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Jackals may not be the kings of the African savanna, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t serious predators. A distant cousin of the American coyote, jackals are small, cunning, and notoriously scrappy. They adapt easily to new environments and are highly territorial of their home turf. And while jackals often live individual lifestyles, they converge in close-knit family groups to protect one another and to take down bigger, stronger threats.
With this in mind, the jackal is a more than fitting mascot for Jamestown’s newest professional sports team: the Jamestown Jackals of the Premier Basketball League. Much like their namesake, the men on the team are individual athletes coming together as a team to defend their home turf, the basketball court at Jamestown Community College. At the head of the pack is owner Kayla Crosby, who formed the team in 2016, and head coach Brandon Siskavich, who is leading the Jackals as they charge into their 2017 season.
The Premier Basketball League (PBL), the number two men’s minor basketball league in the United States, was established in 2008. At that time, Kayla Crosby was working as a resident director at Jamestown Community College. It wasn’t until six years later that she was introduced to the league, began volunteering with the since-relocated Erie Hurricane team, and started wondering what it would take to general manage her own team.
“I thought, you know what? I don’t really know where my life is going to take me, but I love basketball and community involvement,” Crosby said. “So I thought, maybe in a few years this will be something I can pursue.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Crosby networked extensively in Jamestown, started the nonprofit #IntegrityFirst, Inc. to fund the team, and held basketball tryouts in Jamestown, Florida, and New York City. At the start of the 2016 season, she had managed to pull together a full bench and a temporary head coach, Leventrice Gray, an athlete who originally signed on to play for the Jackals but accepted a coaching position after sustaining an injury.
“Last year was rough,” Crosby said. “Starting a grassroots nonprofit organization to own the team was very hard. It was hard to find funding. We didn’t even have a head coach when we got started! There were a lot of ups and downs, but overall, that first year was a blessing.”
The Coach, The Team
Now in her second year as general manager, things are looking up for Crosby and her Jackals. This year’s roster features four returning players – including Michael Davenport, who was named PBL Rookie of the Year in 2016 – and eight new players from across the country. Crosby has also appointed a new head coach, Brandon Siskavich.
“He knows the game of basketball, he has a wonderful heart and great character, and he is an excellent role model for the players,” Crosby said of Siskavich.
Siskavich has had an extensive basketball career as both a player and a coach. After graduating high school in Peru, NY with over 1,000 points scored on the basketball court, he went on to start for four years at SUNY Potsdam. Upon graduating college, Siskavich’s talent took him to play professionally in Mexico and Spain before accepting a coaching position in China. He has spent the last few years back in the United States building a girls’ basketball program at Clinton Community College in Plattsburgh, NY, as well as working several prestigious basketball camps at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“I’ve had so many experiences and they’ve all given me so much basketball knowledge,” Siskavich said. “It’s exciting to be able to coach men’s basketball again, and this time at a professional level. I’ve only been here about two and a half months so far, but Jamestown has opened its arms and embraced me and my twelve players. It’s already been such a great experience.”
As a self-described “tough love” coach, Siskavich says he holds his players to a very high standard. His aim is to focus on the fundamentals of basketball and raise all the men to a professional standard of playing, where the game is faster, the opposition is stronger, and the players are smarter. So far, his tactics have been successful: the Jackals recently crushed Dubois Dream in their home opener, 109-69.
But according to Siskavich, his role is not only to groom a championship-winning team. Many of the athletes in the PBL have aspirations to earn professional overseas contracts, so he also has a responsibility to develop individual athletes for long-term, successful basketball careers.
“I’m trying to pass all my knowledge and experiences onto these guys, so they can live the lives they want to live,” Siskavich said.
While the members of the Jamestown Jackals may have individual aspirations in the long-term, Siskavich says they have had no problem coming together as a family. He maintains that the long hours spent training together – anywhere between four to five hours a day – as well as their community outreach activities help them bond together as a team.
“Their personalities all differ for sure, but the thing they have in common is that they treat each other like brothers,” Siskavich said. “They love to joke around and have a good time, but they also know when it’s time to go to work and perform on the basketball court. It’s nice to coach a group of men who can stay focused and work towards one common goal.”
The Jamestown Jackals may exist to provide an opportunity for athletes and family-affordable entertainment for spectators, but according to Crosby, it is so much more than that.
“It’s more than just basketball,” she said. “The whole goal of the team is to bring positive role models to the Jamestown community to do outreach with the youth, to give them a sense of hope and something to be a part of. There’s so much devastation in Jamestown, especially with the recent shootings, and I want to bring something to the city that has a positive impact.”
This is where Crosby’s nonprofit, #IntegrityFirst, comes into play. While the charity owns and funds the team, it also provides the city of Jamestown with youth mentoring, character development, and a heightened sense of community. Already, the nonprofit is collaborating with the Chautauqua Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Council on a mission to “Kick Drugs to the Curb,” as well as the Salvation Army Anew Center on a campaign to “Break the Silence for Domestic Violence.”
“Our goal is to reach people through the game of basketball to teach them the character traits of integrity, responsibility, perseverance, and sportsmanship,” Crosby said. “I’ve met a lot of people in survival mode: people who have to cut corners to take care of themselves and their families. But we want to encourage people to thrive, not just survive. We’re trying to provide that support system to help people succeed.”
Interested in coming out to support the Jamestown Jackals and see how they live up to their scrappy namesake? The 2017 season is scheduled to run through the end of March, with the team’s next home game falling on Friday, Jan. 27 against the Kentucky Mavericks. Tickets are sold online and at the door of Jamestown Community College’s Physical Education Complex. Merchandise and concessions are sold at the venue, and home games often include on-court youth activities as well as half-time performances. For more information, visit the Jackals’ Facebook page, @JamestownJackals.