Canadian professional hoops league expands talent search overseas
Canada Basketball’s professional premier league takes a more holistic approach to developing the game in this country.
Starting in 2022, Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) teams, including the St. Catharines-based Niagara River Lions, will be required to have an “international player” — essentially, a non-North American import — on the active circuit of 10 players. lists.
“You cannot have dual citizenship of Canada or the United States and qualify for the international spot,” River Lions general manager and head coach Victor Raso said.
As the River Lions, one of six founding franchises in a league that will enter its fourth season in May with 10 teams, intend to make an international player their first signed player for 2022, Raso has feelings mixed on the reduction in the number of guaranteed players. spots for the Canadians at six out of seven.
“Honestly, I’m a bit conflicted. On the one hand, I don’t like the idea of losing a place in Canada,” he said in an interview. “I think there’s something fundamentally a bit weird to me about it.
“I understand where the league is going and why they want to do this, and obviously it’s a competitive rule change.”
The change, which the spring-summer pro league says will better align its roster makeup with overseas leagues, essentially means eliminating a slot that had been reserved for a player eligible to return a another year at a Canadian university. For a team to carry a U Sports player is now “completely optional”.
“We don’t need to have a U Sports player on your roster; in the past you did,” he said. “We are still planning to do that.”
Raso said his feelings about the change will not affect the River Lions.
“Whether I like it or not, we have to adapt to it. And we will, we will sign the best international player we can find,” he said. “But, at the same time, essentially taking a Canadian job – or Canadian experience away from a U Sports player – and returning it to an international player? I have mixed emotions.
Mike Morreale, CEBL commissioner and chief executive, said the designation of a place on the international roster will allow the league to use a model that has become common overseas.
“Basketball is a global game,” Morreale said. “If you look at the top European leagues, the Asian leagues, what you have are proud domestic leagues that have import spots, usually for Americans or Canadians.
“So we kind of took the same approach, but tweaked it.”
Since the CEBL requires two Canadians per team to be on the field at all times, exposing local players to a global range of playing styles should help grow the game in Canada.
“We are creating jobs,” Morreale said. “Our No. 1 goal is to improve our domestic talents.”
Hamilton Honey Badgers head coach Ryan Schmidt has first-hand experience of how hoops are played outside of North America after spending the offseason in the British Basketball League with the London Leos. He found players in Britain “a different kind of talent”.
“A lot of North American players are used to athleticism and physicality, whereas in Europe you’re going to see more tactically sound basketball. We see a lot more big players hammering the ball and shooting three-pointers,” Schmidt said. “I think this addition from CEBL is going to be able to show another side of the international game that maybe a lot of players and even some coaches haven’t had the chance to experience.”
Raso does not believe the CEBL is doing a blow to reciprocity by reserving a spot on the list for a non-North American import. He doubts that a Canadian would be squeezed out of a place abroad if the CEBL did not have an international place.
“I don’t think that would happen at all because we still have the import rule. You weren’t limited – and you still aren’t limited – to having only one international player,” he said. “If you choose to have several international players, you can. It’s just that they compete with the Americans.
“I don’t think it will be reciprocated overseas, but we also have Canadians who currently occupy these import spots overseas. I don’t think the reciprocity of that exists.
Raso, the general manager and head coach of the River Lions since the CEBL was established in 2019, pointed out that overseas leagues have ‘import spots’ rather than a specific designation for ‘international players’. .
“These contracts are a bit different because they have three levels of players. They have national players, they have ‘real imports’ and then they also have places for almost like neighboring countries,” he said. “There are a lot of African countries that can play in Spain almost as a second tier import – they don’t count as a full import – where a Canadian going to Spain would count a little differently.
“Their levels are different and ours are kind of becoming like that too now. We have three spots for pretty much any import we want and one spot for basically a non-North American.
When the regular season begins in May, the CEBL will have a coast-to-coast presence for the first time in its history. The addition of the St. John’s Newfoundland Growlers and the Montreal Alliances will increase the number of provinces represented in the league from four to six.
Ontario already had four teams – Guelph Nighthawks, Ottawa Blackjacks, Hamilton, Niagara – before the addition of the Scarborough Shooting Stars expansion, while Alberta, Edmonton Stinger; British Columbia, Fraser Valley Bandits, Abbotsford; and Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Rattlers, Saskatoon; have a team each.