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BY WILL LARKIN ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR firstname.lastname@example.org
STERLING - Six ABA basketball players were winding down after their first practice as the Sauk Valley Rollers on Friday afternoon at the Duis Center.
The game was 32, a version of the playground game 21 without free throws. The seventh member of the game was the team's coach, who showed he still has some game left.
"What's my name?" Kenny Battle shouted after blocking one of his players' shots, cracking up the men in red and white practice jerseys.
It was good for the Rollers to laugh. They haven't done much of that since they learned the franchise was relocating from Hammond, Ind., about two weeks ago. It was good to get on a court, which the Rollers hadn't done as a team in five days.
Most of all, it was good to get paid. The Rollers' biggest grins came at the conclusion of their first workout, when owner Tom McGinn passed out $100 bills from an envelope as the Newman girls team followed the Rollers on the hardwood.
"That was great," said Melvin Williams, a soft-spoken forward from Chicago Simeon. "The last place, the owner wasn't paying us, so we all have a pretty big smile on our face to get that money in our pocket."
"We kind of went from Hades to heaven all in one week," added Andre Newson, who helped West Aurora finish second in the state in 1997 before playing at Lake Land and Maryland-Eastern Shore.
Williams had never been to the Sauk Valley before this week, when eight of the Rollers moved from Chicago to the Rock Falls Holiday Inn.
"It actually seems like a pretty cool place," said Williams, who played college ball at Kennedy King and St. Francis. "I thought there'd be one house, a bunch of land, then another house. But it's nice. I like it."
Newson was reminded of his days at Lake Land, a junior college in Mattoon.
"It's kind of the same vibe, and that's good," he said. "In a small town like that, everybody supports each other."
Battle was busy sharing stories from his glory days at Illinois with the staff at Duis, where the Rollers plan on practicing for the rest of the season. McGinn is still negotiating with prospective home courts, and he hopes to make a decision by Wednesday.
No matter where the Rollers take the court for their first home game on Dec. 28, Battle hopes it's the beginning of a long-term relationship.
"Today is the official beginning of what we think is going to be a great thing," Battle said. "We're the Sauk Valley Rollers. We're rolling forward, moving ahead, and we're looking forward to getting the community involved. We're going to open our arms and hopefully the community's ready to support us."