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The building of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers championship

Here’s the story of how Houston’s G-League affiliate built a dominant squad.

When a building is first in development, many aspects go into planning that building before any construction begins. You have to acquire the land, get the proper authorization and paperwork, design the building and make sure it will work for the area you are trying to build it on.

Then you have to make sure you stay within budget when purchasing materials and everything that will go into building the house. Then, finally, you have to implement those designs and build the house. The Vipers have been building this particular team since 2017, when they hired a former Junior College All American to their coaching staff in Mamouhd AbdelFattah.

Coach Abelfattah (The construction manager)

Coach Mamouhd Abdelfattah this time five years ago was a part-time coach for the St. Cloud State Huskies, a Division II basketball school. After seeing a post for an intern position with the Vipers, Abdelfattah drove 29 hours to Texas for the interview.

The Vipers were so impressed by Abdelfattah that they offered him the position in October 2017. Coach Abdelfattah would rise the ranks fast. From intern to assistant under Joseph Blair and on the bench as the assistant in 2019 when the Vipers won their third championship.

After the Vipers’ championship in 2019, Blair joined the 76ers as an assistant coach. That opened the door for Coach Abdelfattah to become the first Muslim and Palestinian head coach in NBA/G-League history. Even though the team struggled in his first year finishing 15-27 before the season was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The following shortened season saw them lose in the first round to Santa Cruz, but it was a step in the right direction.

This year is where it all came together. With the help of the Viper's General Manager, Travis Stockbridge (who was hired around the same time) was able to bring in players like Tyler Bey, Anthony Lamb, Mfiondu Kabengele, and of course, Trevlin Queen, and Daishen Nix.

The Vipers were the best team all year, leading the G-League in points, rebounding, and steals. Coach Abdelfattah pushed all the right buttons. From dealing with multiple call ups to significant injuries to players like Kabengele and Queen and having a bulls-eye on their back all year, the team took on the personality of its coach: a calm and even-keeled person who is never rattled.

From the first time I talked to Coach in November to their championship run, you knew that Coach Abdelfattah was focused on two things. First, helping his players get to the next step(the NBA) and winning a title. During the year, Queen, Mathews, Nix, and Lamb all either played with the Rockets or at the very least signed two-way deals or four-year contracts. The second part of that equation happened last night when the Vipers closed out the Delaware Blue Coats 131-114 to win their fourth G-League title.

That is pretty good for a former part-time assistant coach at a DII school and an intern.

The star employee

No project, construction, or basketball organization can succeed without the people who execute the plan. You can have the best planning in the world, but if you don't have the right people to execute it, none of it matters. For any job, construction of a building, or basketball team, you always have the one standout employee, and The Vipers have that person in Trevelin Queen.

Queen's story reads like a movie. Queen initially was not recruited. He lived out of a car for some time while playing on the College of Marin men's basketball team. After performing exceptionally well, he was finally given a chance at a Division I scholarship with Western Kentucky. Unfortunately, like other situations in his life, it was not easy. Western Kentucky had gone over its scholarship limit, and Queen never played a game for them.

Queen finally found a home with New Mexico State, where he would win WAC Tournament MVP. However, even after this success, Queen went undrafted and again had to fight his way onto an NBA roster, but this time via the G-League.

Fast forward to 2021-22, and Queen is not only the best player on the Vipers but the best player in the league. Queen was the driving force behind the Viper's number one ranked offense. The offensive side of the ball was not the only area Queen excelled in this year. He also led the league in steals per game. All this led to Queen winning this year's MVP award.

In the Finals, Queen not only stepped up, but he showed out. Queen scored 44 points, the second-most points in a G-League Finals game. In Game 2, he followed up with 24 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists before being ejected in the fourth quarter after Shaq Harrison pushed Queen for stepping on the Blue Coats logo after the game was well in hand. The two performances earned Queen another award, this time G-League Finals MVP.

From sleeping in a 1982 Delta 88 Royale to two MVP awards in one year. That is what a good Hollywood movie is all about.

The great supporting cast

Even with a star employee, the process of constructing a building or a team needs a great supporting cast, and the Vipers have that for sure.

Players like Mfiondu Kabengele, who the Clippers drafted before being traded immediately to the Nets. Eventually, he was waived but never gave up on his basketball dreams. After bouncing around, the G-League, Kabengele found a home with the Vipers. Kabengele showed how much his game has improved even with a significant injury this year.

The former Florida State Seminole has always been good inside scorer and rebounder, but this year he has shown the ability to guard on the perimeter and knock down shots from deep. Kabengele showed all those skills in the G-League Finals, averaging a double-double in the two games and helping the Vipers close out the Blue Coats with 29 points and 10 rebounds. He dominated in the paint all series and played with a ferocity all series long.

Daishen Nix is another player who had to take the long way to an NBA contract. After playing with the G-League Ignite last year and watching fellow teammates like Jalen Green and Johnathan Kuminga get drafted in the lottery, Nix went undrafted and eventually made his way to the Vipers.

Nix, from day one, showed he belonged and impressed the Rockets so much that they gave him a two-way deal and eventually converted it to a four-year contract. Nix played in the season finale and was asked if he wanted to play in the Finals. Instead of saying no, he didn't want to play, he packed his bag, flew to Texas from Toronto, and drove over five hours to make it in time to play in the Conference Finals.

Nix showed why the Rockets are high on his game by getting a triple-double in Game 1 and finishing with 20, 11, and 8 assists in the close-out game. The sky is the limit for the young guard, as he will have a more significant role for the Rockets in the upcoming season.

Of course, those weren't the only players on the team to contribute to the Viper's success. Anthony Lamb has been the most versatile player on the team all year. Playing every position on the court at one time or another. In addition, Tyler Bey has been one of the best rebounders in the G-League.

Trhae Mitchell, a player who wasn't on the initial roster but tried out for the team before the season, became a starter. Marcus Foster and Christian Vital stepped up in a big way once Nix was assigned to the Rockets and Queen went down with an arm injury. Vital had 18 points off the bench in the Game 2 clincher.

As mentioned earlier, Travis Stockbridge is one of the youngest General Managers in history, and he was a big reason all of this talent was on the Vipers this year. In addition, the owner Alonzo Cantu has spared no expense by building one of if not the best arenas in all of the G-League.

As you can see, no project, job, or team can successfully execute a plan from the ground up without all the front office, players, and coaches being on the same page. The foundation is the Vipers organization, and its relationship with the Houston Rockets and that foundation has produced the most titles in league history.