Rio Grande Valley Vipers head coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah gives direction to the team in a NBA G League game against the Iowa Wolves at Bert Ogden Arena on Wednesday, Mar. 11, 2020, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The RGV Vipers will begin defense of their de facto G League title — again — when the league kicks off the 2021 season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at the Walt Disney World resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., sometime in early February.

Following a model similar to how the NBA concluded its season, 18 teams will compete in a shortened season all within the resort confines.

“We see this as a great opportunity to give our guys a chance to play,” Vipers general manager Travis Stockbridge said during a Zoom video conference. “We are in times that we’ve never been in and face unique challenges that we’ve never had to deal with in the past.”

Stockbridge added that the team should be finalizing its roster in the next week or so and the NBA announced Monday the 2020-21 NBA G League Draft will be held at 1 p.m. Monday. The 17 NBA G League teams that will play in Orlando will have selections in the three-round draft, conducted via Zoom.

“We have a pretty good picture of what the roster will look like,” Stockbridge said. “There will be guys we’ve seen in the past and others will be new faces. In the next week we should have more clarity on what that will look like. Of course there will be players that were the Rockets camp that will be down here and you can probably start to map out what that will look like.”

The league suspended operations March 12, 2020, and no G League champion was crowned. The Vipers were the last team to win a title, doing so the previous year, making them, at least by omission, defending champions still, or no?

“A couple other coaches and teams who are like, ‘Don’t think you are,’ but officially we are,” Vipers head coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah joked. “We’ve been preparing for the upcoming season for the past couple of months not knowing if there’s even going to be a season, working on the roster, the staff. There’s been a lot going on and preparing for the unknown because it’s going to come at us 100 miles per hour. But I feel I’m ready, Travis is ready and we’re looking forward to it.

Playing at one site will certainly make scouting easier for coaches and other team officials, Stockbridge said.

“It is a vey unique situation. It’s like the G League (Winter) Showcase where everyone is in the same place,” Stockbridge said. “There will be tons of scouring opportunities looking for players and for players to have opportunities. Travel prohibits scouting, so if players get called up and things like that, we are more prepared. It’s about being proactive with the opportunity and get the pulse on this pool of players.”

Stockbridge deferred questions regarding revenue concerns to Vipers CEO/president Rene Borrego, who was not on the call.

“It is disappointing that the Vipers will not be able to host games at Bert Ogden Arena this season, but the work of the team will continue,” Borrego said in a news release. “By participating at the single-site, the Rockets and Vipers will be able to evaluate another group of talented players in hopes of identifying talent for the next level. While this is certainly not what our fans are accustomed to, it will be good to be able to see our team back on the court representing the Rio Grande Valley.”

The Vipers, an affiliate of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, made their debut for the 2007-08 season. They have won three championships, more than any other team in the league, capturing the trophy in 2010, 2013 and 2019.

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