New league tips off in May 2019

Rod Mawhood - The St. Catharines Standard - MAY 2, 2018

There's no doubt the sport of basketball is growing in Canada.

That's why it's no surprise a new professional basketball league will hit the hardwood in 2019.

The Canadian Elite Basketball League made it official on Wednesday, officially launching a new six-team league that will feature a Niagara franchise.

The CEBL will floor teams in Fraser Valley, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Guelph, Hamilton and Niagara starting in May of 2019.

“It’s always a great thing when more people are able to play basketball in Canada.”

Michele O’Keefe

Canada Basketball president and CEO

"I am delighted to confirm our first six teams that will tip off one year from now in Canada's new pro basketball league next summer," said chief executive officer Mike Morreale.

Morreale, a former Canadian Football League player with the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats and president of the CFL Players Association, knows the sport of basketball is continuing to gain popularity in Canada, in particular with young Canadians.

According to the Canadian Youth Sports Report, basketball is the second most popular team sport among new Canadian youth, next to soccer.

"With basketball surging in popularity in Canada, we focused on communities that are rich in grassroots community fan support and share a passion for fast-paced action," Morreale said.

"It's always a great thing when more people are able to play basketball in Canada," added Michele O'Keefe, a Welland native and president and chief executive officer of Canada Basketball

"I applaud the efforts made by the Canadian Elite Basketball League."

The six teams will feature a 12-player roster that will play 10 home and 10 away games, plus playoffs, over a four-month-long season.

The Canadian Elite Basketball League will adhere to Canada Basketball standards, and play under FIBA (International Basketball Federation) rules and regulations, which means four 10-minute quarters and a five-minute overtime period if required.

Rosters will feature a minimum number of Canadian-born players that has yet to be determined, said the CEBL's head of basketball, Greg Francis.

"We have 13 (Canadian-born) players in the NBA and many more on their way who are currently playing in the NCAA or USports," said Francis, who played nationally for Team Canada.

"Many of our home-grown talents head to Europe to find elite basketball competition in the summer, but now they will have the opportunity to play here in their own backyard with other international stars."

Along with Francis and Morreale, the Canadian Elite Basketball League announced four other executives with vast experience in the sporting landscape.

Josh Knoester, former corporate partnerships and sales manager with the Niagara River Lions, has been named vice-president of league operations.

Lee Genier, who has previous experience in the CFL and National Lacrosse League has been appointed president and chief operating officer of western operations.

John Lashway, formerly of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, is the new president of the Hamilton franchise, and executive vice-president, strategy and communications, while Glenn Young takes over as executive vice-president, sales and marketing.

"With Greg, Lee, John, Glenn and the rest of our CEBL team we bring decades of rich experience in sports and league management to ensure our league becomes one of the best and most competitive basketball leagues in the world," Morreale said.

CEBL head offices are listed under Front Street in Thorold, and the league is owned by Canadian Basketball Ventures, a private investment group led by entrepreneur Richard Petko, owner and founder of the Niagara River Lions.

All six franchises will hold "name the team" contests over the coming weeks and months.

An announcement on the future of the Niagara River Lions will be made in the coming weeks.

The Niagara CEBL franchise will play out of Meridian Centre in downtown St. Catharines.

Darrin Conway