Year one for the Sudbury Five was, by all accounts, a resounding success.
The team made the playoffs in their first year, were the home to the National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC) MVP, Braylon Rayson, as well as the league's top newcomer, Jaylen Bland.
Both players have re-signed for another year with the Five, and head coach and general manager Logan Stutz is back at the helm for season two, where he says expectations are even higher.
"I think expectations are definitely higher just from the overall production of the whole experience," said Stutz.
"The experience is what people are talking about more than anything. It's exciting, it's fun, the fans love it, the players are great, but now that they've had the experience and tasted some success I think (fans) want more of it, so that they have something they can rally behind and I think they'd ultimately like to see us bring a championship to Sudbury."
The Five were one of the league's most exciting offenses last year, averaging nearly 112 points per game while draining 577 3-pointers, and the results were shown in the stands as the Five posted the third-highest attendance numbers in the 10-team league.
One particular fan of the Five is especially excited for year two, and that's team owner Dario Zulich, who says that there's still plenty of room to grow for his team here in Sudbury as well as around the north.
"The pump was primed, but Sudbury is not yet saturated and a lot of people haven't been to a game yet," said Zulich. "Word is still spreading out and it's still new and we made sure last year from the first game to the last that the entertainment value was there and that it's an experience that people have never seen before."
Season tickets have been flying out of the box office and Zulich says that season tickets for floor seats are already sold out, with the season opener still nearly two months away.
"It's not just in Sudbury, people from outside Sudbury are hearing about this, from Timmins, North Bay, the Soo, everyone is hearing about this. I think we did this right from day one and it's paying dividends," said Zulich.
The fan experience promises to be full value for entertainment dollar once again this year, but when you boil it down, the product on the court will ultimately determine how the team is received and how effectively they are able to draw fans.
Sudbury native Georges Serresse will be returning to the Five for a second year and says that expectations are a bit more concrete coming into year two, whereas year one there were a lot of unknowns.
"Last year obviously we were starting from zero which can be complicated at times, other teams had a core together and had veterans in place," said Serresse. "We're going to have more of that this year, we've got guys returning."
Not to lump too much pressure on the players and coaches, Zulich isn't shy about his expectations as a fan for the team.
"I expect to win," said Zulich. "I'm a fan and every fan wants their team to win. I'm so excited for the team and it's possible, with good coaching which we have and good players which we have we can win, we can go all the way."
The NBLC is very much a transitional league and rosters will often see a lot of turnover on their rosters throughout the course of the season. Stutz was able to keep his roster mostly intact throughout the team's inaugural season and is happy that there will be a number of players, including Serresse, Bland and Rayson, returning for year two.
"We actually had less turnover than most teams in the league, but at the same time you want to keep a core and we're going to be able to return a really good core for the style that I want to play," said Stutz.
"I'm excited for that. We've got guys with experience in the league, with what I want to do and I think with that experience and the knowledge we've all gained it sets us up for a better year, it's hard for me to see a step backwards and I want to compete for a championship."
What Stutz wants to do is continue to play the exciting brand of high-scoring, fast paced offense that made the Five one of the highest-scoring teams in the league a season ago.
"I think you're going to see a very similar offense and I think we're going to pick it up on the defensive end and just get after teams more, maybe speed the game up even more and cause more turnovers," said Stutz.
Team chemistry is important to any team's success, and Serresse says that the bonding among players on the Five was quick and immediate last year, given that apart from Georges, they were all coming to a new city with a lot of unknowns.
"Our group was pretty tight-knit, just as soon as you put the guys on the court the bonding was pretty much automatic," said Serresse, who took on a strong leadership role in helping the guys acclimate to their new surroundings.
"I find that I do that stuff naturally, when I played overseas I had that role as well, when I was playing in France we had foreign players who didn't speak French and I did, so I kind of served as that bridge between players and the coaches and management and teammates, and I find I'm doing the same thing here, making sure that everyone is comfortable playing here in Sudbury."
Coach Stutz has most of his roster players signed and training camp will open on Nov. 16, which again, will take on a bit of a different look than year one where the team held open tryouts and was still looking to fill spots as the season approached.
"It'll be a lot smaller and more exclusive to specifically what I want," said Stutz.
"I did a lot of work and research on bringing guys in, there's always those inevitable changes and switches but at the end of the day I want to get the guys here that I want here and start building that relationship and trust right away. I don't want them coming in and seeing there's six other guys competing for their spot, I want them to feel comfortable and start going to work right away."
The Five will play their first pre-season game at home at the Sudbury Arena on Nov. 22 when the Moncton Magic come to town. Get the full team schedule and more at thefive.ca.