Basketball: Semi-pro basketball returns to the Central Valley

The Central Valley Aztecs have rejoined the American Basketball League and look to make an impact both on and off the court

By Jermaine Johnson II

LINDSAY – After a several year absence, Tulare County is once again the home to a semi-professional basketball team. The Central Valley Aztecs, formally known as the Titans, have joined the Far West division of the American Basketball Association (ABA) and will play their home games at McDermont X in Lindsay. 

The Aztec lineage bleeds Tulare County. Their owners, Myron Epps and Josh England, were born and raised in the area. Epps played high school basketball at Tulare Union before playing at San Diego State and then coaching at several schools in the area including Mission Oak. He now runs the Aztec Basketball Academy in Visalia and works for the Tulare County Office of Education. England grew up in Exeter, played high school basketball there, and now owns a local business, J. England Construction. 

Several players on the team are also from the area. Josh Lewis graduated from Granite Hills High School, Jason Carmichael went to Woodlake and Mt. Whitney, and Grant Verhoeven attended Central Valley Christian. 

England was in charge of the Mid Valley Titans before they were disbanded due to poor league conditions. Fast forward to about six weeks ago, he connected with Epps and the duo got the team back up and running. 

“I think its great to have professional basketball here in the area,” said Epps. “I hope the community understands the quality of basketball we have and come out and support these guys. [The team] is going to need the community’s support to keep it going.”

The two owners are just as committed to their impact in the community as they are winning games. The team will be bringing the “Bullies are Cowards” program to local schools in an effort to reduce bullying and teach kids how to positively deal with it. 

“We want to build up the fan base and build a good youth community,” said England. “As long as we’re acting like professionals on the court then these kids will keep coming to the games and looking up to these players who can be a positive influence.” 

The Aztecs played their first home game on Saturday against the Orange County Novastars who were ranked as the top team in the Far West division. They had their way with the Novastars and defeated them 142-110. 

“This team is good…they’re young, athletic and scrappy,” said Antwon Tanner of the Novastars. “I think they fit the ABA caliber because its a fast-paced league and they have a lot of athletic players that can get up and down the court to make it exciting for fans who come out and support.”

Tanner is one of the more popular players in the league and has seen great success. He’s been with the Novastars for about four years and has been to the championship with two other teams. He’s also known for his work as an actor and producer in shows such as “One Tree Hill” or movies such as “Coach Carter.” With the Aztecs plus many other teams joining the ABA, he believes the league is growing at a rapid rate. 

“In the next couple of years, it will probably as big as, if not bigger than the G-League or as big as the ABA once was before the NBA started.,” said Tanner.

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