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By Sunday, a first-time Canadian Elite Basketball League champion will be crowned.
An all-Ontario final four — pitting the Niagara River Lions against the Scarborough Shooting Stars, and the Hamilton Honey Badgers against the Ottawa Blackjacks — begins on Friday in Ottawa, with the winner of each meeting in Sunday’s championship game.
The Niagara-Scarborough contest is available live at 4 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem, with a replay airing Saturday at 2 p.m. ET on the CBC-TV network. The Hamilton-Ottawa game is live across all four platforms tomorrow at 7 p.m. ET, while the final will also be made available live across all platforms on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
The 2022 season — the CEBL’s fourth — marked a step in a new direction for the league. It grew from seven teams to 10 with the additions of Scarborough, Newfoundland and Montreal. It welcomed more international talent than ever before, adding a designated spot for a non-Canadian, non-American player on each roster. It saw three-time reigning MVP Xavier Moon graduate to the NBA. It even saw rapper J.Cole play five games with the Shooting Stars, while Canadian music star Drake wore league merchandise in a music video.
Now, the championship trophy is headed east after the Saskatchewan Rattlers won the inaugural title in 2019 and Moon’s Stingers claimed each of the next two.
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Vivek Jacob previews CEBL championship weekend:
Here’s everything else you should know for championship weekend:
The Honey Badgers and River Lions should be favourites. The only two of the league’s “original six” teams from 2019 that are still alive finished first and second in the regular-season standings. But with their history comes baggage: each team has been to the final and lost, and each has been eliminated in its other two seasons by a total of three points. And so there would be plenty at stake if Hamilton and Niagara were to meet in the 2022 final. The Honey Badgers led the league with a 14-6 record on the strength of their depth, led by sixth man of the year Koby McEwen, as well as coach of the year Ryan Schmidt, who recently accepted a head coaching job in the British Basketball League — the same circuit where Raptors and Canadian men’s head coach Nick Nurse earned his chops. On the other hand, the River Lions are carried by stars like newly named MVP Khalil Ahmad (who hoisted an X-shaped trophy in honour of Moon) and defensive player of the year EJ Onu. Read more about last night’s awards ceremony here.
WATCH | River Lions defeat Nighthawks in quarter-finals:
The Shooting Stars aren’t your typical expansion team. More Vegas than Seattle, Scarborough rolled to a 12-8 record in its first season while staking its claim as a glamour franchise for the league. Co-owned by Niko Carino, a founding member of Drake’s OVO brand, it was a Shooting Stars shirt that Drake wore, and it’s likely no coincidence J. Cole chose Scarborough either. On the court, the Shooting Stars boast an offence liable to explode at any time, sparked by leading scorer ex-Raptor Jalen Harris and Canadian Isiaha Mike, who topped players leaguewide in three-point shooting percentage.
Don’t call the BlackJacks intruders. In a Memorial Cup-esque twist, the BlackJacks only reached the semifinals by virtue of being named championship weekend hosts in July. Otherwise, their 8-12 record would barely have snuck them into the play-in games for teams seeded fifth through eighth. But Ottawa is no walkover — the BlackJacks’ 7-5 record over their final 12 games matched the Honey Badgers and the teams split their season series. Plus, the BlackJacks get the added advantage of home court. Ottawa, which joined the CEBL in 2020, won one playoff game before being eliminated by the Stingers in the semifinals of each of its first two seasons.
The winner also earns a berth into FIBA’s Americas Champions League. The Stingers were one of 12 teams from seven countries to participate last season, when they missed the knockout round on a tiebreaker. Due to the league schedule, it’ll be unlikely the full CEBL champion’s roster is available as players spread overseas for their winter pro leagues. An all-star squad of available CEBLers filled out last year’s Stingers team. Meanwhile, the league announced today that the Fraser Valley Bandits, who were eliminated in the play-ins after placing fourth in the regular season, would host the 2023 championship weekend while earning an automatic berth to the semifinals.
If you’re looking for more about the CEBL, read about the league’s rapid growth here.