The Saskatchewan Rattlers defeated the Hamilton Honey Badgers 94-83 Sunday to capture the inaugural Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) championship.
Saskatchewan captain Alex Campbell was the Player of the game, leading the Rattlers with 20 points, 11 rebounds and two assists.
“It was amazing,” Campbell told reporters after the game, speaking about the atmosphere at the packed SaskTel Centre.
“The energy was there, especially in those dire moments when we need the lift from fans, they were there for us.”
The CEBL has emphasized Canadian content from the start, requiring teams to have at least 70 per cent Canadian players and forming partnerships with U Sports and Canada Basketball.
Saskatchewan had eight Canadian players on its active roster as of Sunday, including Campbell — a University of Windsor (Ontario) product.
“It’s a great opportunity for Canadian players to stay home in the summer and get games in — professional games against quality players,” said Campbell.
In the championship game, Negus Webster-Chan (Scarborough, Ont.) added 17 points and four assists for the Rattlers, while Shaquille Keith (Toronto, Ont.) had 16 points in front of a hometown crowd in Saskatoon.
Xavier Rathan-Maves (Scarborough) led the way for Hamilton, with 24 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
Honey Badgers guard Ricky Tarrant Jr. (Pleasant Grove, Ala.), a CEBL Player of the Year finalist, had 21 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Saskatchewan Rattlers 2019 CEBL Champions
As the host team, Saskatchewan had an automatic bid in the the four-team championship tournament, but the Rattlers also qualified on merit, finishing third in regular-season standings with a 13-9 record.
They upset the second-seeded Edmonton Stingers 85-83 Saturday to earn a spot in the championship game.
“They earned their spot,” said league commissioner Mike Morreale. “Couldn’t have written a better script.”
Hamilton was an underdog throughout the tournament, finishing fourth in regular-season standings with an 11-11 record.
But the Honey Badgers pulled off a huge upset in Saturday’s other semi-final, knocking off the top-seeded Niagara River Lions 104-103.
Rathan-Mayes led the way in that contest as well, with a game-high 28 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists.
“I’m happy for basketball in Canada,” said Morreale. “I wave a Canadian flag every single day.
“That’s what I do, and I’m proud of it … I will continue to raise the bar for this product and for this game, because I think it’s important that we do so, and we support basketball at all levels.
CEBL 2020 Expansion
Morreale added the CEBL is looking for expansion, as well as owners for the six existing league-owned franchises.
In an interview with CBC, he said the league could add a seventh franchise as early as 2020.
“We put a probably 80 per cent focus on the league to start, because you are nothing without a strong league,” he told reporters on Sunday. “We’ve seen that from other iterations that have come and (gone).
“Canadian Basketball League made by Canadians, for Canadians”
“This is a Canadian league made by Canadians, for Canadians, played with Canadians — and damn good Canadians.”