by Thomas Leturgey
It will take a little while for Artis Cleveland to get used to the unique rules of the modern-day American Basketball Association (ABA). With the extra points from backcourt turnover 3D options, the ABA is unlike any other league the East Detroit native has played. But he’s eager to contribute to the #1 ranked, defending champion Steel City Yellow Jackets.
While the Yellow Jackets are one of the fastest and highest-scoring teams in the ABA, the club won its first-ever National Championship last April due to defense. And they were able to keep other teams’ offense on their heels with a 6’3” forward in Antonio Reddic, Sr. playing as an undersized center. This season, with Reddic and 6’6” forward/center Claude Scott, Jr. on the Injured Reserve and 6’7” center Justin Hamilton not returning, the team had been bereft of a big man in the paint.
Early in the season, 6’7” forward Dominick McClung has come on strong and 6’9” Brandon Burnett has added size off the bench. But now, the near seven-foot Cleveland brings a dynamic the team hasn’t seen for some time.
“He’s the tallest player we’ve had,” said Owner and Head Coach Ace Pippens. “There aren’t a lot of 7-footers walking around Pittsburgh.”
In fact, Pippens found Cleveland, 27 and 6’11,” via a “Fire Mixtape” highlight video. He contacted Cleveland’s agent and inked a deal quickly. Admittedly, Cleveland hadn’t known about the Yellow Jackets, but a quick Google search told him much about Pittsburgh’s sole defending, championship club.
Since college, he’s played in various leagues and spent some time with a team in El Salvador, but this is his first foray with the ABA.
“I was excited about coming in,” Cleveland said Monday before that evening’s practice. Cleveland signed on, drove to Pittsburgh and got ready. He debuted in last Saturday’s 183-118 drubbing of Indiana’s Naptown Pros. Cleveland, who prides himself on defense, dished out 19 points, pulled in 15 rebounds and blocked an incredible seven shots in his first game.
Since Saturday, he’s been trying to get acclimated to a new city and a new group of teammates. He’s also looking for a day job. He had a delivery business in Detroit, where he would drop off or pick up treadmills and other awkward items to homes and businesses. He hopes to land something similar to that in Pittsburgh, as he has a girlfriend and son, Princeton, back home.
Coincidentally, Cleveland says he immediately felt like he fit in with the Yellow Jackets. The team has a “family” type attitude. “The guys raise each other up,” he continued. “They go out of their way to help one another.” He talked about working well right away with twins Tim and James Jackson, and team scoring-leader Kenny Holmes.
The newest Yellow Jacket looks forward to playing the entire season in Pittsburgh. “It’s a great opportunity,” he says. He loves the speed of the ABA game, the lax goaltending and rules when it comes to fouls, as well as a chance to repeat with the Yellow Jackets.
Pippens says he can’t wait to see Cleveland work on the same court as “Snoop” (Claude Scott, Jr.) when he comes back in a few weeks.
The Yellow Jackets play their third game of the early season this Saturday against the Ohio Bruins. Last weekend, the Bruins (1-2) lost to the Ohio Kings, 99-95.