Soutiri Sapnas is 29, caught in an unwieldy basketball league of modest reputation and looking for a chance to take one step deeper into the professional game.
He already has a neat nickname: The Greek Mamba. He already has a smooth and effective outside shot. He already has the ability, at six-feet tall, to rise in the lane and dunk.
He just needs a reason, he figures, for the casual fan or scout to pay some attention. That’s why he was pleased with what happened Sunday at Bonner-Prendergast High School, when a basketball score went viral.
That final: The ABA Delco Desperados 214, the Berks Blazers 75.
Two-hundred. And 14. Two-one-four.
“In this league,” Sapnas said, “it can happen.”
It can happen because of the rules, which include, among other gimmicks, a one-point boost for any basket made after a steal in the backcourt.
With the Blazers playing with what a circulated film showed to be some older participants of age-appropriate fitness and just three players on their bench, the Desperados made it a point to press, press and press some more. Consistently forcing Berks into backcourt turnovers, that plan kept the “3D” light burning, indicating that any Desperados field goal would come with a bonus.
“Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah,” Sapnas said. “We pressed the whole game.”
Earlier this season, the ‘Rados defeated the Blazers, 113-95. But that was a different Berks roster than the one that showed up in Upper Darby on short notice after the NEPA (Northeast Pennsylvania) Stars and Stripes canceled for health and safety reasons.
To the Desperados and their fans, it hardly mattered, for the ABA – a distant and extremely loose descendant of the major-league that once merged with the NBA – traffics in basketball entertainment and opportunity. Sunday, Sapnas, known as a natural scorer at Marple Newtown, was happy to enjoy both.
Even with the Desperados up comfortably — they had 98 by halftime — and he already had 39 points, he remembers his teammates floating an idea: “They said, ‘Let’s get our guy 50.’”
With that, coach Leon Dales re-inserted Sapnas, who downed a 3-pointer with the iconic red-white-and-blue ball to complete a 53-point night. That was enough to break the club record of 52, set last season by Ahmad Gilbert, the Minnesota/Rider product by way of Philadelphia who has gravitated to ABA Australia.
As for the other 161 Desperados points, they were said to be well-spread about the roster. But as Sapnas notes, “There are not any boxscores. The players keep asking for that. They are working on it.”
It’s that kind of league, yet one comfortable with its ways, a mysterious cloud of roughly 175 teams split into geographical regions without formal standings. There are power rankings, however, and the 5-2 Desperados have been rated as high as No. 3. A 214-point night just might provide a boost.
“Everybody was scoring,” owner Kinji Ridley said. “I joked that I was about to pull out that arcane ABA rule that allowed for a celebrity player or an owner to play. I was going to get into a pair of shorts. I wanted to get in on that.”
Sapnas played two seasons at Mercyhurst North East Junior College, had a severe knee injury, began a family and took his time returning to basketball. He is in his second season with the Desperados, who are trying to grow a fan base convenient to his Glenolden home.
“Life happens,” he said. “But I have always had the passion to keep the legacy going. I am still chasing higher levels of basketball.”
Sapnas has caught the eyes of bird dogs for The Basketball Tournament, the widely televised summertime even where teams play for a winner-take-all million-dollar prize. That’s one possibility. But a 53-point night in any pro setting could appeal to team in need of one more scorer.
Even if the ABA is less than passionate about record-keeping, announcer Kevin Scholla said during a Facebook broadcast that, “It happens in the ABA often. You see it on social media and Instagram, teams that have gone up by 100 points or have scored 200.”
The NBA record is 186 by the 1983 Detroit Pistons in a two-point triple-overtime victory over Denver. In 1992, Troy State defeated DeVry Institute of Atlanta, 258-141, in a college basketball game. As for an organized-basketball standard for routs, the 234-2 triumph by Kansas City (Kan.) High over Rainbow AC in 1923 intrigues.
The Desperados will press on this weekend, hosting the Prince George’s County Valor at West Chester University Saturday and the Lancaster Lions Sunday at Bonner-Prendie. Both games are at 3. That’s two more chances for The Greek Mamba to grow his legend.
“I’ll tell you what he does get,” Ridley said. “Any time a player scores 50, he gets to have a steak dinner on the owner.”
In a pro-basketball climb, any small step helps.
Contact Jack McCaffery at email@example.com.