The CEBL regular season has come and gone, and the playoffs are in full swing. The first two rounds are already in the books, with the Scarborough Shooting Stars and Niagara River Lions fending off the competition to punch their tickets to the dance with the number-one seed Hamilton Honey Badgers and host Ottawa BlackJacks.
While media festivities are already underway, Championship Weekend will truly kick off on Friday as Canada’s premiere basketball league will take over Lansdowne Park with a full slate of entertainment. The day starts off with a Commissioner’s breakfast that will see Mike Morreale host a panel featuring several prominent figures in Canada’s basketball scene. Afterwards, concerts from several Canadian artists – including many from right here in the nation’s capital – will take place throughout the afternoon, all leading up to the back-to-back semifinal games later that night.
Saturday will see the party continue with even more concerts and a 3-on-3 youth basketball tournament, with teams competing for a prize pack that includes tickets to the title game.
And then on Sunday, the season will come to a close with a champion being crowned, followed by an invite only afterparty headlined by a concert put on by members of Drake’s OVO label.
“This whole area, I think in my experience going across the country, is the best sports entertainment precinct in the entire country,” Morreale said at a press junket on Tuesday. “It’s a chance for fans to come and congregate, but also people that find this area a destination. We will wow them on the court, and we will look to wow them off the court as well.”
The CEBL was initially built on a model of creating a night out for the family that just so happened to have a basketball game going on; the slogan for Championship Weekend is literally “Come for the Party, Stay for the Game”. Obviously with the pandemic, that business model has taken a significant hit in the last two years. This past season was the league’s first since their inaugural campaign in 2019 that they were able to play a full slate of games and have fans in attendance for each and every one of them.
Despite the hiccups along the way, Morreale is confident the league is coming of it’s best season to date and can only move upwards from here.
“It was an incredible challenge over the last several years getting through COVID and finding the opportunity to really play basketball properly in front of fans in our home markets,” he said. “Being able to complete a regular season and some playoff games here… this league is certainly on an upward trajectory. We’re excited with where we’re at, we want to grow even larger, we want to be part of the fabric of the Canadian sports landscape, and we believe we can do it with the people that are here; the fans in the stands, the players on the court, and all our staff that work so hard to do what we do.”
As for the games on the docket this weekend, fans are sure to get their moneys worth and then some. Hamilton, Niagara and Scarborough were the league’s top three teams, respectively, during the regular season. While the hometown BlackJacks finished with a losing 8-12 record, they are coming in with a franchise best 3-game winning streak and a recent victory over the Honey Badgers.
“You look at (the BlackJacks) roster, and their record doesn’t reflect how good and how talented that team his,” Hamilton head coach Ryan Schmidt said of his upcoming opponents. “Very well coached, disciplined, and we know we got out work cut out for us.”
The BlackJacks at the Honey Badgers have known for weeks that, based on their respective placement in the league standings, they would be facing each other in the first round of the Championship. While both coaches agree that there are some positives to sitting on that information for so long, it also has it’s share of drawbacks.
“You look at their roster and the changes that have been made, you kind of throw out the previous games,” Schmidt said. “This is going to be a brand new one. You try get into the mid of the other coach and what are some things they might try to do and what are some things we kind of have to tighten up on… I think knowing your opponent has some advantages, but it also has some disadvantages as you can definitely overthink it.”
“I agree. I think the biggest challenge has been completely changing our offense and our defense in preparing for Friday,” BlackJacks head coach James Derouin said with a sly grin while side-eyeing Schmidt. “No, I agree with Ryan. I think there’s paralysis by analysis sometimes. You can dig yourself into a hole by wondering what they’re going to do. You ultimately come back to your 20 games and three months of practice, and sitting on doing what we do best and making sure that we bring that on Friday. You try to find the balance between those two things: not changing everything, but at the same time not wanting to walk in unprepared for a big game.”
On the line for the winner of the weekend is not only the title of CEBL Champion, but the opportunity to represent the league and all of Canada at this year’s Basketball Champions League of America.
The reigning champion Edmonton Stingers became the first team to represent the league and Canada at the prestigious tournament, which sees the winners of 12 domestic leagues from across North, Central, and South America compete for ultimate supremacy. While the Stingers finished the first round tied in their group with a 3-3 record, they ultimately lost out on point differential and were eliminated from the tournament.
“You look at the CEBL, we’re a domestic league, but we’re also a global league,” Morreale said after making the announcement. “I think all these guys here lend themselves to bring in the best players possible. Players that are world class athletes, NBA level athletes, EuroLeague caliber athletes. To see them all on the court on Friday is just tremendous.”
The weekend will have no shortage of enticement for the players to compete at their best, and no shortage of activities to keep basketball fans entertained – the hardcore and the casual alike. CEBL Championship weekend is the premiere celebration of all things basketball in this country, and an event you’ll be sure to not want to miss out on.