For a long time, Team Canada’s men’s basketball team has been divided into two camps: the theoretical and the real. The theoretical team included all the Canadian stars currently in the NBA, players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray, and many others. For a variety of reasons, those players never donned the uniform at the same time to play for Team Canada in international competition. Instead, Canada has been represented, at varying times, by an assortment of dedicated — if less talented — professionals like Duane Notice, Kaza Kajami-Keane, and others. This has been the real Team Canada.
And now, as a result of a lasting partnership between the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) and Team Canada, configurations of two teams, the theoretical and the real, the spectacular and the stolid, will have a chance to face one another on June 12 in Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre. The CEBL will field an All-East All-Star team, coached by Niagara River Lions Head Coach and reigned CEBL Coach of the Year Victor Raso. It will face Team Canada’s roster, headlined by Hamilton native Gilgeous-Alexander and coached by Toronto Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse. Called “The Northern Showcase,” the exhibition game will occur nine days before Canada competes in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria, B.C.
The parallels and relationships between the teams of the Northern Showcase, between players and coaches, are many.
“Nick is living my dream,” said Raso to Raptors Republic about the chance to coach in the exhibition game. “I want to be, I want to coach the Raptors and coach Team Canada. If you’re a basketball coach in this country, there’s nothing more than that.
I’m just at the beginning of my journey. I was actually thinking about it today. Nick Nurse has been doing what I’m doing now…to get to that point [to coach Team Canada]. It’s cool to have the chance to go against him knowing how much further I have to go.”
If the CEBL continues growing at its current rate, Raso is in the right place to follow in Nurse’s footsteps. The CEBL was founded in 2017, began its partnership with Canada Basketball in 2018, and began play in 2019. The CBC will be the premier media partner for the CEBL for the upcoming season, which will begin on May 7. Founded by former award-winning CFL receiver Mike Morreale, the league was intended as a high-level Canadian professional league.
“We mirror ourselves off the best international leagues, like the NBL Australia, the ASEAN League, CBA, ones that have really done a great job at becoming very professional and being another option for big-name players to go,” Morreale told Raptors Republic. “We want to be that option in the future.
Our partnership with Canada Basketball is pretty important… We’re providing an opportunity for kids to develop at home, stay at home, excel at home, showcase their talents, and go on to bigger and better things.”
In that, the CEBL has already found great success. Last year, the league attracted lots of high-level Canadian talent, as well as plenty of G League stars. Former Canadian national team players, like Notice and Kajami-Keane, who have also played for the Raptors 905 in the G League, played at times in the CEBL. As more and more current NBA players commit to Team Canada, those who populated the roster in 2019 and before may be hard-pressed to maintain their roster spots.
“A lot of the players that I think will be suiting up for the CEBL All-Stars will be former national team players,” said President and CEO of Canada Basetball Glen Grunwald, “because we’re going to have a lot of NBA players, and we’re at a point now that we’re going to have to ask some players who have played well for us, played for us for a long time, to take another role.”
Those players will have this one chance one June 12 to face Team Canada’s new stars. Although the game is primarily meant to help prepare Team Canada in its quest to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the CEBL All-Stars will have plenty of motivation to try to win the game.
“We’re still going to try to win,” said Raso. “I’ve got to be realistic about it. I don’t know if we can beat 12 NBA guys. But that’s our responsibility, to do everything we can to win to prepare those guys.”
Neither Team Canada nor the CEBL All-Stars’ rosters are yet decided. The rosters will be chosen in coming weeks, but tickets go on sale at 2:00 pm ET on March 12. You can find the link, after they go on sale, here. It’s not clear yet how Covid-19 will affect the event, if at all. But if it goes ahead, it will be a landmark event for Canadian basketball.
“I don’t think there’s gonna be an opportunity across the country to be able to get this much talent in Canadian talent on the floor all at once,” said John Lashway, the President of the Hamilton Honey Badgers.
The game will offer links and relationships between the CEBL USports, the G League, and even the NBA. FirstOntario Centre seats approximately 18,000 people. The CEBL and Team Canada expect the game to sell out.