ELMIRA, N.Y.—Since the time he could walk, Ithaca local Trevel de Aragón has been playing basketball, whether that be in school, extracurriculars or casually at pick-up games. He said it’s always been a constant in his life.

“It took me a while to decide what I wanted to do, and I tried out a few paths before making this move, but I realized that basketball is what I’m best at and what I love the most,” de Aragón said. “Now I’m very focused on seeing how far I can go with my basketball career.”

Jordan Ayers got his taste for basketball in middle school and continued with the Ithaca High School team, where he played before graduating in 2017. Ayers always wanted to play professional basketball, so when the American Basketball Association recruited him, it was a no-brainer.

After joining the association as a professional player, Ayers just needed a team, and fortunately, the Elmira Eagles wanted him. After accepting a two-year contract for the 2021–22 season, he began attending practices and playing in games.

De Aragón signed for the team in August 2021, so this is his first season. De Aragón said he first learned about the team and tryouts from Ayers, who he is friends with and who was already on the team. The two played on the varsity men’s basketball team at Ithaca High School, also joining forces in the Rashad Richardson Basketball League hosted at GIAC, and remained friends since those days, finally being able to reconnect on the court this season for Elmira.

“My favorite thing about playing on the Elmira Eagles is that I’m able to meet new people and make new connections with the players on the team and the coaches,” de Aragón said.

Because they only get to practice once a week, de Aragón said, it can take a while for a team to develop chemistry. Though the team is only four weeks into the season, de Aragón said the players are growing together as a team more and more each week.

The Elmira Eagles was founded in 2016 by Lamont Alston, who wanted to bring professional basketball to Elmira, New York. His hopes were to have the team integrate to the local community and provide a professional level of the sport in the area.

There are currently 14 athletes on this season’s Eagles roster and approximately 30 games each season. Alston said that four athletes are Elmira locals while the rest commute for practices and games.

“Most of the traveling and games for the Elmira Eagles are on the weekend so working around that has been easy for me,” de Aragón said. “I usually work Monday through Friday, so I am easily able to work around my basketball schedule. Everyone has things they dedicate time towards, and this is mine.”

Alston said that the team has never struggled to find players as there are always individuals who are interested in the opportunity and that normally a few players are signed for multiple years so at try-outs there are only a few spaces they have to fill.

“We normally get between 15 and 35 guys who show up at tryouts,” he said.

The Eagles are now playing its eighth season. Alston said that while the team has accomplished some short-term goals, its ongoing long-term goal is to win an ABA Championship.

Funding is gained through sponsorships, and once the season has started, attendance as well. Alston said that he has budgets in place to cover practice, uniforms and other costs associated with travel.

“Our team goal is always to win a national title, but for now we’re working on having a winning season and winning our division,” Ayers said.

So far the team has played two home games and three away games, with more to come in the coming months. Doors open at 6 p.m. with tip-off at 7 p.m., and tickets are $10. The Eagles play their home games at the Family Fitness Center in Elmira, with games currently scheduled for Dec. 11, 18, 19, Jan. 2, 8, 22, Feb. 20, 26 and March 5.

“I want the team to win as many games as possible this year and also have fun in the process because that’s what it’s all about for me,” de Aragón said. “Being part of the team has benefited my confidence as a player and teammate and made me realize my potential as a basketball player and my ability to play at the next level successfully.”

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...