HAMILTON, ON: It’s over sixty minutes before the Canadian Basketball League’s inaugural tip and Butch Carter was pacing the sideline like an expectant father. He was overseeing his small army of staffers as they retrofit a modest gym on the grounds of Mohawk College into a facility suitable for professional basketball. At times he breaks from his routine on the sideline to pull a player aside to give some technical advice. It is in Carter’s DNA to coach young athletes. From his time of coaching Ohio powerhouse Middleton High School in the Eighties to his tenure of coaching the Toronto Raptors with young superstars Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady on the roster, Coach Carter has made it his priority to develop young basketball players. After his tenure as Toronto Raptors’ Head Coach came to a conclusion in 2000, a controversial decision that irked many of the Raptors’ faithful, he remained closely tied to Southern Ontario and very interested in the pulse of basketball north of the 49th. Over the past two years the Springfield, Ohio native has focused all of his attention towards the creation of the Canadian Basketball League.
“I’ve waited 24 months to see this breath,” – Canadian Basketball League founder Butch Carter.
The naysayers have barked that Carter is crazy to back such a venture. Not only is he operating in an NBA market, that includes a D-League affiliate, but he is going head to head against the National Basketball League of Canada – a modest league that has plugged away in the Maritimes and Ontario since 2011. Carter has never backed away from the challenge believing that his business model of single entity ownership ,manageable basketball friendly venues , a league adopting FIBA rules and enlisting young players are the key ingredients for its longevity. When he discusses his business plan he references the single entity structure that exists in Major League Soccer as it has grown into a serious player within North America’s crowded sporting landscape. In a single entity ownership structure the league owns and controls all member clubs. Investors then purchase shares in the league overall.
Despite some setbacks over the past two years, that included pulling a franchise from the Kitchener Waterloo region, Carter has unveiled a four team league that will play a 52 game schedule in Oshawa, Guelph, Hamilton and Scarborough, that will conclude on April 1. Teams will play in modest gyms with seating capacities ranging from 800 – 2400, situated in two community colleges, one university and the Pan Am Centre in Scarborough. There are also two neutral site games scheduled at Queen’s University in Kingston.
But it is the Canadian Basketball League’s collection of coaches that appears to mimic Carter’s life- long commitment to player development. His four coaches, who represent the face of the league, have varied coaching CVs but one thing remains constant – their ability to teach young players.
Garrett Kelly was introduced to Carter through a mutual friend from TSN in Montreal and eventually landed an interview. “I came up to Toronto in May 2015 for a one day interview and stayed for 13 days with Butch working on the league”, explained Kelly who calls Asheville, North Carolina home. “We’ve been together pretty much every day since, building the league,” he added. Not only is Kelly overseeing league operations he will also be coaching the Scarborough franchise – his first head coaching assignment. Just shy of 30 years old Kelly has established a rather impressive resume after completing his collegiate playing days with Loyola Maryland. One season as an Assistant Coach at the Catholic University of America in Washington led to a position as Video Coordinator at Radford University – a D1 school in Virginia. He was later promoted to Director of Basketball Operations at Radford where Coach Mike Jones saw the team eventually win a school record of 22 wins while sending four players overseas to play professionally. Kelly later reacquainted himself as an assistant under his old college coach Jimmy Patsos, who is now at Siena College.
To compliment Garrett Kelly’s youthful energy the CBL brought in seasoned veteran coaches Mark Anderson and George Jackson. Anderson, who is guiding the Hamilton franchise, grew up in Indiana where he started his coaching career as a 7th grade coach and made his way up to Varsity Head coach in the basketball hotbed State. “we had 18 baskets and three full courts in a gym with approximately 3200 seats for a high school with 350 students. Anderson moved to the college ranks where he rebuilt two college programs culminating with a national college championship in 2004 with Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. Anderson has seen 13 of his players move to international basketball over the past three years. Since 1983 he has also been a camp instructor with the highly acclaimed McCraken Basketball camps of Indiana – a camp founded by the legendary Indiana Coach David McCraken. But Anderson proudly announced that: “ Ican see things about a player in a three man weave or what needs to be fine-tuned in a jump shot.” He cautioned, however, that the biggest thing in a player’s development is that; “ the player MUST want to be coached.”
To compliment Anderson’s experience Butch Carter convinced Cincinnati high school coaching legend George Jackson to take over the CBL franchise in Wellington. After spending 22 years at Withrow High School ,where he posted a 311-146 record as a head coach, Jackson turned his attention to the college ranks joining the coaching staffs at Seton hall, Bowling Green and Xavier University in his hometown of Cincinatti where he joined respected head coach Mick Cronin.
Rounding out the CBL coaching staff is former Toronto Raptor Point Guard Milt Palacio who enjoyed a seven year NBA career before he took his talents to Europe. The CBL will be Palacio’s first head coaching job and he will be leading Durham United this season.
There is no shortage of American basketball players to stock any professional league. With 347 American schools hosting Division 1 basketball programs, not to mention an infinite number of Division 2, Division 3 and NAIA leagues, there is a gluten of talented American players looking to extend their basketball careers beyond college. Although it is estimated that 250 Canadian players are playing professional basketball outside of Canada very few have yet to make it onto CBL rosters. To review and excavate the endless stock of talented American players the CBL think tank turned to McNeil Sports Group and their popular exposure camps across the States. CBL officials attended camps in Dallas and New York City where they eventually signed eleven players – almost a third of the entire league’s roster.
“We are excited about the league (CBL) and think it is going to be a great league developing players and getting them to the highest level possible for each guy,” explained Brian Luby, McNeil’s Director of International Basketball Operations. “That is what we strive for with players who attend our events and who we represent so it is a natural connection ,” he added.
For Durham United teammates David Tucker and Manny Thomas, fresh off their college careers, the exposure camps led to their marriage with the CBL. After a decorated high school career Dallas native David Tucker took his basketball skills to NAIA powerhouse University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma where he finished as the school’s ninth all-time scorer with 1,035 points and he was selected to the third team, Sooner Athletic Conference all-conference team as a senior. Tucker found the journey to the CBL to be very challenging and the financial investment to showcase his talent to be quite substantial but he is determined that to pursue a professional basketball career. After attending the first exposure camp in Houston he had resigned himself to the fact that he was heading back to school to complete his Degree as a career in professional basketball was not in the offering. But he was convinced to showcase his talents in a second camp in his hometown of Dallas and his skill-set caught the eye of Garrett Kelly who was scouting the camp. Tucker was subsequently invited to the CBL combine in Cincinnati and signed to a CBL contract shortly after.
For Manny Thomas his journey from his home town of Brooklyn to Durham was less complicated. Thomas, who recently completed his NCAA D1 basketball career with Marist College in the shadows of New York City, had a break out exposure camp in New York City showcasing his high motor and ability to get after it. Similar to his time at Marist when he was coached by the likes of Chuck Martin (now an Assistant at Indiana) and Mike Maker the 6’4” swingman relishes the opportunity to be mentored by Durham United Head Coach Milt Palacio. “ I am blessed to be coached by Milt Palacio who is an NBA veteran who really knows the game,” announced Thomas who is also three courses shy of completing his Master’s Degree in Securities Management. “My goal is to win a championship and hopefully get an opportunity to play in Europe before my career is over.”
Butch Carter has never minced words about the type of player he wants to represent the CBL. “We are going to sign high school players,” is his bold proclamation. One such player who has migrated to the CBL is 19 year-old Jatrious ‘JJ’ Smith – a 6’ 4” guard who was once rated by ESPN in 2015 to be a top 20 prospect for the class of 2017. Smith, a Fayetteville, North Carolina native, who last played for a prep school in Georgia, was on the radar of several Division 1 programs before he decided to export his talents north of the border. He will be under the watchful eye of Coach George Jackson in Guelph who knows a thing or two about mentoring young players.
League officials did not disclose the salary structure of the league nor how much the four coaches are making but not unlike other professional basketball leagues abroad the CBL is offering many players an opportunity to live abroad while showcasing their talents for the next step in their basketball careers.
While Butch Carter and his inner circle plods along during the Canadian Basketball League’s inaugural season, not deviating from the original blueprint, the mission statement remains simple – “If you build it they will come.” But Carter cautions those offering him advice on how to build the league that the task at hand isn’t that simple.
Canadian Basketball League: The Encore
After a tried and tested inaugural campaign the Canadian Basketball League readies for a second season.
There are many adjectives to describe Butch Carter. The Founder and General Partner of the Canadian Basketball League (CBL) has been described as being determined. Others who have rubbed shoulders with him have described him as being relentless. But there is one thing for certain about a man who is on a mission to see a professional development basketball league thrive on Canadian soil. He is certainly not a ‘ one and done’ type of fellow. He is not aborting his journey to see the CBL find a niche within Canada’s dynamic and ever changing sports landscape.
Prior to the inaugural CBL season Carter came armed with concepts from years of research as well as dialogue within the basketball and business communities. This summer he brings a year of first hand experiences after a season of trials and tribulations from four trailblazing franchises within the CBL’s single entity blueprint.
Carter is a firm believer that the league was very professional in how they set things up for the players. “Our living accommodation for players were very good and I think that players liked the way games were handled and set up,” he explained.
The league invested a great deal of its resources and energy into the television product and Carter was not disappointed. “Our partnership with YES TV was a resounding success,” he proclaimed. “Our Numeris ratings for our three products (CBL in 30, live CBL games and CBL in 30 -post game in Alberta) reached 300,000 people,” he added. Carter is hopeful that he will be able to broadcast 10-12 games throughout the 2017/18 season.
Although he noted that the talent level was better than anticipated he reported that he would like to retain 20 players from last season while adding an additional 15 young talented players to last season’s pool. He admitted that; “because we started late with funding last year there were about 15 players who shouldn’t have been in the league.” CBL teams will be holding as many as 20 tryouts in Canada and in the United States with the hope of inviting a talented pool of players to a super camp where roster spots will be finalized. He is hopeful that the G-league’s (Formerly the D-League) new rule prohibiting players without NCAA D1 experience from playing in the G-league unless they have FIBA experience will entice some players to the CBL. He is steadfast in the quality of player he saw during the first season. “I don’t think we have an NBA player but we have a couple of guys who have the length and I Q to give themselves a chance,” he announced.
Garrett Kelly (Scarborough) and Mark Anderson (Hamilton) will be returning for their second seasons as head coaches while Milt Palacio is looking at new challenges in the NBA’s G-League. But Carter reports that in March he assumed a new role within the NBA where he is responsible for mentoring retired NBA players who are looking to move into coaching. Under the NBA’s new collective agreement 14 former NBA players must be hired by the league as interns. Carter has identified potential new coaching candidates for league vacancies extending his search to such places as Portland, Oregon and Halifax, Nova Scotia. He believes that Garrett Kelly has set the bar pretty high in his expectations of what a young coach can bring to the league and he is confident that Kelly will some day be headed to greener pastures.
Carter admitted that the long gap in time between the end of last season and the tip off for next season has been problematic. Many CBL players have expressed concern over the lack of information passed their way regarding their future in the league during the off season. Many CBL players , however, are locked up by two year contracts. Carter fully understands that one of the shortcomings of the league is the lack of a training facility based in Southern Ontario to offer players off season training or the lack of a trainer to travel to each player’s home town to offer a training regiment. He sees this connection as being paramount for player development – especially those interested in trying out in the in the G-league.
Carter’s improved relationships with facility managers throughout the CBL’s four existing markets should result in a seamless return to the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre in Scarborough , the Guelph Griffin Athletic Centre , the Campus Recreation Centre at UOIT and the David Braley Athletic Centre at Mohawk College. He reports that the TPASC in Scarborough, a facility that he describes as being “world class”, has even asked him to bring in two teams. He describes the Durham Region as being an area of significant growth and a region where the league needs to increase its focus.
Expansion is not out of the realm of possibilities for the CBL as Carter is confident that a fifth team will appear in Ontario for the 2017/18 season. But he envisions Western Canada ripe for a new CBL conference down the road. He describes provinces west of Ontario as being facility rich with several new builds among CWUAA schools.
On March 18 the champagne was flowing at the Guelph Griffins Athletic’s Centre after Scarborough captured the first CBL crown. But for Butch Carter and the rest of the CBL thinks tank the encore will be far more important than the prelude.
Troy Taylor: The Hammer’s New Talisman
Hamilton United’s Troy Taylor is always a blur when he steps onto the court. He is lightning quick and a physical specimen unrivalled in the Canadian Basketball League. He is a player who would run through a brick wall for his team and the wall would come out second best. But it has been Taylor’s basketball savvy away from the hardwood, not just his physicality, that caught the attention of CBL Founder and General Partner Butch Carter.
Taylor enjoyed a distinguished NCAA Division 1 career at the University of
where he completed four productive years as the floor general, leading the Purple Aces through the competitive Missouri Valley Conference. The highlight of his university career came in his senior year when the Purple Aces made it through to the semi-finals of the CIT tournament.
It was, however, the time after his College playing days had concluded that the Indiana native’s basketball life had reinvented itself. It was a time away from the glitz and pageantry of being a D1 athlete Stateside when he took stock in his other strengths. Pining for the opportunity to play ball beyond college Taylor joined a group of local players to play for the Anderson Legends – a semi- professional outfit named after Kojack Fuller, a legendary local high school coach. Taylor was not just the team’s point guard but he was responsible for marketing the team and forging relationships with the Anderson community. Like many small American cities, Anderson and its shrinking population of 55,000 is a community in flux. Having lost General Motors, its main employer, several years ago the city had fallen on challenging times. The Legends, however, were an instant hit and the local community embraced the team and the fact that they represented one of the city’s major exports- high school basketball players.
“They were filling high school gyms here for a summer”, explained local Sports Editor George Bremer who has covered sports in Anderson for decades. “It was really fun and a chance for fans to see local kids playing together at a high level”, he added. Bremer reported that the team didn’t disappoint, winning most of their games with scores that consistently surpassed 100. “Troy basically ran the marketing of the team and it was a real grassroots operation that resonated throughout the community,” Bremer reported to CBLinsider.
Although the Legends didn’t affiliate themselves with any league Taylor reported that the team regularly invited teams from other leagues to their gym for a series of exhibition games. The outcomes of the games usually favored the Legends ,including victories over teams from the ABA, UBA and CBA. The results subsequently led to invitations by rivals for the Legends to join their leagues.
It was a year before the CBL bounced its first Molten ball when the 27 year old crossed paths with Butch Carter and ever since they have fostered a mutual respectful relationship. Taylor admitted that he had a lucrative offer to play in Lithuania but has no regrets that he has been a pioneer with the CBL, making the trek from basketball-rich Indiana to what many fondly refer to as ‘The Hammer’ and Southern Ontario. “I see a lot of him (Butch Carter) in me, he’s a hard worker, I understand his vision and I like being around guys like that,” explained Taylor who will be entering the second year of a two year contract with the CBL. “It’s a great opportunity and it’s more than just the money, it’s about relationships,” he added.
He described the inaugural CBL season as being “solid” in many ways. “I was treated really well as were the other players, the money was always deposited in our accounts on time or early and I like the guys I played with in Hamilton”, he announced. Taylor was also able to network with local Hamilton businesses, securing some minor sponsorships for the team.
During the off season Taylor has been assisting league officials with their talent evaluations as it has been a primary goal of all involved with the league to have the best talent scouted before the league tips off in December. He recently joined CBL Director of Operations Garrett Kelly and Mark Anderson, his coach from Hamilton, to look at a small group of prospects who gathered in Pittsburgh. Kelly believes that the Anderson, Indiana native has a “good mind for the game” and is quickly learning the business side of the league. It is this side of the game of basketball that Taylor embraces. “I love all the behind the scenes stuff,” he explained.
Although a head coaching position does not appeal to Taylor as his primary goal in basketball he admitted that he has been spending some of his off season helping train members of the Indiana Fever of the WNBA. “I watched enough tape as a player, I don’t want to watch it again as a coach,” he proclaimed.
For Troy Taylor he has no regrets about joining the Canadian Basketball League, believing that he is well positioned in the future as his relationship with the CBL and his shared vision with Butch Carter will pay long term dividends. “I love what I’m doing and I have been put in a great position,” he stated emphatically.