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Welcome to the CEBL: Everything you need to know about Canada’s fast growing basketball league

Five seasons in and the Canadian Elite Basketball League is growing exponentially. Curious? Learn about the CEBL right here.

Scarborough’s #0 Jalen Harris (Guard) seen in action during... Photo by Ron Palmer/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

If you’re anything like me, the summer can be the most frustrating time as a basketball fan. We have free agency, which is really only exciting for a couple days until the big names go off the board. Then we have a week and a half of summer league that gets us a look at all the new guys. Then what? Holding out hope for a few glimpses of someone’s offseason training routine or Scottie playing pro-am games doesn’t necessarily scratch the itch of craving basketball in the summer.

Obviously, if you’re not watching the WNBA that is the first place to start, but while we still wait for our own franchise in Toronto, there’s another way to take in basketball during the fairer weather months that is a lot closer to home. Enter the CEBL.

The Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) was founded in 2018, with the goal of developing Canadian talent and growing the game on home soil. In order to ensure that happened, there were some unique rules put in place. Every team is required to have a roster made up of at least 70% Canadian players, with the remainder of the team being international talent (one of whom needs to be a non-American player). Each team also participates in a draft of U SPORTS players so Canadian university athletes are also provided the opportunity to grow alongside professional players. Currently, there are 10 teams in the league, broken up into five eastern conference teams (Niagara, Montreal, Ottawa, Brampton, and Scarborough) and five western conference teams (Saskatchewan, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Manitoba).

The league has also taken on a unique strategy in making the game intriguing: adding a target score at the end of the game. Often referred to as an Elam Ending after the idea’s namesake, the target score has created another twist. For a new fan, it can seem odd when we’re used to teams just getting a comfortable lead and running the clock out, but for the CEBL that isn’t a possibility. After the first stoppage of time with under 4 minutes of game time left, 9 points are added to the highest score and the first team to reach it wins the game.

The intensity of games in those finals minutes leading up to the game-winner is on another level. This season alone, a fifth of games ended in a single possession: a next-basket-wins situation that has fans on their feet, willing their team to pull off the victory. On an even more impressive note, about 7% of games the team that is down prior to target score time is actually able to pull off a win, even if down by a substantial number of points.

Not only is it an exciting game with world-class players, but the league also provides opportunities for local musicians, artists, and other talent to showcase their skills before games and during halftime in an effort to create a game-day experience for fans. The championship for the league is held over a weekend in one of the team’s home arenas and includes tournaments, concerts, speeches, and a coaching clinic. Some fans got their first taste of the league when rapper J. Cole played for the Scarborough Shooting Stars last season.

This year was the league’s fifth season, and already for such a young league there were countless milestones to celebrate. Bell Media signed a deal starting this season to air the games on TSN and TSN+, a huge step in the right direction for exposure and national media coverage. There was also an increase in sponsorships and media around the league which was exciting to see.

This year was the inaugural East vs. West Clash game (essentially an all-star game) to showcase top players in the league. The newly rebranded Calgary Surge set the record for the biggest comeback in target score time (16-point deficit). Teddy Allen tied the single game scoring record (42), while leading the newly formed Winnipeg Sea Bears against his former team. On the road to the playoffs, Winnipeg, Calgary, Ottawa, Scarborough, and Niagara were the dominant teams for most of the season and all made appearances in the playoffs that culminated by the Scarborough Shooting Stars beating the Calgary Surge 82-70 in the championship game, hosted by Vancouver. Truly a tremendous season with a lot of progress on and off the court for the league, the players, and for fans.

Interestingly enough, you may actually be closer to the CEBL than you think, as a number of current players and alumni have made appearances in the NBA, professional teams in Europe, or on an international stage in FIBA and the Olympics. It’s a pretty exhaustive list to look at actually, so I decided instead to highlight a few guys that you may have some familiarity with to highlight the level of basketball that’s being played in your own backyard.

Isiaha Mike

Born in Scarborough, Isiaha is a home-grown talent. In 2021, he played with the Raptors in summer league, appearing in 3 contests and averaging 5 ppg in only 10 minutes of action. The following summer he signed a contract with the Scarborough Shooting Stars, playing a strong season that resulted in him securing All-CEBL first-team and All-Canadian first team honors. Scarborough lost a close 90-88 game to the Honey Badgers in the finals, but this year he returned, offering the opportunity for redemption. He helped lead the team to the finals again, but this year emerged victorious, claiming not only the championship, but also the Finals MVP in the process on a dominant, near-triple double performance of 22-9-7. He’s been one of my favorite players to watch in the league, and I hope he returns next year to help defend Scarborough’s title so that we can all enjoy more of his game.

Trae Bell-Haynes

Originally from Toronto, Bell-Haynes is another Canadian talent that has spent time with the CEBL. He’s played in both Europe and the G-League, before making his way to the CEBL to play two seasons with the Niagara River Lions. He was a starter for the team in all 26 games he played, averaging about 14-4-3 during his time there. He’s also made big contributions to Team Canada, representing his country in qualifying games for the Olympics and World Cup, as well as the Americup. Currently, he’s on the Senior Men’s National Team roster that is representing Canada at the FIBA World Cup. So far he’s been averaging 5 points a game on 63% shooting with limited minutes.

Xavier Moon

What is perhaps one of the biggest success stories of the league, Moon joined the CEBL as an American import. He spent 3 seasons with the Edmonton Stingers, racking up accolades including 3x League MVP, 3x All-CEBL first team, two CEBL Championships and 2x Finals MVP. The fall of his final season with the CEBL, he signed with the Clippers G-league affiliate, and earned himself three separate 10-day contracts with the Clippers leading to his first NBA points. He secured a two-way contract in 2022 and his play led to a second two-way contract in March of 2023.

Of course, this is just a glimpse of the talent in the CEBL. Many of the players have had NBA experience, or made their way to the NBA through play here. EJ Onu (Niagara) won Defensive Player of the Year in 2022 and led the league in blocks both seasons he played in the CEBL. He’s played for the G-League affiliates for the Mavericks, Grizzlies, and Warriors. Jordy Tshimanga has played for the Calgary Surge and Saskatchewan Rattlers. He’s also played two seasons for the Minnesota Timberwolves G-League affiliate. Justin Wright-Foreman played for the Jazz’ G-league affiliate, as well as the G-league teams for New Orleans and the Knicks. This year, he signed a contract with the Saskatchewan Rattlers and led the CEBL in scoring (29.2 ppg) and was named All-CEBL First Team. There’s also a number of CEBL alumni that are on current two-ways with the NBA in Lindell Wigginton (Bucks), AJ Lawson (Mavericks) and Xavier Sneed (Hornets).

Even closer to home, there’s a number of players who have represented Team Canada over the years. Kassius Robertson played for the Niagara River Lions for three seasons 2019-2021 and the Scarborough Shooting Stars for two seasons in 2022 & 2023. He’s played in a number of games for Team Canada from 2021-2023, averaging around 12 ppg. Kalif Young played for the Brampton Honey Badgers (formally the Hamilton Honey Badgers) for two seasons in 2020 & 2021 and then moved on to the Scarborough Shooting Stars for 2022 & 2023. He’s participated in games for Canada in U17 competition, World Cup qualifying and the Americup. Kyle Alexander played for the Scarborough Shooting Stars in 2022 and for Team Canada starting in 2021. He’s also a current member of the SMNT in the FIBA World Cup this year helping add size around the basket for the team. In fact, according to the CEBL, in 2022, 32 players in training camps had Team Canada experience, whether it be the Senior Men’s Team, or one of the U-teams. Tommy Scrubb has played for the Blackjacks and Niagara River Lions over the four years he’s spent in the CEBL as well as the SMNT in qualifying games for both the Olympics and the FIBA World Cup.

As a Raptors Fan, you should be even more interested to know that some of the guys in the CEBL actually have experience as a part of our Raps’ organization. Jalen Harris is probably the best known example, drafted 59th by the Raptors in 2020. He played 13 games with the Raps and scored a career-high 31 points in May of 2021. He signed with the Scarborough Shooting Stars in 2022 and had a remarkable season averaging 20/4/3 that paved the way for his return to the NBA with the Knicks G-league affiliate. Negus Webster-Chan played for the Raptors 905 across two seasons from 2016-2018, playing alongside Pascal Siakam and Fred Vanvleet for the G-League championship. He has also appeared in 38 CEBL games, playing for the Ottawa Blackjacks, Saskatchewan Rattlers, and most recently the Montreal Alliance.

Aaron Best played two seasons for the Raptors 905 in 2017-2018 and 2021-2022. He was a solid contributor to those teams, playing 29 games in his most recent season and averaging 10/5/2. He signed with the Honey Badgers in 2022, playing 5 games for the team, including the Championship game where he scored 15 points in a victory for the team. Duane Notice played two seasons with the Raptors 905 from 2018-2020. His CEBL resume includes two seasons with the Honey Badgers in 2019 & 2020 and most recently the Vancouver Bandits in 2023. Deng Adel has played three seasons in the G-league, including the 2018-2019 season with the Raptors 905 alongside Chris Boucher, Malcolm Miller, and Jordan Loyd. In the CEBL, he’s played two seasons for the Ottawa Blackjacks where he won All-CEBL second team this year for his remarkable performance, averaging 17/6/4.

Christian Vital appeared in 3 games for the Raptors summer league squad. He got a roster spot on the 905, but was later traded to the Salt Lake City Stars where he averaged 15/4/3. In two years with the Honey Badgers, he’s managed to lead them to a CEBL Championship, win Finals MVP, led the league in steals, and make All-CEBL second team twice. Lucas Nogueira spent four seasons with the Raptors from 2014-2018 after having his draft rights traded to Toronto along with Lou Williams. He suited up for 141 games before ultimately becoming a free agent and returning to Europe before making his way back in 2022 to play for the Guelph Nighthawks (now rebranded as the Calgary Surge).

Honestly, it’s really a challenge to sum up everything about the league in only one short piece, highlighting the talent and unique experience that is wrapped up in this league I’ve grown so fond of in the last couple of years. Hopefully your takeaway will be similar to what mine has been so far: The CEBL is on the come up, and it is packed with talent, excitement, and thrill. As a basketball fan, it’s starting to feel like maybe there really isn’t an “off-season” from the sport.