By John McGurl

If the recent “March Madness” left you feeling a little depressed (after all the Florida Schools in the big dance ended their run before the “Final Four”), the Tampa Bay Rebels are here to lift the spirits of local basketball fans.

Founded by coach Fernando Rojas in 2011, the Rebels are a minor league team that will be competing for the first time in the Florida Basketball Association (FBA)’s inaugural season this summer, and are hoping to build a fan base for the team and the FBA.

Coach Rojas, a native of Mexico who has been a Tampa Palms resident since 1996, started his professional career with the National team in his home country, and was an assistant coach at Freedom High in 2010-11. Rojas, who never played college ball, went straight to pro out of high school.

“I want the Rebels to mean a lot to the area,” Rojas says. The minor league club will provide pro hoops entertainment, and a unique chance to relate to the players on the court.

Before the Rebels, local residents would have to travel to Miami or Orlando to see a professional basketball game. Unlike an NBA game, however, where you may spend hours waiting to shake your favorite player’s hand and end up only catching a glimpse of him leaving the arena, Rojas’ club provides a singular opportunity for fans to meet their favorite players.

In addition to the much shorter distance to travel for a game, the Rebels provide affordable entertainment for the entire community. Season tickets are available now for only $50, which includes six home games, or just $10 per game at the door. The first home game of the season will be on Saturday May 19, at Lutz Preparatory School (future home games will be played at Freedom), and the Rebels are offering a free team T-shirt to the first 50 fans. The Rebels’ season open on the road at the Palm Beach Titans on May 5.

Coach Rojas is not only bringing basketball fans entertainment, he also is providing Freedom’s young players an opportunity to practice in a professional environment. Rojas has two sons, one of whom attends Rebels practice with other high school boys on Wednesday nights. “It gives the kids an opportunity they wouldn’t have somewhere else,” says Rojas. Having worked for the school, Rojas was able to make a deal with Freedom to use their gym for Rebels games and practices.

Rojas promises to provide the community with quality basketball. “These games are often better than college games,” he says. “The players have played their college ball and tend to be more refined now.”

The Rebels recently added seven- foot center Matt Kendrick to their roster. Rojas has had his eye on the big man since his senior year at Tampa’s Chamberlain High. Kendrick, who played his college ball at Saint Leo University near Dade City, began practicing with the Rebels after returning from playing in a Chilean league.

“I almost had a triple double in that league, and I look forward to doing the same here for the Rebels,” says Kendrick.

The Rebels also volunteer their time to the Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay by providing youth basketball camps. At the camps, kids can learn about teamwork and the fundamentals of basketball.


Your Chance To Play?

The Rebels recently held open tryouts to fill their roster. “We’re still looking for professional-caliber players, guys who can go out and really play,” says Rojas. Players selected at the tryouts will be invited to the Rebels pre-season camp starting on Monday, April 23. Rojas says the minor league club is a place where college-age players can start a career in pro basketball and gain international experience. He adds that he is working on plans to compete in tournaments in Europe next year. “I’m not trying to make this an NBA team,” he says, “but it is a unique opportunity.”

For more information, contact coach Rojas at or visit

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