Guelph Nighthawks ready to soar in St. Catharines

The Guelph Nighthawks have set their roster for the 2020 CEBL Summer Series, with seven new players joining the five who remain from last year’s inaugural squad.

Here’s a look at the names called by Head Coach and General Manager Charles Kissi:

“I’m excited about the group we put together.  I think we have a good balance of rounded basketball players. Our guys have bought in and worked extremely hard over our training camp,” Kissi said.

“These guys are going to have to come in and compete every day,” he added. “It’s that type of daily competition that will help establish the winning culture we’re focused on building in this organization.”

As mentioned, the roster features five members of the 2019 team, including Olu Famutimi (who I wrote about here), Myles Charvis, Jabari Craig, Jamal Reynolds and Kimbal Mackenzie.

The the new group of seven includes five Canadians (Marcus Anderson, Tyrrel Tate, Joel Friesen, Corey Johnson and Tyrell Green) and two internationally designated players (Americans Tre’Darius McCallum from the NBA G League and Jonathan Arledge from the French Pro A Jeep Elite League).

Here’s a few players I’m most excited to watch:

  • The Nighthawks selected Marcus Anderson with the third overall selection in the 2020 CEBL – U SPORTS Draft, following a five-year championship-filled career at Carleton University. Anderson is known as one of the top defenders in the country, and was named the U SPORTS and OUA Defensive Player of the Year in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Anderson’s Carleton Ravens were crowned U SPORTS National Champions in four of his five years at the Ottawa school, including the most recent 2019-20 season.
  • Joel Friesen was selected first overall draft pick at  the 2019 CEBL Entry Draft and signed with the Nighthawks after a stellar rookie season with the Fraser Valley Bandits. The 6-foot-5 Canadian previously starred for the University of Alberta, leading the Golden Bears to 2nd and 3rd place finishes at the USPORTS Final 8 Men’s Basketball Championship.
  • Tyrrel Tate is a Calgary native who grew up in North Carolina. He spent three seasons in the NBA’s G League, most recently in the Washington Wizards organization as a member of the Capital City Go-Go. Like Friesen, Tate was a mainstay in the lineup for the Fraser Valley Bandits in 2019, starting 18 games, scoring 14.2 points and adding 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He most recently played in the Mexican CIBACOPA, where averaged 17.8 points per game.
  • Lastly, we have American small forward Tre’Darius McCallum of the NBA G League’s Windy City Bulls. As a starter this past season with the Chicago Bulls G-League affiliate, McCallum averaged 11.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.8 made three-point field goals per game. There’s definitely a lot to like about his game:

 

 

I’ve greatly enjoyed getting to know more about these players and their respective journeys that have landed them in Guelph, and I’m excited to see what they can do as a group over the next few weeks.

The CEBL Summer Series tips off on Saturday, July 25th with a nationally broadcast double-header (CBC), beginning with the Nighthawks versus the Ottawa BlackJacks at 3:50pm ET.

The Summer Series will culminate with the CEBL Championship on August 9th.

Once grounded, Olu Famutimi now soaring with Nighthawks

If ever Olu Famutimi dreamed of playing basketball anywhere close to his hometown, it was no doubt as a member of the Toronto Raptors.

The 36-year-old is indeed playing professional basketball in Ontario, but the talons on his jersey come in the form of Nighthawks, not dinos.

It’s a hard turn from a once promising career that began in Toronto and migrated to Flint Northwestern High School in Michigan, where he was named a 2003 McDonald’s High School Basketball All American alongside some guy named LeBron James.

Like many young Canadian hoops fans, Famutimi grew up idolizing Vince Carter. He was well on his way to being drafted to the NBA when he tore his ACL while landing a dunk while playing for the University of Arkansas. Despite the devastating injury, he elected to enter the 2005 NBA Draft, where he was passed over entirely.

He did earn a couple cups of NBA coffee with the San Antonio Spurs and the Philadelphia 76ers, even appearing in a few preseason games before being waived. Over the past 15 years, he’s bounced around several pro leagues around Europe and North America, even playing for Canada’s men’s national basketball team.

Famutimi was named MVP of Guelph’s Canadian Elite Basketball League squad after the Royal City’s inaugural season in 2019, and he currently has his eyes set on leading the Nighthawks to a Summer Series tournament win when CEBL resumes player later this month.

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The long road back to basketball relevance made last year’s team MVP win that much sweeter.

“I never really expected that award at the point of my career that I’m at right now, so it was really a blessing and a testimony to the hard work that I’ve been putting in over the years,” Famutimi said.

Famutami averaged 15.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game for Guelph last season, and while he didn’t lead the club in any of those categories, his journey certainly affords him an extra level of leadership and perspective that truly defines his value.

“Olu became a staple in our locker room last season, showing our younger players the work ethic and dedication required to excel at the professional level,” Head Coach & GM Charles Kissi said at the time of Famutami’s re-signing. “His steady presence was influential as we started to mold the culture of our club in the second half of the season. We’re excited to have Olu back, and I believe being the first signing of the upcoming season is representative of his role as a core leader in 2020.”

The 2020 season did not play out as anyone expected, but Famutami is excited about the format nonetheless.

“I like everything about it. Considering the situation, we’re lucky to even be able to actually have a season. The structure of the tournament is amazing, and I think the Elam Ending is going to make things really intense,” he said.

Indeed, the part of the CEBL decision to turn the season into a single-site tournament, rather than the 20-game regular season was the institution of the Elam Ending, which sees teams play to a target score at the end of the fourth quarter rather than the typical conclusion of the clock. As a result, every game has a game winning basket, making for a much more exciting finish.

Expect the MVP to be a vocal party in those late-game huddles and a key contributor in Guelph’s efforts to win the championship.

Lord knows he’s paid his dues.

“Ball”

Like it or not, it appears as though sports will attempt to be a thing as we continue to wade through a global pandemic, and the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) is set to tip off a special Summer Series on July 25.

It will be the first live professional sports action in Canada since the COVID-19 outbreak in March, and the league’s seven teams will convene in St. Catharines, Ontario for a 26-game competition that ends August 9 with the CEBL Championship game.

These dates, of course, are subject to any regression in Ontario’s phased-in reopening process.

While you can expect some CEBL content on this website over the summer (specifically in relation to the Guelph Nighthawks), I wanted to start by highlighting the new ball (please say it aloud like Hedo Turkoglu) they’ll be playing with this summer.

Per the official release:

The CEBLxSpalding TF-1000 Legacy ball, featuring a new design with black panels and a microfiber composite leather cover, will be used for all 26 games of the CEBL Summer Series. With a deep channel design for superior control, the ball is Official NBA size and weight (Size 7). It will feature the official CEBL logo, the signature of league commissioner Mike Morreale, and the league’s Twitter handle, @CEBLeague, embossed in gold foil on the black panels.

Basketball and maybe soccer are unique in that the design of the ball is actually kind of important, since it can actually be seen in-play. That allows for some looks that actually matter, and this one is pretty rad. On top of that, you can even grab your own, and there’s nothing quite like shooting around in the schoolyard on a hot summer night with a ball used by the pros.

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“Spalding has been integral to basketball for more than a century, yet they’re still an industry leader when it comes to innovation and contemporary design,” said CEBL Commissioner Mike Morreale. “The CEBLxSpalding TF1000 Legacy reflects the CEBL’s vibrant brand. We’re about presenting world class basketball in a new way, and we
will be showcasing that to a national and international viewing audience during the upcoming CEBL Summer Series. As one of our premier partners, Spalding will be at the heart of every highlight and game-winning basket.”

The Nighthawks will begin Summer Series action on July 25 against the The expansion Ottawa BlackJacks at 3:50 p.m. ET.

All games will be available to stream in CBC.

Blake Griffin wonders why Christians don’t act more like Jesus

Blake Griffin just dunked on the church.

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The NBA superstar appeared on You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes this week, and as is custom on this podcast, the topic of faith and the meaning of life came up towards the end of the lengthy conversation.

Griffin said he grew up going to a non-denominational church that’s now a huge mega-church, and he understandably doesn’t know how to feel about that evolution.

Despite moving away from that foundation and questioning that model, he still retains a measure of faith.

“I still like the idea of believing in God,” he said. “If you don’t, fine. I like it. It gives me something bigger.”

Griffin then added more context to his faith journey. He went to a Christian high school where he attended weekly chapel, took bible courses and learned about other religions in order to refute them.

To explain where he’s at now, he then worked through a common line of thinking that dissuades many from the church these days.

Note: He was careful with his thoughts here and I transcribed as best as I could as he stopped and started along the way,

“My issue with Christianity is I just don’t understand how a religion that is following somebody who stood for these things … In the Bible, you know, Jesus would eat with the sinners, the prostitutes. And yet Christians believe, for instance, homosexuality is a sin. But then you can’t accept? I don’t get it. Why can this person who you’re supposed to be following do these things but you can’t?”

Great question, Blake.

Jesus was notoriously hanging out with those on the margins of society, and yet Christianity is sadly seen as a religion that makes in/out, us/them distinctions.

It doesn’t make any sense at all, and that disconnect is a big reason why Millennials in particular are running from the church.

As a side note, I had no idea Griffin is a stand up comic in the off season, making his chat with Pete even more interesting. Pete’s utter lack of basketball knowledge is also hilarious.

I listen to every YMIW, but this one’s got wide appeal and should be a stand out episode.

I’m officially more of a Griffin fan than I was a few hours ago.

Agony and Ecstasy: On 2 Nights of Sports That Pulled Me Through the Ringer

It was almost perfect.

Anyone who knows me even a little bit is well aware of my three sports loves: the Toronto Blue Jays, the Boston Bruins, and the Toronto Raptors.

I was fortunate enough to be of an age where I was able to appreciate the baseball team’s World Series wins back in 1992 and 1993, but it was a good while before one of that trio came out on top of its respective league.

18 years, in fact, and I’ve written about how I cried when the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 and what it meant to me to be able to celebrate the win when Rich Peverley brought hockey’s holy grail to Guelph that summer.

The Bruins reached the Final again in 2013 (let’s not talk about that), but I honestly wasn’t sure I’d see this group – or any other in black and gold – get very far anytime soon.

The Blue Jays unexpectedly offered two straight years of playoff baseball, and I truly thought they’d get another win in 2015 – let’s not talk about that either.

As for the Raptors, the greatest joys I had previously experienced in all the time spent rooting for them since Day One resulted in a missed buzzer beater back in 2001 and an inability to get past LeBron James in more recent times, even with the best regular season teams assembled to date.

Cut to two recent nights in June, and the chance to witness two more league championship wins on consecutive nights.

Too good to be true, right?

Nailed it.

I’m honestly still not over how the Bruins fell flat in Game 7. It was honestly the perfect opportunity to win another Cup, and to cement the legacies of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask, the only carryovers from 2011.

I felt pretty good through the opening 15 minutes, while lamenting a few glorious missed opportunities. As hockey is wont to do, the opposition found a way to capitalize despite limited shots on goal, and a late first period goal on one of the most ill timed line changes I’ve ever seen basically sealed the deal for the St. Louis Blues.

The TV was turned off with a few minutes left in the third period, if I’m being honest. Yes, I know “it was 4-1” once upon a time, but you could tell this group was lacking that magic on this night, and it was too painful an ending to watch.

Earlier than expected to bed I went, and that rest was much needed for the night after.

The Raptors have meant a lot to me over the years. Many of my college memories revolve around this team, and they’ve remained an easy talking point, an impetus to keep in touch with good old friends.

While I usually watch Bruins games alone because nobody around that I’m close with really cares as much as I do, I went to my brother-in-law’s house to watch Game 5 and 6 of the NBA Finals with him and his wife. The energy up here had been palpable for weeks chance to see the Raptors win their first Larry OB was to be shared with others.

Kyle Lowry came out firing, and Kawhi Leonard continued to prove why he’s one of the best players in basketball, and in the end, the Raptors did the damn thing.

I cheered, we hugged, we drank celebratory scotch, I cried and took to Instagram to express how I was feeling in that moment:

It’s a night I won’t soon forget, and the days that have followed have been filled with smiles, high fives, parade viewing, a championship t-shirt order and quiet moments of contentment and thankfulness that we all got to share in that long-awaited moment.

Still, I’m bummed about the Bruins. Through the Draft, the release of next year’s schedule, and as we move into free agency, I continue to lament what could have been, and daydream what could have been with a little more puck luck in those opening minutes.

But hey – if the Bruins themselves were able to party and celebrate getting that far only a couple days after the loss, then far be it for me to dwell on it for too long from a much greater distance.

Because let’s be honest. It’s rare to see the ideal or even expected scenario play out in reality. Lord knows we’ve seen our fair share of hardship around here over the past few years. That’s what puts all this sports stuff in perspective when it doesn’t go your team’s way, and makes life all the sweeter when it does.

Those two nights were a reminder to not take anything for granted, to accept that life will include losses, to celebrate even the smallest of victories along the way, and to enjoy the hell out of the big ones.

 

No, YOU’RE Kawhi-ing: On the Raptors finally doing the thing

The Toronto Raptors made me fall in love with basketball.

Sure, I watched Michael Jordan as a kid, and owned a Chicago Bulls Starter jacket, because who didn’t? But it wasn’t until Toronto got its own team that I truly embraced the game.

I was living in Ottawa at the time, and got my first taste of the Raptors on a Thanksgiving Monday afternoon, when my dad took me to see Damon Stoudamire and crew take on the New York Knicks in an exhibition game.

Cut to going nuts watching Vince’s dunk competition in one of my oldest friend’s basements, going to college in Toronto and regularly spending whatever loose cash I had on Sprite Zone tickets with my two best buds, making sure I secured the communal TV for Sunday afternoon games on CTV, taping up countless newspaper clippings outside my dorm room on the Wall of Vince, getting so pumped when the drop in centre we volunteered at let us use their season tickets, and finally getting to witness live playoff basketball and seeing them win Game 3 against the Detroit Pistons in 2002.

I’ll admit I haven’t watched as faithfully as I did back then – as life got busier, my main sports viewing was focused on the Boston Bruins. I’ve still kept up with the team, suffering through playoff heartbreaks through the Chris Bosh and DeMar DeRozan eras, even attending one of the disappointing playoff losses at the hands of the Washington Wizards a few years back. It was awesome back at theScore, getting caught up in the rabid passion and knowledge of many who worked there. So was gathering at our church to watch Game 7 against the Miami Heat when the Raptors first advanced to the Conference finals.

All of it had culminated in seemingly inevitable sadness, but this year, things felt different.

Mostly because of this guy.

Last night, some family gathered at the Albion Hotel here in downtown Guelph for my mother in law’s 60th birthday party, near the end of which I snuck downstairs to watch Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks.

By the time we left, the Raptors were down by 5 and things were looking not awesome.

Cut again to returning home (with a few ciders now in my belly). Toronto went on a crazy run, highlighted by the dunk above. I literally had my shirt off and was waving it over my head in our living room, and teared up when the game was over and the Raptors had clinched a berth in the NBA Finals.

Some will say it’s just an Eastern Conference championship, and the job’s not finished, and maybe won’t get done considering the opposition – the Golden State Warriors, who are in search of a threepeat.

The thing is, who cares? This straight up doesn’t happen up here, and Kawhi Leanord and Kyle Lowry have given us much more than a moment to remember.

I got texts and was tagged in Insta stories by some of my oldest and dearest friends, and was flooded with memories of good times past.

 

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At its best, sports is about community; they bring people together.

Thank you for this, Raptors.

#WeTheNorth

Guelph Nighthawks name opening night roster

The Guelph Nighthawks named their opening night roster for the 2019 Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) season on Tuesday.

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The most recognizable name is G Myck Kabongo, a once highly-touted prospect whose pro aspirations derailed during his second year at the University of Texas.

Per Carlan Gay of NBA.com:

Kabongo averaged 12.6 points, 6.8 assists per 40 minutes in his freshmen season at Texas. His sophomore season was cut short after having to sit out a 23 game suspension for receiving impermissible benefits from an agent. He ended up playing in 11 games that season putting up decent numbers but never really fulfilled the promise he had coming in as a freshman in his two years at Texas. In 2013 he entered the draft but his stock had already been compromised with the suspension and inconsistency in his play – he went undrafted.

Since his draft year, Kabongo has spent time playing in the G-League – most recently with Raptors905 in 2018-19 – as well as leagues in Romania, Mexico, Spain and France.

In all honesty, I don’t know much about the rest of the squad, but have been offered a chance to cover some games this summer, and I’m pretty excited to learn more about these players and help welcome high-level basketball to our town.

I do know for one thing that their logo is pretty bad ass.

 

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“We expect the Nighthawks to have one of the top offences in the league,” said Guelph coach and General Manager Tarry Upshaw.  “We are a team that will really push the ball in transition and bring a high-speed, positive energy on to the court that we expect will permeate into the crowd here in Guelph.”

The Nighthawks are heading to Abbotsford, BC for the club’s inaugural CEBL game against the Fraser Valley Bandits on May 9th. Guelph will host a home opener on Saturday, May 11that the Sleeman Centre against the Saskatchewan Rattlers.