Edmonton getting in on ground floor of new Canadian basketball league

GerRy Moddejonge - Edmonton SUN - MAY 2, 2018

Basketball is looking to make a rebound in Edmonton.

It doesn’t have a name or a single player signed to the roster, but the city will have a team when the newly announced Canadian Elite Basketball League tips off in May 2019.

Besides Edmonton, the CEBL’s original six will be from Fraser Valley, B.C., Saskatoon, and in Ontario, Hamilton, Niagara and Guelph.

The league will play under FIBA rules, featuring 10-minute quarters, while each team will have a roster of 12 players that will feature Canadian requirements.

“We want to have three or four Canadians on a team to make sure that we continue to grow the Canadian grassroots level,” said Lee Genier, president and chief operating officer of CEBL’s western operations. “But you’ll see players from the U.S., from Europe, so you will see some very recognizable names. That May to August timeframe frees up players from other leagues to keep them in shape over the summer.

“We’re going to have a ton of great talent available to us.”

Genier was one of a handful of league executives announced Wednesday along with Canada Basketball’s men’s high performance manager Greg Francis – former head coach of the University of Alberta Golden Bears – while former Canadian Football League player and CFL Players Association president Mike Morreale has been appointed chief executive officer.

The venture is being financed by Richard Petko, who owns the Niagara Lions of the National Basketball League of Canada.

“He’s a long-time businessman and an avid basketball fan,” said Genier, who had previously taken over as president of the National Lacrosse League’s Edmonton Rush when the club moved to Saskatoon in 2015. “Very wealthy and very passionate about this league. So it’s a corporately owned league and well-funded.

“The whole thing about basketball is bringing just an amazing energy and game experience to the fans.”

It’s an interesting word choice, to be sure, considering basketball’s predecessor here. The Edmonton Energy was the last pro team in the city, playing four seasons in the International Basketball League after debuting as the Edmonton Chill.

The Energy, who also played in the spring and summer, made a point of drawing talent from Golden Bears alumni, many of whom had gone on to play professionally in Europe. It was sound strategy as they played alongside names such as Team Canada’s Jeff Ferguson and BYU product Rashaun Broadus, now a point guard in the Lithuanian Basketball League. But they didn’t exactly capture the attention of the general public with attendance numbers typically in the hundreds.

Considering the NBLC season begins in November and ends in April, chances are there will be plenty of player carryover between it and the CEBL.

“That’s why this is perfect, we’re going to have a 20-game season,” Genier said. “It kind of fills the void, if you will, from a basketball standpoint. The CFL is going on, but we’ll be the other only sport in the professional ranks that’s going on.”

Home games will be played at the Edmonton Expo Centre, which has 5,527 permanent seats in its Hall D arena.

“I think that is a perfect size to launch a team,” Genier said. “When you’re launching a league, you want to be in buildings that are not too expansive.

“I think you want to go in and really showcase your product, put on a great experience and let it grow from there.”

But it’s been easier said than done for defunct franchises such as FC Edmonton soccer, the Energy, and the Rush, who cut out of Edmonton after 10 years despite having won their first lacrosse championship.

“I think once you put on an exciting product, it kind of sells itself,” said Genier. “And that was kind of the formula when I took the Rush and moved it to Saskatchewan, I didn’t go in and sell lacrosse, I went and sold entertainment.

“Ninety-five per cent of the people in the building didn’t know anything about lacrosse, but they just loved the energy.”

There’s that word again.

And, before you ask, plans are already in place to take a page from the NLL and play music throughout the game – easily the biggest point of contention by lacrosse traditionalists in the stands during the Edmonton Rush era.

But, on paper, the overall plan is sound, said Basketball Alberta executive director Paul Sir.

“Minor league basketball underneath the NBA has been a dog’s breakfast for decades. It never really has been able to take root and give us anything that’s sustainable,” said Sir, who coached the Energy. “Back in the days when we had the Chill and the Energy, I thought we had it going in the right direction, but the league – just like with Edmonton Capitals baseball – just wasn’t able to sustain itself.”

The new ownership group, Sir said, is approaching the league as a long-term investment of time and money.

“They seem committed to the execution of a strategic plan as opposed to putting a team together and hoping like heck people buy tickets and show up,” he said.

And if the Energy serves as a cautionary tale, Sir has one piece of advice: “Do what you say you’re going to do. Under-promise and over-deliver. They’ve got to find ways to reach into the community and connect.”

Name game: A contest is going to be held for fans to vote on their favourite team name.

Email: gmoddejonge@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge


Darrin Conway