short stint with the Wolves last season, led the team in points with 29.8. Garza will be on a two-way contract in 2023-2024.

Despite not experiencing the success the team has had in the past, the Wolves had no issue getting people inside of Wells Fargo Arena. According to the Iowa Events Center’s website, the Wolves pulled in record attendance numbers, averaging 4,148 fans a night, breaking the previous record that was set when the team transitioned from the Energy to the Wolves in 2017-2018.

The vice president of marketing and business development of the Wolves, Chip Albright, sat down with CITYVIEW to discuss some of the organization’s strategies on how they get people in the doors and make sure they come back.

“I think a main goal is finding new people to learn more about the Wolves for us. And working with partners to come up with ideas that we think are beneficial for the community and bringing those to life with our team and an in-game environment as well. Just figuring out ways of what we can do with our platform to make Des Moines and central Iowa better,” said Albright.

Iowa Wolves power forward Josh Minott is expected to be back with the Wolves this season. Minott averaged 20.6 points, 1.3 steals and 1.6 blocks per game in 2022-2023.

Albright and the Wolves will continue programs they have seen be successful not only from a business standpoint but that have also had positive results in the community that supports them. 

“We had over 8,500 kids sign up for our Read to Achieve program. That’s a program that we started. It’s presented by Athene, and it’s for kids grade K through eight who take the pledge to read 500 minutes outside of the classroom. We give them two tickets to an Iowa Wolves game,” said Albright.

The Wolves are bringing community influence onto the court with them this year. The team will have special jersey promotion nights throughout the season.

“I’m super excited about our community celebration series presented by Principal this year. Six nights, we will wear themed jerseys designed by local artists to benefit local nonprofits in that space. So, we’ll have our Pride celebration game, a Black history community celebration game, an AAPI night, Hispanic heritage game, disability empowerment night as well as women’s history. Each one of those will have different artists, different jerseys. Players will wear them, then they’ll autograph and will auction them off online. All of that money goes to local charities doing good work in the space,” said Albright.

Pushing the envelope and exploring new ideas will continue this season, as the Wolves plan to follow in the NBA’s footsteps by playing a game on Martin Luther King Jr. day, something that hasn’t been done in Des Moines before. 

“​That will be a wonderful chance to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, which is really important to us. And just, again, keep finding fun ways and smart ways to connect people to support each other,” said Albright. 

Not only will fans be able to experience the wide range of themed nights, special edition jersey giveaways and improved ticket packages, the G-League also continues to be a hub for developing NBA talent. At the start of last season, 47% of NBA players had G-League experience. That number rose to 55% by the end of the year.

“Some of that value proposition is that it’s definitely something that fans want to see, that level of talent,” said Albright.

And there’s no doubt that the Wolves have been, and will continue to be, harboring that talent. Despite rosters not yet being released, players on last year’s squad who had previous NBA experience, or were called up to the big leagues, included Luka Garza, Wendell Moore, Josh Minott, AJ Lawson and Emmanuel Mudiay. It’s not a coincidence these were the Wolves players with the highest points per game averages last season.

Garza, despite only playing nine games with the Wolves, made a huge impact on the team, averaging a team-high 29.8 points and 9.2 rebounds. The increase in attendance is certainly in part due to his four years at the University of Iowa. His quality play means he’ll undoubtedly be splitting his time between Minnesota and Iowa again this season. 

Scott mentions several players he’s excited to see in Wolves colors this season including D.J. Carton, Phillip Wheeler and Javonte Cook, who all played for the Wolves last season. Scott also named Exhibit 10 player Trevor Keels as someone he anticipates playing in Des Moines.

“I think people will definitely see the influence from Minnesota a lot more clearly. And then I really like the potential moves that I can’t speak on at this very moment, but we definitely got some really good things in the pipeline, roster wise. I think fans are going to be excited. We’re going to have a really strong roster this year,” said Scott. ♦


Nov. 10: NBA G-League Showcase Cup Season Tip Off

Dec. 19-22: 2023 NBA G-League Winter Showcase

Dec. 27: NBA G-League Regular Season Tip Off

April 2024: NBA G-League Playoffs


 Promotional nights

 • Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. vs. Windy City Bulls (Chicago Bulls) | Premier Weekend

• Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. vs. Windy City Bulls | Hoops for Troops

• Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. vs. Motor City Cruise (Detroit Pistons)

• Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. vs. Indiana Mad Ants (Indiana Pacers) | Hoops for Hope

• Dec. 3 at 3 p.m. vs. Indiana Mad Ants | *Pride Celebration

• Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. vs. Cleveland Charge (Cleveland Cavaliers) | Adventureland Night

• Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. vs. Cleveland Charge | Disability Empowerment Night

• Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. vs. College Park Skyhawks (Atlanta Hawks) | Black Out / Pack Out Night

• Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. vs. College Park Skyhawks | Sustainability Day

• Jan. 1 at 2 p.m. vs. Memphis Hustle (Memphis Grizzlies)

• Jan. 3 at 7 p.m. vs. Memphis Hustle

• Jan. 14 at 3 p.m. vs. Salt Lake City Stars (Utah Jazz) | Iowa State Fair Day

• Jan. 15 at 12 p.m. vs. Salt Lake City Stars

• Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. vs. Capital City Go-Go (Washington Wizards)

• Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. vs. Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets) | *AAPI Celebration

• Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. vs. Sioux Falls Skyforce (Miami Heat) | *Black History Month Celebration

• Feb. 6 at 10:30 a.m. vs. Sioux Falls Skyforce

• Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. vs Rio Grande Valley Vipers

• March 12 at 7 p.m. vs. Oklahoma City Blue (Oklahoma City Thunder)

• March 13 at 7 p.m. vs. Oklahoma City Blue (Oklahoma City Thunder)

• March 16 at 7 p.m. vs. Mexico City Capitanes | *Hispanic Heritage Celebration

• March 17 at 3 p.m. vs. Mexico City Capitanes | Family Day

• March 29 at 7 p.m. vs. Austin Spurs (San Antonio Spurs) | *Women’s History Month Celebration

• March 30 at 7 p.m. vs. Austin Spurs (San Antonio Spurs) | Fan Appreciation Night 

* Indicates a Community Celebration game, where a local artist designs special themed jerseys for each game. The jerseys will be auctioned off after the game with the proceeds benefiting local community partners.


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