Hamilton, St. Catharines CEBL clubs welcome Winnipeg as 2023 foe


Published November 9, 2022 at 8:40 am

Hamilton's Jeremiah Tilmon Jr. dunks in St. Catharines on July 29. (CEBL photo)

The Hamilton Honey Badgers will have a new challenger for their title defence next season.

The Canadian Elite Basketball League announced that Winnipeg will become its 11th franchise, tipping off in the 2023 season. The expansion, first reported by the Winnipeg Free Press on Nov. 5, will further geographically balance the spring-summer Canadian-focused pro league. With Winnipeg tipping off and the Calgary Surge (né Guelph Nighthawks) settling into southern Alberta, the CEBL now has five teams in Western Canada and six in Ontario, Québec and Atlantic Canada.

Hamilton, who won the CEBL championship, is one of the charter CEBL teams, along with the St. Catharines-based Niagara River Lions. The league expanded to 10 teams in 2022.

The Free Press report last weekend stated that the team would play home games at the University of Manitoba’s Investors Group Athletic Centre. The IGAC is a 3,200-seat venue that was built for the 1999 Pan-American Games and hosts court sports. David Asper, the lawyer and philanthropist, was mentioned as one of the principal partners in the franchise.

CEBL commissioner Mike Morreale is a former Hamilton Tiger-Cats and McMaster Marauders football standout. Since at least 2020 the league has been open about its desire to expand into Calgary, Montréal, Québec and Winnipeg.

With Calgary and Winnipeg aboard, three of the four cities are now in the league. The Montréal Alliance joined as an expansion franchise last season.

The CEBL tipped off play in 2019 with an emphasis on Canadian talent and a spring-summer schedule in order to avoid competition for playing dates with the Canadian Hockey League and for talent with long-established European domestic leagues. (The partners and promoters of the St. John’s, N.L.-based Newfoundland Growlers, in fact, own a Toronto Maple Leafs farm club of the same name.)

Teams un the CEBL are permitted only three Americans on a 14-player roster. Most of its players are Canadians who play abroad professionally or in the NBA G League, or are who are fresh out of the U.S. college or Canadian university (U Sports) ranks and seeking a stepping-stone to a pro career. Each team also carries an U Sports player who acquires on-the-job experience. (Regulations in U Sports generally permit student-athletes to compete even if they have been with a professional team.)

The league was also the first pro circuit to adopt the Elam Ending, which replaces the scoreclock with a target score during the closing stages. The innovation was invented to reduce intentional fouling late in games and improve the flow of gameplay.

The Honey Badgers and standouts such as Burlington-native court leader Caleb Agada won the c’hip in August, defeating the Scarborough Shooting Stars in the final. The River Lions reached the semifinals last season, and were runners-up in 2021.

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