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Three years ago, the CEBL began trading as a six-team unconcessional club east of Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe. After its inaugural season, the league was stable enough to add a seventh club in Ottawa. Then came the pandemic. It could have shattered the fledgling organization, but Commissioner Mike Morreale (the former CFL wide receiver) spearheaded the establishment of a two-week tournament in summer 2020 in St. Catharines, Ontario so the CEBL could crown a champion – more than was available for the old league von Morreale, who hasn’t played at all this year. In 2021, the CEBL returned to a packed regular season and playoff schedule.
Now, as it prepares to wrap up its fourth season on Wednesday night, the CEBL has surpassed the CFL on a few more counts. With three new expansion franchises on the court, the CEBL now has 10 teams (one more than the CFL) and a coast-to-coast presence (the CFL is still trying to launch a proposed Maritimes team on the to take away). While the CFL is in the news for the wrong reasons (a recurring players‘ strike), the CEBL is making headlines for signing a famous rapper to play for one of their teams.
Just to be clear, nobody is saying that the CEBL has surpassed the CFL. The basketball startup is still a long way from catching the venerable football institution in attendance, revenue and cultural prestige. A comparison of the two all-Canadian leagues, however, shows the state of the CEBL, which continues to grow and seems unafraid to try new things. Here are some details you should know ahead of Season 4:
The league continues to grow. This applies to both the number of teams and their geographical distribution. With the addition of expansion clubs in Toronto (the Scarborough Shooting Stars), Montreal (the Montreal Alliance) and St. John’s (the Newfoundland Growlers), the CEBL now has a presence in locations ranging from Langley, BC (the Fraser Valley Bandits) to extending towards the eastern edge of the country. It’s really a national league now. The other teams are the two-time defending champions Edmonton Stingers, Saskatchewan Rattlers, Guelph Nighthawks, Hamilton Honey Badgers, Niagara River Lions and Ottawa Blackjacks.
The Shooting Stars have landed a rap star. Platinum-certified artist J. Cole (born Jermaine Cole) signed a deal last week to play for Scarborough, which also features local former NBA Allstar (and current Toronto Raptors staffer) Jamaal Magloire as an executive. At J. Cole there is obviously a stunt element to signing a 37-year-old who has never played college ball and whose pro experience consists of three games with a team in Rwanda last year. His availability is also in question, as the rapper is set to tour June 10 — only five games into the season. But his addition has already brought the Shooting Stars and the CEBL considerable North American media attention.
The Michael Jordan of the CEBL is gone. Xavier Moon was named CEBL Player of the Year in 2019, ’20 and ’21 – all three years of the league’s existence. The 27-year-old American guard has led Edmonton to the championship for the past two seasons and has been Finals MVP both times. Moon signed with the G League affiliate of the Los Angeles Clippers last fall before joining the big club in December and coming on the scene for 10 games. He is one of several CEBL players who made the jump to the NBA last season as the world’s top basketball league struggled with COVID-related absences. Another is 2021 Canadian Player of the Year Lindell Wigginton, who is now with the Milwaukee Bucks after leaving Hamilton. While it hurts to lose such stars, it could be good for the CEBL in the long run because it shows the league can be a path into the NBA.
A new moon could be on the way. With their superstar gone, Edmonton could lean more on forward Jordan Baker, who won the 2020 Canadian Player of the Year award and then averaged 14.9 points and 9.4 rebounds last season. Another strong Canadian is Kadre Gray, a former U-Sports star with Laurentian who averaged 15.3 points and 4.6 assists for Ottawa last season and is now with the Fraser Valley Bandits. One contender for Moon’s Player of the Year award is Guelph’s Cat Barber, an American guard who averaged 17.6 points last season before playing a brief stint with the Atlanta Hawks.
The Elam ending is still in effect. Basketball nerds have been saying for years that the NBA should adopt this enlightened way of completing games. Instead of playing for a set time, teams race for a target score (in the CEBL, this is determined by adding nine points to the leading team’s total with four minutes to go). This eliminates the annoying tactic of the back team intentionally fouling towards the end of games to get the ball back and ensures every contest ends with a game-winning bucket. The NBA tested the Elam Ending at their 2020 All-Star Game and everyone loved it, but the league didn’t have the guts to try it in meaningful games. The CEBL has been using it since 2020.
Every game this season will be streamed live by CBC Sports. The table begins with Wednesday’s three inaugural contests — Montreal vs. Hamilton at 7:00 p.m. ET, Fraser Valley vs. Ottawa at 7:30 p.m. ET, and Niagara vs. Saskatchewan at 9:30 p.m. ET — and continues through March 12. August -14 Championship weekend in Ottawa. Each game can be seen on CBC Gem, the CBC Sports App and CBCSports.ca, and a Game of the Week will also air on the CBC-TV network beginning in July. The full streaming and broadcast schedule can be found here. Read more about the three new franchises in this story from CBC Sports’ Myles Dichter.