Mike Morreale says the importance of the Brampton Honey Badgers' participation in the Basketball Champions League Americas is simple.
"We need more basketball in the country," Morreale said.
Morreale, the co-founder and commissioner of the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL), was in Queretaro City, Mexico on Thursday, ahead of the first window of the group stage of the BCLA, an international competition that brings together 12 teams from seven countries.
The Honey Badgers are representing Canada as the reigning CEBL league champion.
"The CEBL was developed to showcase our players, and now that we are able to provide exposure on an international scale, not only does it showcase our talent, but showcases talent in Canada in general and the way we play the game," Morreale said.
The Champions League group stage tips off Friday when the Honey Badgers play host Libertadores de Queretaro. They play Nicaraguan champions Real Esteli on Saturday.
"I know we are in for a tough matchup," Morreale said. "I know that the Mexican and Nicaraguan teams are stacked with national team players from their respective countries and also with high-level imports. We have a great team this year, we have top-quality Canadians who have Canada national team experience.
"With that said, challenge accepted, on Friday and Saturday, with all on the line and the best interest of basketball in (Canada), we are excited to be able to do what we do on the international level."
The BCLA sees teams from South and Central America along with Canada's national champion competing over the course of four months for a berth in the 2024 FIBA Intercontinental Cup.
The Honey Badgers, assigned to Group A, will play a second window next month, when they travel to Managua, Nicaragua to play Libertadores on Jan. 17 and home team Real Esteli on Jan. 18.
Brampton's CAA Centre will host the third and final window Feb. 7-9. The Honey Badgers were recently displaced from Hamilton due to closures for renovations at First Ontario Centre. They've made Brampton, Ont., their permanent home.
"Without a doubt, the BCLA is extremely important for Canadian basketball," said Honey Badgers GM Jermaine Anderson. "For one, it provided an added layer of credibility for the CEBL. It is providing coaches and players with an understanding of the FIBA game. And more importantly, it's providing an opportunity for players to gain international experience and to gain access to various markets in South America.
"For me personally, just being able to construct a team is a blessing and I am looking forward to the opportunity."
The Honey Badgers' roster for the BCLA is a mixed group of players from various CEBL teams, including seven Canadians who played on CEBL teams this past season. All-CEBL guard Alex Campbell and Murphy Burnatowski, who both were part of the Edmonton Stingers' BCLA roster last season, as well as 6-11 centre Jordy Tshimanga (Saskatchewan Rattlers) are among the headliners.
With Honey Badgers coach Ryan Schmidt unavailable due to his coaching obligations with the London Lions of the British Basketball League, Sheldon Cassimy will serve as head coach.
"(My) expectations for the team is to come together and mesh together well in a short period of time but being prepared, playing to the best of our ability," said Cassimy. "That's my expectation — just competing and showing our brand of basketball."
At the end of the BCLA group stage, the top two-ranked teams in each of the four groups meet in the quarterfinals to determine who will play in the Final 4. The 2023 BCLA champion earns a berth in the 2024 FIBA Intercontinental Cup.
The Honey Badgers are the second CEBL team to represent Canada in Champions League action. The 2021 CEBL champion Edmonton Stingers competed last season against Real Esteli and Congrejeros of Puerto Rico, finishing the group stage tied for first, but failing to move on based on head-to-head point differential.
Alex Campbell, guard, Brampton, Ont.; David Nesbitt, forward, Freeport, Bahamas; Gelvis Solano, guard, New York; Jahvon Henry-Blair, guard, Brampton, Ont.; Jaylen Babb-Harrison, guard, Ajax, Ont.; Jordan Williams, guard, Dallas; Jordy Tshimanga, centre, Montreal; Joshua Ibarra, Angleton, Texas; Murphy Burnatowski, Kitchener, Ont.; Sean Miller-Moore, guard, Brampton, Ont.; Stefan Smith, Ajax, Ont.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press