Go for three: St. Catharines’ River Lions, Hamilton Honey Badgers clean up at CEBL awards


Published August 11, 2022 at 11:06 am

Niagara River Lions star Khalil Ahmd. (CEBL photo)

After finishing 1-2 in the league table, they each went up to the awards podium three times.

The Hamilton Honey Badgers and Niagara River Lions, who are each aiming to win the Canadian Elite Basketball League title on national TV this weekend, claimed 6-of-7 awards at event in Gatineau, Que., last night (Aug. 10). River Lions lead guard Khalid Ahmad was recognized as most valuable player and clutch player of the year, Burlington native and Honey Badgers floor leader Caleb Agada was recognized at the Canadian player of the year, and Hamilton bench boss Ryan Schmidt was named the coach of the year.

Of course, everyone will reset to zero on Friday (Aug. 12) for the league semifinals at TD Place Arena in Ottawa. The 2-seed River Lions face the Scarborough Shooting Stars (4 p.m., CBC, cbcsports.ca), followed by Hamilton facing the host Ottawa Blackjacks (7 p.m.). Coverage of Sunday’s championship game

The fourth-year CEBL, which claims to have the highest percentage of Canadian players of any professional league in the country at 71 per cent, is guaranteed of having a first-time champion, and its first from Ontario. The River Lions, coached by Hamilton native Victor Raso, were the 2021 runners-up. Hamilton lost in the final during the league’s yearling camapign in ’19.

Ahmad, a 25-year-old Anaheim native, had the treat of accepting a newly revealed MVP trophy. The trophy, marked by an ‘X’ mounted on a maple hardwood base, was inspired by three-time MVP Xavier Moon (2019-21), who now holds a contract with the Los Angeles Clippers. The trophy was designed by Montreal-based trophy maker, Protocole.

In the regular season, Ahmad averaged a league-high 20.7 points, team-high 4.5 assists, and 1.9 steals (fourth best in the league) for a 13-7 team. His clutch player of the year award is based scoring a league-record 10 of the 13 ‘Elam Enders’ for Niagara.

Alone among pro leagues, CEBL teams play to reach a target score instead of to a final buzzer. (The score is determined by adding nine points to the tally of the team that is ahead at the first stoppage of play with fewer than four minutes left in the fourth quarter.)

Agada was the other MVP nominee. Earning recognition as the Canadian POTY came via averaging 12.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.1 steals, finishing third and second respectively in the league in the latter two categories. Agada also led in Hamilton in assists and rebounds.

Schmidt, of course, guided Hamilton to a league-best 14-6 record, and their third championship weekend appearance in the team’s four seasons.

The third award winners from the QEW rivals were Honey Badgers guard Koby McEwen (top sixth man) and River Lions forward EJ Onu (top defensive player).

McEwen, a rookie from Toronto, by way of Webrer State, averaged 12.1 points, 2.6 assists, and 1.2 steals in 19 games. He had NBA pre-draft workouts with both the Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz in June.

The 6-foot-11 Onu set a league record of 3.3 blocked shots per game, setting a tone for a Niagara side that was consistently one of the CEBL’s best defensive teams.

Thomas Kennedy of the Fraser Valley Bandits won U SPORTS Player of the Year. Kennedy averaged 14.5-8.3-2.0 in the triple-double categories, and was the league’s second-most proficient shooter at 63.6 per cent. Kennedy plays for the Windsor Lancers in Ontario University Athletics (OUA).

Bandits go to the ball

The CEBL Championship Weekend is going west for next season, with Fraser Valley hosting, the league announced Thursday. The Bandits, who play at the 6,600-capacity Langley Events Centre, will receive an automatic berth into the league’s semifinal stage.

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