The Knights have been the best team in the Dream League all season, and there is really no debate about it. They headed into the playoffs with a 15-1 record and swept the Mustangs in the semi-finals with relative ease. The only other team that has been even close to taking the number one spot from them has been the Pilots, who the Knights have beaten twice. Now those two teams are meeting in the finals, and despite the Knights’ two wins versus the Pilots, Knights’ general manager Ahmed Helmy is not taking them lightly.
“We have a much better record and we’re favored in a lot of people’s mind, but the fact that we’ve never played them at full strength; I think we’re coming into this pretty even in respect to who the favorites are.”
Helmy has been a part of Ultimate Hoops since he joined in 2011. He has played in 389 games (16th all-time) and has now won three straight championships with the Guerillas in the Bloomington South Rec League. Helmy is the definition of a UH veteran, and all of his experience has helped him thrive as a GM in the Dream League.
When he initially joined the Dream League, he had aspirations to be a player, but when Reid Nelson approached him about possibly being a GM, he reconsidered his decision.
“We always talked about how having a fantasy team in UH would be a good idea, or fun, so I figured I already play in two leagues and it’d be an interesting dynamic for me to GM,” says Helmy.
He also thought about the long-term effects of being a GM, and that attracted him as well. This way he could build a brand and a reputation within the Dream League.
The inaugural season has not even come to a close yet, but Helmy has already built himself a reputation as a successful GM in the Dream League. That all started back in December on draft night, when Helmy assembled a team of UH veterans who had already played together in other leagues. The highlight of his draft may have come when he snagged Antione Lynch, a first-round talent, in the fifth round, solidifying a monster starting lineup.
His UH experience has helped him beyond just the night of the draft. During this season, Helmy was playing in Fridley when he was matched up against the Scorpions, a team that featured Dexter Watson. Helmy noticed Watson’s hustle defense and impressive rebounding for a guy his size. He immediately looked at the Dream League free agency pool and saw that Watson had a cap hit of only $3 million.
“If this is an eighth man for 3 million bucks, sign me up,” said Helmy.
Many potential GM’s shied away from the opportunity because they didn’t want to spend a night away from home to not even play. Helmy was weary of this, so he drafted an experienced team so he wouldn’t have to be there to walk them through the process.
This led to Helmy spending most of his Monday nights at home, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an involved GM.
“We have a group text. We talk about matchups, schedules, we talk about what we want to do on the court, things like that,” he said. “I’m more of a teammate of theirs rather than a coach in terms of direction.”
Izzy Elkaffas, the GM of the Pilots, built his team around defense, hustle and teamwork. The Knights are similar in some ways, but Helmy wanted to make sure his team was as versatile and competitive as possible.
“Travis [Johnson] rebounds like a big man…[James] Pinkett will get a black eye and still play…[Michael] Groves said ‘I’m going to do what you need me to do, and if we win, I’m happy’,” Helmy said. “That to me is the epitome of what I want from a team. Guys who don’t care about stats, and guys who are willing to play. Competitiveness first.”
Now this team is facing its hardest test yet: A five-game series against the Pilots. While this series is going to feature three MVP candidates, Helmy predicts that “this matchup [will come] down to depth and x factor kind of players.”
If that ends up to be the case, it means that this series is wide open, considering both teams have quality players at all eight spots, and Helmy knows that.
“They’re going to make us earn it,” he said. “I still think we should be able to win just based on the chemistry we’ve had [all season].”