Sky Chiefs Take Off



Providence is home to Rhode Island’s first professional basketball team in nearly three decades, the Sky Chiefs. The ABA (American Basketball Association) team—brimming with URI alumni in various capacities—is having a fantastic startup year. The team currently* sits atop the Northeast Division and has its highest overall ranking of the season—8th in the ABA power rankings (out of more than 70 teams).

Team owner Giovanni Feroce ’91, Hon. ’13, CEO of BENRUS, LLC, named the team after BENRUS’ classic pilot’s watch, the Sky Chief. Team offices are housed at BENRUS’ chic Fox Point headquarters in Providence. Feroce, an enthusiastic basketball fan and an equally passionate fan of the Ocean State, felt strongly that Rhode Island needed its own basketball team. “We have the PawSox and the P-Bruins. We were missing a pro basketball team.”

The ABA, which began in 1967, but came to an end when it merged with the NBA in 1976, was reestablished in 1999 and today has more than 70 teams and 1,000 players. Feroce wants to see the league’s reputation grow. He said one way to do that is by reducing the number of teams to improve quality and becoming a feeder system for the NBA.

Among Sky Chiefs personnel at every level, a sense of energy, optimism and pride is evident. Their love of the game drives them, along with an interest in making sure their venture benefits Rhode Island. Team president and general manager Tony Lopes, who attended URI and was a walk-on for the Rams in the early 1980s, says the team is working hard to build partnerships with Rhode Island businesses and nonprofits. Feroce stressed that he is interested in recruiting players with Rhode Island ties, and that games will be accessible and affordable for fans—the idea is for this team to be a “statewide asset.”

Sky Chiefs’ URI Contingent
Giovanni Feroce ’91, Hon ’13
Tony Lopes
(President and General Manager)
Deb Weinreich ’87
(Vice President, Public Relations and Marketing)
Corey Macchioni ’11
(Vice President, Basketball Operations)
Kyle Ivey-Jones ’94
(Head Coach)
Chuck Watson ’93
(Assistant Coach)
Jamal Wilson ’12
Orion Outerbridge
(Power Forward)
Jason Francis ’09
Ryan Brooks ’13

Head coach Kyle Ivey-Jones ’94, a former standout URI guard who played professionally in nine countries before coaching at Woonsocket High School for nearly a decade, has welcomed the challenges of coaching at the professional level—from learning the ABA ropes to coaching a diverse group of players, including former URI standouts Jamal Wilson ’12, Jason Francis ’09, and Orion Outerbridge. Wilson says he is giving the team everything he’s got. A self-described “basketball junkie,” he is happy to be playing anywhere, but staying in Rhode Island is a bonus.

As the team travels to other states and hosts ABA teams here, it is working hard to raise the bar for itself and for the league. The Sky Chiefs offer top-notch food and lodging to visiting teams through their partnerships with the Radisson Hotel at T.F. Green Airport and Providence’s Brass Monkey restaurant, and they make sure their opponents have everything they need—including plenty of water and a trainer at each game. They’ve learned from being on the road this year that these are the kinds of details the league needs to focus on. They’re receiving lots of compliments on their organization from other league members—including the three-time defending champion and No. 1 Shreveport Mavericks.

Top on Feroce’s current to-do list is finding a home court for practices and games. In its inaugural season, the team has played at a variety of locations and currently calls Brown University’s Pizzitola Center its home. The goal is for the team to have its own facility that seats 2,000–3,000 fans. As the regular season winds down this month, the Sky Chiefs look to the post-season and will host the ABA regional playoffs at the Pizzitola Center on March 21 and 22.

Feroce says all members of the Sky Chiefs staff deserve credit for the success they’ve seen this year. Their reputation is growing. “I want to be known as someone who brought ABA basketball to Rhode Island—the right way,” says Feroce.

*as of 2/23/15

—Barbara Caron