By Peter Schwartz
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Despite the presence of the Yankees and Mets, minor-league baseball has carved out a niche in the Tri-State Area over the years. And now, local basketball fans will have an opportunity to see some up-and-coming NBA talent as the Westchester Knicks will debut for the 2014-15 NBA D-League season.

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The expansion team will be owned and operated by Madison Square Garden and will play its home games at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. It’s an entertaining brand of basketball, but it’s also a family-affordable night of sports.

“It’s an extremely high-energy, faced-paced NBA product,” said Bill Boyce, the team’s Vice President of Sales and Business Operations. “We’re very much looking forward to bringing the family-friendly environment to Westchester.”

This past season, there were 52 unique players who were sent down from their parent NBA clubs, as well 37 call-ups from the player pool in the D-League that got called up to NBA teams. There are five current Knicks players who have D-League experience, including Toure Murry and Jeremy Tyler.

Toure Murry (Credit: Dave Saffran/MSG Photos)

Toure Murry (Credit: Dave Saffran/MSG Photos)

The league has been around since 2001 and there is now a growing trend for NBA clubs to run their own teams because they can groom young players and get them ready to be called up. If a player is not ready for the NBA out of college, he can get some pro experience in the D-League.

“It’s the second-best basketball in the world and it’s going to be a treat for those of us here in Westchester,” said Boyce, who comes to the Westchester Knicks after four seasons as President of the Texas Legends, a D-League team in Frisco, Texas.

The Knicks, who will hire the head coach, assistants and trainers, will be the only team that can assign players to Westchester, but there will be those from the player pool that could be called up by any NBA team.

The general manager will be Knicks assistant GM Allan Houston.

“It’s a distinct privilege and honor for me to work with Alan,” said Boyce. “He’s been in the league several years as the general manager of the Erie Bayhawks. He’s a great person and a very talented basketball person.”

Madison Square Garden is no stranger to Westchester. The company has had a presence in the area for more than 25 years and operates the MSG Training Center in Greenburgh where the Knicks, Rangers and Liberty practice.

“To put the Westchester Knicks up here is just a natural extension of that preexisting relationship,” said Boyce. “We have been received so warmly.”

When the Knicks announced that they were bringing a D-League team to Westchester, they gave fans a chance to name the team. While some may think that the result wasn’t very original, it made all the sense in the world. Many parent teams use their nicknames for minor-league teams, so the Knicks are following suit.

“It’s a tremendous brand and a very popular brand throughout the Tri-State Area,” said Boyce. “After having the opportunity to take in all of the suggestions from the fans, the idea of ‘Westchester’ was extremely popular, and obviously people throughout the Tri-State Area are extremely proud of the Knicks. So, in a way, it was kind of an obvious choice.”

Westchester Knicks logo (Credit: Madison Square Garden)

Westchester Knicks logo (Credit: Madison Square Garden)

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As far as the logo is concerned, it’s a remake of the one of the original Knicks logos that was used from 1946-47 through 1963-64. It features a smiling Father Knickerbocker dribbling a basketball.

“We just thought that would be a fun way to introduce the new team,” said Boyce. “It’s an updated version and it’s a lot of fun.”

In addition to watching some high-level basketball, fans of the Westchester Knicks will be treated to something that many fans don’t get at a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden.

A good seat and access to the players.

The County Center will seat about 2,100 fans for Westchester Knicks games, so fans will enjoy a very intimate environment in White Plains.

“Regardless of where a fan sits, they’re going to be close to the action,” said Boyce, the 2013 D-League Executive of the Year. “They’re going to get to see the players up close, great views of what’s going on and the players are going to be accessible for autographs, photos and things like that. It’s just a fun, festive atmosphere.”

The Westchester Knicks’ roster will begin to take shape this summer when the initial players are selected in an expansion draft. Then, sometime in September or October, the team will conduct local tryouts.

“That will be an opportunity for anybody and everybody to come out, and if they think they got what it takes to play in the NBA they can try out,” said Boyce. “In Texas, we did successfully get some players out of the local tryouts.”

The D-League’s regular draft takes place during the first week of November.

It’s always great to see the birth of a new team and that excitement is coming to Westchester. One of the great things about going to a minor-league baseball game is that someday you might see some of those players in a major-league game.

The same thing applies to the D-League. Come to a game one night and see a guy pour in 30 points, and you just might see him the next week playing in the NBA.

But the real beauty of minor-league sports is the up close and personal nature of it, the entire game-night experience — and maybe even getting to meet some of the players.

The Westchester Knicks will play a 25-game home schedule at the County Center that will start in mid-November and run through April. Fans can get ticket information here.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan and the Westchester Knicks @wcknicks

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