It only took 16 short days, but the Canadian Elite Basketball Series (CEBL) has its second season in the books. Because of the ongoing pandemic, the CEBL took place in a bubble in St. Catharines Ontario, with no crowd in attendance. The obstacles didn’t limit the excitement of each game.
The CEBL grew from its first year to its second. A huge amount of Canadian talent joined the league after seeing the success of the first season. Owen Klassen, Junior Cadougan, Olivier Hanlan, and others among Canada’s best players joined the league for its second year. Phil and Tommy Scrubb, iconic national team players, signed up with the Ottawa Blackjacks. And oh yeah, Ottawa joined the league and instantly went after the All-Star collection of Carleton Ravens after signing Dave Smart, the former U Sports coach, as general manager. With the Ravens the best Canadian sports institution since the Edmonton Grads, Ottawa made a splash with its Carleton connection.
Here’s a rundown on each franchise, how the Summer Series went, with some info on notable Canadians.
Edmonton flew through the league. Its big three of Xavier Moon, Travis Daniels, and Jordan Baker were all re-signed from the 2019 season, so Edmonton’s chemistry was elite heading into the brief season. Moon, the reigning MVP, will probably win MVP again, as well. He took home the final MVP award after scoring 31 points in the final against he Fraser Valley Bandits, shooting 11-of-14 from the field. He’s too fast to be believed, and when his jumper is hitting, Moon is unstoppable in the CEBL. He was cut from the Raptors 905 roster after trying out last year, but don’t expect Moon to stay out of the G League any longer. He is already the level of a G League starting guard, and he could improve well beyond that in the future.
As far as Canadians, Baker and fellow Albertan Mathieu Kamba are the ones to watch going forward. Baker is a muscle-bound big who infuriates opponents with his physical defense, offensive rebounding, and plain old instigating. He’s also an elite passer, defender, and rebounder. If he fixes his wonky jumper, he would be among Canada’s best players. Kamba is only 24 years old, and he has elite athleticism, a smooth jumper, and high level scoring. He’s a six-foot-five wing, so he doesn’t have NBA size, but if he adds initiation reps, ball-handling, and more focus and consistency, he could play at any level in the world. He’s played in Spain’s second league, but expect to see him at an even higher level in the extremely near future.
Fraser Valley Bandits
The Bandits were my favourite story of the Summer Series. They finished dead last in 2019, at 4-16, and the team retained only point guard Marek Klassen among players or coaches. The new Bandits roster was small but strong, fast and athletic, and the best shooting team in the league. Led by veteran sharpshooter Jahenns Manigat and emotional guard Junior Cadougan, the Bandits surprised the field in making it to the championship game. They couldn’t top the Stingers, but the Bandits were one of the most fun teams in the league.
Cadougan has played at a high level in Europe, but he’s stayed at home recently and led the St. John’s Edge of the NBL. 25-year-old Malcolm Duvivier is probably the Bandits’ best bet at future Canadian star. He’s played two years in the NBL, but he’s a strong and sweet-shooting guard. He was fantastic for the Bandits.
Hamilton Honey Badgers
Hamilton suffered the biggest loss of the Summer Series. Duane Notice was dominant for Hamilton. He’s been a huge name in Canadian basketball for a long time, playing for the national team and the Raptors 905, but he improved dramatically this year in the CEBL. He was scoring better than he ever has, and his jumper looked much improved. His defense, as always, remained his calling card. Notice was likely on track to win Canadian Player of the Year, but he suffered an achilles injury late in the tournament. Expect great things from Notice in the future, as he will attack his rehab with the tenacity he always shows on the court.
After losing Notice, the Honey Badgers re-tooled around import guard Briante Weber. Weber is a fearsome leader, and his teammates respected his NBA experience – 42 games, more than any other CEBL player this year or last. His game is focused on dominating the ball and making difficult mid-range shots, but his defense terrorized CEBL opponents. Head Coach Ryan Schmidt — also an assistant with the Raptors 905 — also gave more of the share of the offense to Jean-Victor Mukama. The lanky six-foot-eight wing played wonderfully, scoring with ease with the added opportunity. His jumper is loose but was very effective. He also tried out for the Raptors 905 this past season and was cut, though he remained a practice player. Expect to see him in the G League soon.
The Honey Badgers ended up losing to the Bandits in the semi-finals despite leading all the way. Hamilton has a strong foundation and a seeming pipeline into the Raptors 905 with Notice, Schmidt, MiKyle McIntosh, and Derek Cooke Jr. all connected to the franchise. Expect them to be a strong playoff contender in 2021.
The Blackjacks were a victim of their own success. The initial Ottawa roster featured Kaza Kajami-Keane and Phil Scrubb, both among Canada’s best players, and former Ravens to boot. But both were required to report to their European teams early, and the Blackjacks were left without the players around whom the roster was based. Tommy Scrubb remained wonderful, though he was tasked with probably a little too much of the offense. Olivier Hanlan picked up much of the slack at the guard spot without Keane. But the Blackjacks lost big to the Stingers in the semi-finals. They were outmatched, but with such a strong connection to Carleton and its bevy of brilliant Canadians, expect the Blackjacks to be a favourite heading into 2021.
Youngster Munis Tutu could become a household name in Canadian basketball. Only 24 years old, he is a strong and speedy guard with incredible touch around the rim. He scored only 4.5 points per game for Ottawa, but he came on towards the end of the season. If he adds a reliable jumper, Tutu could star in high-level European leagues.
Niagara River Lions
The River Lions had a bizarre Summer Series. Initially picked as a championship favourite, with the returning Defensive Player of the Year in Sam Muldrow, Canadian Player of the Year in Guillaume Payen-Boucard, and Coach of the Year in Vic Raso, the River Lions only snuck into the playoffs with the final seed. Incoming players never meshed with the returners, and eventually team captain Ryan Anderson left the team. But the River Lions rallied and became a strong team, losing a heartbreaker to the Hamilton Honey Badgers in the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Boucard and Muldrow had extremely down years for Niagara, but Trae Bell-Haynes picked up the slack. The speedy guard massively improved his handle, jumper, and passing this year, and he went toe-to-toe with the league’s best guards, including Weber and Moon. He’s a terrific finisher and unselfish. He earned the nickname Baby Fundamental, both because he plays the game simply but correctly, like Tim Duncan, and also because he sports the child-like mug of a 17-year-old. But the 24-year-old plays in Germany’s top league, and he already has G League experience. If any CEBL player were to make the NBA, Bell-Haynes is as good a bet as any. He’s one of Canada’s top stars.
Niagara has a great future. The foundation of the franchise is strong. Raso, if he remains in place for a third year, has a wonderful tactical mind. If Bell-Haynes returns, he could be too good for the CEBL within another year and dominate, like Moon this year. The Summer Series was a down year, but Niagara has a claim to some of Canada’s top talent.
Guelph was a fun team in the Summer Series. Led by 905 assistant Charles Kissi, the Nighthawks dialed the defensive pressure to ten at every possible moment. They had a middling year, losing in the quarters to the Blackjacks, but they were competitive in virtually every game they played. Jabari Craig was a big reason why. At six-foot-10, he was the biggest center in the CEBL, and he dominated the inside of the paint for Guelph. His presence allowed the team to play funky zones and pressure opponents well beyond the three-point line. Craig has had a cup of coffee in the G League, and he’s only 25 years old, so expect to see him play in the G League or top European leagues in the future. He’s not a great reboudner for his size, as he chases more shots than he should. But if he sands down the edges of his game, the sky is the limit for his future.
Tre’Darius McCallum was a fantastic import player for Guelph. He led the team in scoring and was an important rotation player for the Windy City Bulls of the G League this year. But 23-year-old Kimbal Mackenzie was nearly as smooth. The Oakville native currently plays in the Spanish second league, but his skill level is improving rapidly. He’s a smooth-shooting point guard whose name you may know well soon.
The Rattlers, though the defending champions entering the Summer Series, were the first team eliminated this year. The team was almost completely redesigned coming into 2020, and the roster never clicked. One of the lone bright spots was Negus Webster-Chan. The former Raptors 905 wing was fantastic for Saskatchewan, often initiating the offense, leading the team in scoring, and splashing deep triples. His shot selection was iffy, but the Rattlers needed him to hoist a number of tough ones. He seems fully recovered from a lingering hip issue and ready to star in whatever pro league is lucky enough to have him.
Another name to keep your eye on: Rashawn Browne. The sweet-shooting guard was one of the only U Sports players to make a real rotation impact in the CEBL, and he was Saskatchewan’s fourth-leading scorer. He plays smart, but he’s strong and speedy, and if he grows into his jumper, he could have a real impact on the national scene in the future.