Thanks to a loyal fan base in Oregon and a roster full of “the right guys”, word is officially out on the second year organization in The Basketball League.
All anyone needs to do is watch Jason lead a youth basketball camp of smiling kids or examine the loyal community growth and support behind Salem Capitals basketball to know that the 7-footer out of Gilroy, California is constantly moving in the right direction. With the Capitals hosting their 2023 home opener against the visiting Newfoundland Rogues on Friday, March 10, that direction appears to be up in The Basketball League, and everyday life for that matter. During a daunting and physically intense five month basketball season, the Capitals are constructed to operate like a fine oiled machine.
“Our organization is a network of gears that all work together,” Jason explained.
“If one of those gears is moving a little slower, all the gears move a little slower. We definitely pride ourselves on including everyone that wants to be a part of this as well as setting them up for the most success possible.”
With the organization no longer a well-kept secret, Jason Conrad took time prior to the start of the season to discuss the “business of basketball”, why he “tells it like it is”, what makes first year head coach Kevin Johnson Jr. the perfect fit for Salem, and why the Caps are the right guys to get the job done this season in The Basketball League.
Seeing the league’s goals of where they want to be in the next 4 years and them having an action plan to get there is exciting. The camaraderie of the coaches and Team Market Owners I thought was the biggest win business wise of this trip. The understanding that my success is their success and their success is my success is huge. We are all in this together.
What’s the biggest difference for you heading into this season compared to last season?
The luxury of time. Last season, I acquired the team a few months before the season started so this year I had the luxury of time along with a successful season under my belt to build on.
You are getting some schooling in the “business of basketball” over the last year. What is a lesson that you have learned along the way?
From a business perspective starting out, when people say they want to be involved and help doesn’t mean they will. It took me investing in the community to be able to find the right pieces. I will take the right pieces over the best pieces any day. That’s for players and staff. I’m a big believer in chemistry from a team and organization standpoint. You may be the best at what you do in your respective field, but if you can’t figure out how to define your role in a team setting it makes it tough for you and the others involved. Our organization is a network of gears that all work together. If one of those gears is moving a little slower, all the gears move a little slower. We definitely pride ourselves on including everyone that wants to be a part of this as well as setting them up for the most success possible. Just like my success is everyone else’s success. . . It’s the same with staff from the parking lot attendants all the way up to me and everyone in between.
Why do you think the team has connected so quickly and closely with the community in and around Salem?
Because we have the “right” pieces. Guys that say what they mean and mean what they say. Take Domo for example (Dominique Lawrence). He is the epitome of what our organization is about. He is involved in the community in ways he wants to be involved. A big thing I learned playing overseas was that I needed to be engaged and enjoy what I was doing within the community. If the guy doesn’t want to go to a school and read out loud, I’ll find out what his interests and hobbies are and have him do that in the community.
When Domo talks to people and he commits to going to a business to help with something or when he tells a kid he will go to his youth league game he shows up. I am a very “tell it like it is” person and I think making sure our guys are the same way is important. At the end of the day we are successful because “we” (as an organization as a whole) want to be involved with the community, not because we have to be.
At what point of the season last year did you know that you’d be making a coaching change with Kevin Johnson stepping into the role? What makes him the perfect fit at Head Coach for what the organization is trying to accomplish?
Oh, since day one. I have known Kevin since 2014. He had a very successful 14 year-pro career. I had him and a few other vets I was able to build my team around. Last year Coach Brian Stevens was the perfect fit for our year one coach and the standard we were trying to set.
Luckily for me even though Kevin was on the older side, he was the perfect lead by example guy for these younger guys to look up to. He is probably one of the best basketball minds I know, and that is saying a lot with the vast rolodex I have of basketball personnel. He, like I mentioned before about myself, is a “tell it like it is” type guy. He gained a lot of respect last year. He has a relationship with returning players and is the ideal head coach from his ability to maximize what he brings to the table. Between his experience playing, knowledge, resources, connections, and his demeanor. I couldn’t have asked for a better fit. He understands my vision and is on board with making sure we stick to our objectives on and off the court.
I’m sure he had a blank space on his resume to add Professional Basketball Coach. I’m glad the Salem Capitals get to be the start of his coaching journey and I’m excited to see where he ends up in his coaching career. Hopefully I can hang onto him for a few years before he moves up in the ranks.
As one of the best bigs in the whole league, how do you replace Kevin’s production?
I think with Kevin’s basketball IQ, if the team can follow his game plans, they will be successful.
You have been on both sides of basketball now from playing to running an organization…what do you feel makes for a good coach?
I think for me personally, accountability makes the best coach. Not only holding your players accountable but yourself and the coaching staff as well. The other thing is leading by example. Kevin has done it all on the court and now he gets to lead the charge off the court with everything from attitude, to etiquette, to how you should dress for games, to how the refs should be addressed and everything in between. Through his ability to lead through example and accountability I would put him up against any coach, not just in this league but any league. That may seem like a stretch to some people, but if you knew Kevin like I know Kevin. . . I’m pretty certain you would agree. Given the right opportunities I have a feeling we will be hearing the name Kevin Johnson Jr. in the basketball world for a long time.
What was your approach heading into the offseason and did you accomplish what you’d set out to do?
The reality of our situation is, even though we were the highest attended team in the West we are still a pretty big secret in this area. The potential to sell out our arena is definitely in the cards and I’d even be willing to say it could happen this season. My biggest factor from an organization standpoint was brand awareness. Making sure the people of Salem and surrounding areas know who we are and that we are here to stay. I would say everyone that was a part of Salem Capitals Basketball (including fans) helped make sure we were no longer a secret. I guess we’ll find out on opening night if we did a good job of that. I’m pretty confident in our community that our house will have one of the best atmospheres, not just in the West but in the whole league.
As far as shaping the roster, we knew we had a lot of our pieces coming back. Minus Kevin now coaching the team, Vince Boumann signing in Mexico, and a couple guys hanging up their shoes for good, we have everybody wanting to come back. With our successes in year one and a team chemistry that’s unmatched.
Congratulations also on adding Isaiah Gentry to the team. What do you like the most about him as a player and a person?
With the addition of Zay (Isaiah) from the SoCal Moguls and Preston Whitfield from the Little Rock Lightening, we have a lot of weapons on this squad. If guys buy into their roles and do what is best for the collective, I believe we have the talent and potential to go a long way this season. Again, I know I said it before but I wholeheartedly believe in not just having the best pieces but the right pieces. I have been part of superstar teams that were unsuccessful, and I have been part of teams full of guys that had incredible chemistry, and been very, very successful. I believe we have the right pieces to keep our name as a topic of discussion again this season.
Zay is amazing. He understands the goals of the organization on and off the court. He is a team player. He shares the values of the organization and is an all around great guy. I’m still getting to know him but from what I know and what I have seen, he will be a big part of our success on and off the court this season. It’s rare but sometimes you get the best piece and the right piece wrapped up in one.
What point are you trying to emphasize with the guys now that the season is here?
To stick to your strengths. Basketball is a team sport and although you should train to be the best at everything, the reality is you won’t be. Don’t try to do too much. Coaches will complete the puzzle. Your job is to make sure you are a piece that fits. In my opinion, a lot of guys coming in feel like they need to be able to do everything. They feel like they have to be more than one piece of the puzzle.
Find your strengths within the group you are with. It may not be the same thing every time, but a good coach will see your ability to adapt for the betterment of the team. Stick to your strengths, play hard, and give it 100% every time you step on that court. I’m not sure who actually said it but they hit it on the nose: “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard”. All we can ask for as an organization is your best.
Wendell Maxey is the author of Around The Basketball League and has written about professional basketball and sports for 19 years. He’s been featured on NBA.com, ESPN.com, USA Today, FOX Sports, and SLAM Magazine among other publications and media outlets. You can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or read through his archive on Linktree.
Thanks for reading Around The Basketball League! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.